What You Should Know About Bankruptcy Document Preparers

No. Don’t do it. You really should get an attorney.

That sounds self-serving doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s true.

Bankruptcy is like most anything else: there are hard cases, easy cases, and in between cases. With some research and time some people with simple cases can file bankruptcy on their own, particularly if they employ the help of an inexpensive “petition preparer service”- a non-lawyer service that types the information you give them into the official bankruptcy forms.

But think about it this way: given enough reading, advice from my dad, and practice I could (theoretically at least) fix a small time plumbing problem in my house. But, I couldn’t fix even a medium sized problem, much less a full blown plumbing nightmare. The problem with many bankruptcy cases is that, without training and experience, it can often be difficult to tell whether they are simple, medium sized, or complex whoppers. A lawyer is trained to spot issues and, once spotted, attend to them. A layperson is not. So, just as I might dive into my plumbing problem thinking it’s a simple fix, a debtor in distress might download the bankruptcy forms and fill them out thinking that the process is simple.

What happens if the bankruptcy case turns out to be not so simple? Sometimes, you can hire a lawyer after filing. The problem with this is that lawyers are often hesitant to get involved in a case once it has been filed and problems have arisen. Lawyers are mostly risk-averse and worried about being sued for malpractice. The last thing a busy lawyer wants is to get involved in a sticky case filed by a client who didn’t seek legal advice, only to be sued when the problems can’t be fixed. The other issue is expense. Given that lawyers are hesitant to get involved in problem cases that were filed without the assistance of a lawyer it can be very expensive to convince a lawyer to step in and help. Usually, it’s more expensive to retain a lawyer to help sort out a problem after filing than it is to retain one simply to file the case in the first place.

Aside from problems that may be hidden from the layman, bankruptcy is highly technical. For the most part, it’s not rocket science; however, it does require an extreme attention to detail, a knowledge of arcane forms and procedures, and an understanding of concepts that are often counter-intuitive, particularly with respect to secured debt.

So, what about paying a little money to a non-lawyer petition preparer and seeking his or her advice? Well, the petition preparer is not allowed to give you legal advice. It is against the law for anyone other than a lawyer to give legal advice. This means that the petition preparer is bound to type what you give him or her into your petition and cannot guide you or answer legal questions. Truly, a petition preparer is a typing service who can’t help you spot issues or navigate court procedures. Many petition preparers do, in fact, give legal advice. Aside from the fact that this is illegal, it is dangerous. Relying on a non-lawyer typist to give you legal advice is like relying on a medical transcriptionist to give you medical advice.

Most bankruptcy lawyers, including myself, offer reasonable no-interest payment plans to help our clients with fees. In some cases, we even accept cases on a pro bono basis (this means for free or at a reduced rate).

As an Asheville bankruptcy lawyer I try hard to help my clients find solutions to their financial problems. Part of that means working with you to help you with the fee. Contact me today to discuss your financial concerns. I represent bankruptcy clients throughout WNC.