Do You Need a Bankruptcy Attorney?
The immediate response is no, you do not need a bankruptcy attorney when filing for bankruptcy. Technically, you do not need an attorney to represent you for any proceedings. It is perfectly acceptable for an individual to represent himself or herself, and most people can probably conduct a chapter 7 case on their own (known as pro se). With that being said, however, it is probably in your best interests to hire a competent bankruptcy attorney. The legal system can be daunting and complex, with rigid rules and procedures. Also, your creditors will use their attorneys in the proceedings, and they will know the rules.
The Need for Representation
There are six different chapters in which to file for bankruptcy (chapter 7 and chapter 13 being the most common filings), and an attorney will work to help you decide which is the best for you. Again, while most people can represent themselves in a chapter 7 case, all cases are different and require different levels of expertise. The more complicated a person’s situation, even in chapter 7, the greater the need for expert advice and guidance. Chapter 13 filings have such a high level of complexity that working with an attorney, though not required, is for all intents and purposes, a necessity.
Bankruptcy laws have changed and evolved in recent years, and unless you are well-versed in these changes, you may be in over your head if you decide to represent yourself. You will be held accountable for knowing all applicable laws and regulations regarding the Bankruptcy Code and the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. Deadlines, required tasks, and the proper responses to actions all need to be understood and met or followed. The consequences for inadequately representing yourself include denying your discharge of bankruptcy, loss of property you may have been entitled to keep, or having your case dismissed.
Most people avoid hiring a bankruptcy attorney in order to save money. After all, it makes sense, right? You are already in dire financial straits, and if you could afford an attorney, then you would not be in the position you are in. But an attorney’s fees for services are negotiable items, and most attorneys will work with you and the courts to determine an equitable charge and payment schedule depending on how serious your case is. If you decide to represent yourself, and make a mess of things, a good bankruptcy attorney can rectify things after the fact. However, this is even more expensive and time consuming. Since a free initial consultation is the norm among lawyers, before making any decision take the time to sit down with an attorney and listen.