Can I File for Bankruptcy without a Lawyer?

Know what you’re doing before you file pro se.

The United States legal system is designed to allow individuals to represent themselves in court cases and proceedings if they so choose. It’s called “pro se” and it can apply to individual bankruptcy filings, too. But if you want to go pro se in bankruptcy, there are some important things to understand to ensure your success.

Fact: “Pro se” is a Latin phrase that means “for oneself” or “for one’s own behalf.”

The information below can help you understand the process and risks of filing for bankruptcy on your own without the assistance of a licensed attorney. If you have questions or want to discuss your case with a qualified professional, we’re here to help you find the solutions you need. Call us or complete the form to the right to get the help you need now.

Pro se only applies to individual filings

As long as you are making an individual filing, you can file for bankruptcy on your own without a lawyer or a law degree yourself. This includes both types of personal bankruptcy filings (Chapter 7 and Chapter 13) as well as business filings (Chapter 11 or Chapter 12) as long as the business is not a partnership or incorporated entity.

You can represent yourself in a partnership because you can’t legally represent someone else without being a licensed attorney. Incorporated businesses can’t be represented by the owner, so you have to hire an attorney.

Of course, just because you can do something it doesn’t mean that you should. Even on the official website for United States Courts it states:

“While individuals can file a bankruptcy case without an attorney or “pro se,” it is extremely difficult to do it successfully.”

The risks of filing on your own

Here are a few risks you face with filing on your own:

  • With any bankruptcy that requires you to submit a payment plan that will be approved by the courts, not using a qualified attorney means you could be risking plan rejection.
  • In personal bankruptcy, if your Chapter 13 plan is rejected and you don’t qualify for Chapter 7 under a means test then you won’t be able to file.
  • Bankruptcy is a complex process with lots of regulations and steps to follow. If you don’t do this correctly, your petition to file can be dismissed.
  • If you don’t file correctly, discharge can be denied. You can always file again with an attorney if your case is denied the first time, but it can be problematic to get discharge approved on the same debt if it’s already been denied once.
  • The BAPCPA has tightened regulations on what constitutes bankruptcy fraud, and an attorney can advise you on what actions to avoid to have you case denied because of fraud.