Free legal assistance for filing for bankruptcy is available in virtually every community. Charitable organizations such as the United Way, Urban League and Salvation Army often assist people in finding free, local bankruptcy resources, including the actual filing of the bankruptcy petition. However, getting the help may require some persistence because the number of people looking for free help usually exceeds the number of volunteers offering to help. As a result, free help for filing for bankruptcy is generally available only to those who clearly don't have the means to pay.
Luck of the Draw
Getting free legal help from an experienced attorney is key, The U.S. Bankruptcy Court reports that bankruptcy law can be extremely complicated, and your ability to successfully complete your bankruptcy may depend on the quality of your legal counsel. Unfortunately, when seeking free legal help you usually cannot pick and choose from available resources. You could find yourself being represented by a relatively new attorney inexperienced in bankruptcy cases. Or you could get lucky and be assigned to a retired bankruptcy judge.
Legal Aid, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the poor, should be one of the first places you call for free help. It's a well-respected organization with chapters around the country, and is known for offering competent, free bankruptcy help through local attorneys. The United Way or a similar charity can provide you with the contact information for your nearest Legal Aid office, if necessary. Legal Aid offices such as Legal Services of Northern Virginia will consider your request for help after reviewing a complete list of all your debts, assets and income. The process is used to determine if you are truly unable to pay for an attorney on your own.
State Bar Associations
State bar associations, such as the New York State Bar or the State Bar of California, may maintain a list of lawyers willing to volunteer some of their time for bankruptcy cases. Generally, representatives from Legal Aid will know about any available resources through the state bar association and will provide a referral for you, if there isn't help available through Legal Aid. Or you can contact your state bar directly by getting the contact information from your public library.
Nonprofit credit counselors certified in bankruptcy counseling can't represent you in court, but they may know lawyers willing to help for free. Prebankruptcy counseling is mandatory before your petition, and during counseling; during the process you can ask about free legal help. Counselors approved for bankruptcy counseling are certified by the U.S. Trustee Program of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Creditable online website tools, such as the American Bankruptcy Institute's "Bankruptcy Pro Bono Resource Locator," provide links to free bankruptcy resources around the country. Examples of free resources appearing on the site include the Alabama State Bar Volunteer Lawyers Program, Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas and the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project. The ABI website cooperates with the American Bar Association’s National Pro Bono Project and the Institute for Financial Literacy. The site lists more than 600 providers of free bankruptcy help.