You have 2 options when it comes to representation in your bankruptcy case:
- Hire an attorney to represent you OR
- Represent yourself (this is called “pro se”).
There are many complicated issues that arise in a bankruptcy proceeding, and an attorney can effectively navigate these complexities for you.
A recent Federal Bankruptcy Court filing report showed that only 61% of Chapter 7 pro se bankruptcy cases end up with a positive outcome (an order of discharge) versus 99% of Chapter 7 cases filed with an attorney. Contrary to belief, even people without legal status can apply for bankruptcy, although they should also seek the counsel of an immigration attorney to assure their citizenship. While there are several reasons for this, the most important thing to understand is that every single case filed must, with no exceptions, follow the strictly regulated Federal Bankruptcy Code, in addition to following any and all local/state procedures. If these rules are not properly followed, the case may be dismissed.
Some of the more common mistakes made by people filing for bankruptcy without an attorney:
- Incorrectly filing for a Chapter 7 instead of a Chapter 13 (or vice versa);
- Failing to apply the Chapter 7 Means Test correctly;
- Failing to timely file necessary documents with the court;
- Claiming an inaccurate number of property exemptions;
- Making mistakes regarding reaffirmation agreements (i.e. vehicles);
- Responding to a creditor’s objections incorrectly;
- Misunderstanding the terms of documents filed with the court;
Any one of these mistakes may be enough for the court to dismiss your case, denying a discharge in your case, or possibly cause you to lose property that you own. While it is true that there are fees involved when you hire an attorney to represent you, there are also fees if filing pro se.
There are rules in the Bankruptcy Code as to attorney fees, and these fees are always approved by the court
In the long run, if a case is filed pro se and is then dismissed, the restrictions imposed on you by the court are serious. It is possible that a judge may not allow you to file another case for a number of months or years. If your case is dismissed, then you automatically lose all of the important protections you received upon your case filing, including protection from foreclosure and repossession.