By Ryan C. Wood
The short answer is it depends and the long answer is it is always a good idea. Yes, we are bankruptcy lawyers, but that does not mean that this article just advocates the use of an attorney for that reason alone. Please keep reading to learn why.
First and foremost you are just not familiar with the process and do not do it every day. We do. There are changes to the law and procedure all the time. How things are done or what the trustee assigned to your case requires is different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and trustee to trustee.
When a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition is correctly drafted and all requirements are met for you to obtain a discharge of your debts it may look like your attorney did not do too much. In my firms case that is far from the truth. We do our due diligence and the majority of the work before your case is ever filed to make sure once the case is filed there are no issues, which may make it look easy.
It is possible to navigate the filing of a basic no asset Chapter 7 bankruptcy case on your own. If you make no money and own nothing it should be difficult to financially harm yourself. Keep in mind that you do not have the absolute right to dismiss a Chapter 7 case once it is filed. If a problem arises and you think you can solve it by asking the court to dismiss your case think again. You will be searching fast and furiously for a bankruptcy attorney to help when the trustee assigned to your case requests that you turnover money in your bank account or your car. The Chapter 7 trustee or their attorney is not on your side and will not tell you what is in your best interest or assist. You will be on your own. That recently cost a person who filed a Chapter 7 on their own about $17,000 that should have been protected in their bankruptcy case. But they did not know that and you cannot go back sometimes once the case is filed and change things.
If you do not qualify to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case you will almost always need to hire an attorney to help you with your Chapter 13 reorganization or Chapter 11 reorganization. Most Chapter 13 trustee’s will require you to obtain counsel because it is not their job or their staffs job to make sure your plan of reorganization satisfies the requirements to be approved or confirmed. The odds of you navigating the Chapter 13 process without a lawyer are slim to none in the Northern District of California anyway. It is possible that in other jurisdictions the Chapter 13 trustee’s take the time to help pro se filers with their cases. That is not their job though.
All in all it is always a good idea to hire counsel that has experience in the area of law you need assistance with. There are many firms like ours that offer reasonable fees and provide you with personal service.