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To pro se or not to pro se ... ?

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  • To pro se or not to pro se ... ?

    Hey folks,

    I was laid off 4 months ago and haven't been able to keep up the minimum payments on my debt I was making. So, I have been researching chapter 7 and I had it all made up in my mind to Pro Se my case, and then went onto some 'ask a lawyer' site -- I think. I asked if it was feasible to file chapter 7 myself and they kinda scared the crap out of me. Talking about how it's a minefield, 80 pages of detailed paperwork I can screw up so easy, etc.

    I figured I'd come here for maybe the other perspective -- or even to hear if you think they are right.

    I don't own a house or a car, and only have a small 1900 tax refund plus unemployment to my name. I own clothes, an xbox, (no TV tho ) some books, a 5 year old computer and a few small home furnishings. My debt is all consumer credit, some from a long time ago (was laid off in 2009 for a year and did dumb stuff like put my mortgage on my credit cards)--I've been carrying this debt for a while. It's about 35k at this point.

    Honestly my biggest mistake was probably not filing bankruptcy back then when I was out of work for a year. I cashed out my 401k, sold my beautiful house, sold my stuff, did it all to keep up with that debt. Anyhow that's water under the bridge.

    To my halfway informed eye, it seems like one of the simpler ch. 7 scenarios (not that I'm underestimating it), but wow those Avvo lawyers made it seem like I was a complete idiot for even considering it.

    I'd really appreciate hearing some thoughts. I'd be filing in NYC, easter district I believe.


  • #2
    Everyone will say that any lawyer or person that represents themselves has a fool for a client. I am such a fool, I suppose.

    It really depends on the complexity and type of case as well as and how much property there is to protect (or potentially lose). I would go purchase the NoLo Guide to Filing Bankruptcy and give that a good read. You may be able to borrow one from a local library, but make sure it's the latest version. I purchased the NoLo guide as an eDocument and downloaded it to use as my reference.

    Many people have done "simple" Chapter 7s without any issues at all. The issues come when there is undeclared or undiscovered property, actual property for which there is no exemption, and other things. Many people also use a service to complete their forms or do the painstaking... yes... 50-80 pages of documentation required. It can be done. (My Chapter 13 petition was exactly 70 pages prior to being amended.)

    I used an online service to complete my forms. They were about 90% accurate and I had to make some changes. (They had some math errors). i also needed to buy PDF editing software (not cheap "free" software) which cost me $79-99. You could also experiment with obtaining a "trial" copy of Adobe but you may be better off buying. You could also enlist a document preparer, but be aware that they do not provide advice and can only fill out your forms for filing. The nice thing is that some of the document preparers are paralegals and actually use the same software as many attorneys use (Best Case, Bankrupter, etc).
    Last edited by justbroke; 03-07-2017, 05:08 PM.
    Chapter 7 (No Asset/Non-Consumer) Filed (Pro Se) 7/08 (converted from Chapter 13 - 2/10)
    Status: (Auto) Discharged and Closed! 5/10
    Visit My BKForum Blog: justbroke's Blog

    I am not an attorney. Any advice provided is not legal advice.


    • #3
      It sounds to me like your case is very similar to mine, which I filed pro-se without incident. I didn't own a house, car, retirement account, or anything else which I needed the services of an attorney to protect, and I didn't have any debts which are difficult or impossible to discharge, either. It sounds like you should be able to handle this yourself, using the book "How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy" by NOLO Press, and the resources available on this forum.

      Remember, that it only makes sense to pay for an attorney if you have valuable assets to protect, or your case has added complexities which justify the cost. For a "cut and dry" case, I'd save my money and do it myself.


      • #4
        Thanks so much for your input, guys. justbroke -- what was the online service you had? I have a PDF editor already, so that's good news. Are document preparer people very expensive? I will look it up!

        I appreciate your objective advice here. I'm going to get that eBook and start seriously preparing. Thank you!


        • #5
          You can do it. You just need to be patient and detail-oriented. Mine was slightly more complicated than yours and I had no issues, but I did spend a lot of time researching and learning before I started completing the paperwork. Anything NOLO doesn't answer for you can be answered here or by internet searches. I too was thrown into doubt by an AVVO answerer but am glad I came to my senses and realized he was wrong (he essentially told me I was in over my head for even asking the question). I really wanted to go back and tell him how wrong he was later but the question was closed. Take your time, be honest in the paperwork, and know it will take a while to complete it.


          • #6
            Originally posted by laidoff View Post
            Thanks so much for your input, guys. justbroke -- what was the online service you had? I have a PDF editor already, so that's good news. Are document preparer people very expensive?
            I won't mention them because there were actual errors on my forms (not introduced by myself) -- mathematical errors in their calculations and wrong entries transposed. I haven't used a document preparer (paralegal), but they should be less than $300. Most Trustees will ask you if you used a paid preparer at your 341 Meeting. They must disclose themselves on the filing itself or they can face penalties. The courts have been cracking down on the serial abusers that are also practicing law without authorization (giving advice or making legal decisions with these document preparations).

            If you choose to use a preparer, just do some legwork and make sure they are legitimate, ask them what software they use, and ask them if they'll handle corrections on any of their errors. My company did not handle any of corrections (I did them myself), and they seemed to use their own home-grown system that put the petition together. If the preparer uses Best Case or Bankrupter then you'll probably have a better outcome with the documents than I had.

            You may also be able to get help from your Court's Pro Bono clinic. I'm finding more bankruptcy courts with a Pro Bono clinic available where you can get free legal advice (from actual attorneys).

            Chapter 7 (No Asset/Non-Consumer) Filed (Pro Se) 7/08 (converted from Chapter 13 - 2/10)
            Status: (Auto) Discharged and Closed! 5/10
            Visit My BKForum Blog: justbroke's Blog

            I am not an attorney. Any advice provided is not legal advice.


            • #7
              Don't get the e-book. Get the real, physical book. You will find yourself needing to refer to it, while you are filling out your petition and schedules.


              • #8
                I know this post is a few months old, but since others will read it, I'll just add my vote for pro se, as long as you have a fairly simple case and feel comfortable doing a LOT of research and not being afraid to ask questions, here or even with the court.

                Mine went smoothly although it took a couple extra months to get dischared because initially I had planned on reaffirming my two auto loans which meant needing an extra hearing. At that hearing, the judge was very helpful and gave me some good advice about not needing to reaffirm those loans. In the end, I asked her to deny those reaffirmations and I was discharged a few weeks later. I was lucky, the court here in Hartford, CT was very helpful and friendly. The people in the clerks office answered all the procedural questions I had, and when I inevitably messed up my paperwork, they explained what I did wrong and let me change things either on the spot or by just faxing in the change later.

                Your mileage may vary.


                • #9
                  Hey folks, just to update -- I went the Pro Se route and am sure glad I did. I don't have a regular job and no kids etc so I had the time to do the paperwork. I filed and today had my 341!!

                  It all went super smoothly and I am officially now in the 60 day club! If anyone wants any information about how it went, just let me know. I am SO THANKFUL to all of your for your amazing advice. It saved me $1000 that i really needed!


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