Can I File for Bankruptcy Without a Lawyer?

by Brett Weiss, Esq.

July 13, 2007

I’ve taken over many cases where a debtor prepared and filed the various bankruptcy documents without the help of an attorney, what is called a pro se or pro per filing. Apart from the fact that the schedules generally have to be completely redone (the exemptions are usually wrong, debts are not listed, assets are not listed or are listed or valued incorrectly, the Means Test uses the wrong figures, the Statement of Financial Affairs is incorrect, and the budget is generally wrong), and a number of these people lost their homes as a result of not being advised about what was required, how the process worked, how to value assets, how to deal with various types of debts, etc.–something an attorney is required to do.

Others ran into severe problems at the Meeting of Creditors, where they have no one to turn to for preparation or advice. Generally, pro se debtors don’t know what the Trustee is looking for, or how to properly deal with the Trustee’s questions and concerns. One ended up facing charges of bankruptcy fraud–all because she didn’t understand the effects of what the information put in their schedules meant.

Finally, under the new bankruptcy law, there are a number of new deadlines that, if missed, will result in the automatic dismissal of your case, and a potentially very complex means test computation. Many bankruptcy attorneys are no longer practicing in this area of law as a result of the changes.

Bankruptcy is a very tricky area of the law (even to attorneys who don’t regularly practice it). Interestingly enough for a federal system, it is very state and locality specific. What will work in California, for example, probably won’t fly here in Maryland.

Do yourself a big favor—see a lawyer.

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Brett Weiss, a senior partner at Chung & Press, LLC, represents people and businesses in all phases of bankruptcy. He has experience in complex individual Chapter 7, Chapter 11 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases, and in Chapter 11 small business restructuring and reorganization. Mr. Weiss lectures nationally on bankruptcy issues. He has testified before the Federal Bankruptcy Rules Committee, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and has twice testified before Congress on bankruptcy and credit issues. Brett Weiss is the co-author of Chapter 11 for Individual Debtors, and has written Not Dead Yet: Bankruptcy After BAPCPA, for the Maryland Bar Journal, as well as hundreds of blogs for the Bankruptcy Law Network. With his law partner, he recorded a 13-hour basic bankruptcy training series, and leads intensive three-day Chapter 11 training boot camps. Mr. Weiss has received international media attention in connection with his work. He was interviewed by Barbara Walters on The View, has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, ABC News with Peter Jennings, the Montel Williams Show, National Public Radio, AARP-TV, the BBC World Service, German state television, and numerous local radio and television programs, and been quoted in Money magazine, The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun, among others. Brett Weiss is the Maryland State Chair for the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, a founding member of the Bankruptcy Law Network, on the board of the Maryland State Bar Consumer Bankruptcy Council, and a member of the American Bankruptcy Institute, the Bankruptcy Bar Association of Maryland, and the Civil Justice Network. He has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer” every year since 2007 for Maryland and the District of Columbia, and in 2011 received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys for his work on behalf of consumers across the country. Mr. Weiss is admitted to practice before Maryland and District of Columbia federal and state courts, the United States Courts of Appeals for the DC, Fourth and Eighth Circuits, The United States Tax Court, and the Supreme Court of the United States, and has been practicing law since 1983.

Last modified: July 13, 2007