You don’t have a lot of money, so you want to make sure you don’t spend more than absolutely necessary on your bankruptcy case. I understand that. And there’s no legal requirement to hire a lawyer.
In fact, there are three ways to file bankruptcy. You can:
- hire an attorney;
- hire a bankruptcy petition preparer; or
- file your case completely on your own (that’s called pro se).
Why Not Use a Petition Preparer Service?
It seems as if there’s another petition preparation company opening every week in Syracuse, White Plains and the surrounding areas. And who can blame them? There are so many people who need help, and these companies see a market for offering cut-rate typing services to unsuspecting people.
But typing is all these companies are allowed to do. They can’t offer legal advice.
A petition preparer cannot advise you on how to protect your property and assets.
A petition preparer can’t tell you whether to file Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, whether you should surrender your house or your car.
A petition preparer cannot represent you at your court hearing or tell you how to calculate your means test.
A petition preparer cannot explain court documents or correspondence from your trustee.
Despite these limitations, all too often, the petition preparer steps over the line and engages in the unauthorized practice of law. He may attempt to explain the law to his customers and advise them about what to do in their cases. The Bankruptcy Code prohibits these types of practices, and you can lose money and valuable time by seeking their assistance. The court may put your case on hold or even dismiss your case for improper filing.
Why Not File On My Own?
Bankruptcy law is complex. Even the simplest Chapter 7 case has nuances and requirements that the average person may not recognize just by reading about bankruptcy online or buying a book about what to do. You may have an unusual situation that you could not recognize, or you may fill out your paperwork incorrectly. You may not understand what the court or the trustee is asking of you. Mistakes could cost you time, money, property and your bankruptcy discharge.
How Can Hiring an Attorney Help?
An experienced and competent bankruptcy lawyer can help you avoid the pitfalls that are common in pro se cases. A lawyer who knows how life is lived in Onondaga and Westchester County – how much it costs for groceries, how far most people need to drive, and the general economic climate – can be invaluable. A bankruptcy attorney with a track record of success in the Syracuse and White Plains bankruptcy courts, someone who’s dealt with the judges and trustees for years – is your best ally.
Don’t try to represent yourself in a bankruptcy. You may save a few dollars now, but in the long-run it’s going to cost you far more time, money and anxiety than it’s worth.