Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?

02 Feb Do I Need a Lawyer to File Bankruptcy?

No, you don’t need a lawyer to file bankruptcy. Anyone can represent themselves. The real question is the cost versus benefit ratio. The major reason to not hire an attorney is to save the fee. But that’s a lot like saving the cost of a map when you are somewhere you’ve never been before. You would be very lucky not to get lost!

There are six kinds of bankruptcies. Few lawyers understand them all, much less lay persons. The two most common types for consumers are chapter 7 and chapter 13. Just choosing which one is right for you requires knowledge of financial and bankruptcy laws and a thorough understanding of the differences between the two.

Then to file, you need to list all of your debts and all of your property, and claim some (or all) of the property as exempt. But the type of exemptions you can use and the amount of each exemption can be complicated and vary from state to state. Worse, if you don’t do it right, you could lose more property than necessary in the process.
If you file the wrong type of bankruptcy or use improper exemptions or the trustee tries to take some of your property to benefit the bankruptcy estate, you might regret saving the attorney’s fees.

Most of the things you could do wrong can be corrected by competent bankruptcy counsel after the fact. But that’s scary, more expensive and time consuming. Better to get it right the first time – and to do that, hire a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney!

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Douglas Jacobs is a California bankruptcy attorney and partner in the Chico law firm of Jacobs, Anderson, Potter & Chaplin. Since 1988, Mr. Jacobs has taught Constitutional law and Debtor-Creditor/Bankruptcy law at the Cal Northern School of Law. He has served as Dean of Students since 1994. He is a frequent lecturer on the subject of consumer bankruptcy law, and has spoken at both state and national levels.
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