When you file for bankruptcy, you'll have to decide whether to handle the case yourself or hire a lawyer. There are pros and cons to each choice. Hiring a lawyer costs money, and it can be tough to come up with extra cash if your bills have already driven you to bankruptcy court. On the other hand, a lawyer can be enormously helpful in completing your paperwork, preparing you for your meeting with creditors and the trustee, and making sure everything goes smoothly.
Handling Your Case Yourself
Statistics show that pro se bankruptcy cases are more likely to get thrown out than cases in which the debtors hired lawyers. Bankruptcy laws are complicated, and filing for bankruptcy requires you to complete a number of detailed forms. If you fail to file the right forms, make mistakes in filling them out, or miss deadlines in your case, you might be facing dismissal.
Nevertheless, filers who are motivated and willing to put in the time can file their own bankruptcies, as long as they don't face unexpected complications. For example, if you don't own much property, your income is relatively low, and your creditors aren't likely to fight your case, completing the necessary paperwork for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case won't be too complicated, with the right self-help resource. Most Chapter 7 filers have what are called "no asset" cases, in which the filer gets to keep all of his or her property. In this situation, as long as you are willing to put in the necessary (and considerable) time to complete the forms properly, handling the case on your own can help you save money.
When It Makes Sense to Hire an Attorney
There are many situations when hiring an attorney might be your best bet. First, if you are uncomfortable handling the process yourself for any reason, a lawyer can shepherd you through the process, helping you with the paperwork and court appearance(s), and making sure you don't make any rookie mistakes. Just because you can file on your own doesn't mean you have to.
Second, if your case has any complications that require actual litigation or legal arguments, you would be well served by getting some help from an experienced lawyer. For example, if a creditor is arguing that a debt should not be discharged because you acted fraudulently, a creditor asks the judge to lift the automatic stay and allow it to pursue collection actions against you during your bankruptcy case, or the trustee believes your income is high enough to force you out of Chapter 7 (and into Chapter 13, if you still want to file for bankruptcy), you will want help from a lawyer.
Third, if you are filing for bankruptcy under Chapter 13, it can be tough to come up with a repayment plan that meets all of the legal requirements. Most districts have their own forms and rules for these repayment plans, and a local attorney will be in a good position to know exactly what the court requires -- and how to file a plan that the court will approve, if possible.