Hello! I’m attorney Jared Haddock and on this
installment of Fresh Starts, I’ll be discussing the need for debtors contemplating bankruptcy
to be represented by a qualified attorney. People often ask me, “Do I really need an
attorney to file for bankruptcy?” well, the short answer is, yes. It is not required,
of course. You always have the right to represent yourself, but it is almost never advisable
to do so. After all, I have the right to perform my very own root canal or my own open heart
surgery, too, but I would never expect to have outstanding results doing so.
Look, Chapter 7 Bankruptcy is a federal case in which everything that you have an ownership
interest in, however small, must be properly disclosed and exempted from liquidation as
part of a bankruptcy estate that is administered by a Trustee for the benefit of creditors
to whom you owe money that you are trying to discharge. It just isn’t a process that
works well by trial and error, like some dessert recipe that you’ve always wanted to master.
The stakes are just too high. Mistakes are expensive when they’re made innocently and
felony offenses when they’re not! Chapter 13 Bankruptcies, while they don’t
involve asset liquidations, can be incredibly complicated and involving repayments plans
of three to five years in duration. The complexity alone would warrant professional assistance,
even if the stakes are not as high. While the legal answer, then, is no, you don’t
need an attorney to file for bankruptcy — any more than you need a surgeon for a triple
heart bypass, the real answer is, yes — You should have one, anyway.
There are non-attorney petition preparers out there. They offer their limited services
of merely assisting in the preparation of the bankruptcy forms very inexpensively. Personally,
I wouldn’t advise using their services, however. They are not allowed to give legal advice
at all and maybe I’m over-accommodating, but I still cannot figure out how someone could
possibly prepare bankruptcy petitions and schedules without offering legal services
or advice in some way. At any rate, I was taught that if the price of something important
is too low to be true, it probably is and we tend to get what we pay for. Be very careful
if you decide to go this route. Again, you should get up and run, not walk away from
anyone who is not willing to proudly disclose in a written statement filed with the Bankruptcy
Court exactly who they are, how much they have been paid, and what services they are
providing. There are far too many scams out there and,
while the Justice Department diligently tries to stop them, you should be aware of how best
to protect yourself. No matter how low their amazingly great prices are, anyone who is
unwilling to disclose in that written statement filed with the Bankruptcy Court (again), exactly
who they are and what they’re charging for what they’re doing, simply should never have
either your trust or your money — Period. However simple they tell you it is to represent
yourself after they “help you” fill out the forms needed, just remember — this is your
federal case — not theirs and you will be personally accountable for it, not them. If
ever there was a time to make sure that a reputable and qualified attorney is representing
you during a federal case, this would be one of those times.
Most attorneys offer free initial consultations, so you really have nothing to lose by attending
one. I hope you found this information helpful.
I thank you for watching and, as always, I wish you a better future!