What Do I Do If…I Can’t Pay a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy

by Brett Weiss, Esq.

March 20, 2008

Probably the most common question I get asked at parties when I tell people I’m a bankruptcy attorney is, “How do your clients pay you if they’re going to file for bankruptcy?” (The second question usually is, “Can I have one of your business cards?…For a friend, of course.”) It’s a good question, though. How do people pay their bankruptcy lawyers?

There are several ways.

Many people have some cash reserves which can be used to pay fees and costs.

Have someone else do it. Family, typically, and less often, friends will pay our fees and costs. I’ve even been paid by an ex-spouse of my client!

Take the money you’ve been paying creditors, particularly credit cards, stop paying the creditors, and pay your lawyer.

Borrow from your 401(k) or IRA, or take a loan against a whole life policy.

One client paid me from the proceeds of a yard sale (but be sure to document what you sold and for how much–the Trustee might want to know).

Some clients work out payment plans to pay the fee over a number of months.

In Chapter 13 cases, only a portion of the fee is paid up front, which makes it a bit easier for people to pay fees.

One thing you should probably not do–file yourself (what’s called pro se) without 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: January 3, 2012