One of the growing movements over the past twenty years has been the steady increase in “pro se” or “pro per” court filings by people representing themselves without the assistance of a licensed attorney. This trend extends to all areas of law, including bankruptcy. It is often said that a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client, and truer words are rarely spoken. While it is easy to dismiss this blog as the ramblings of an attorney trying to protect his turf, there are many reasons why filing a bankruptcy (or any other case, for that matter) on your own is a bad idea.
Of primary concern is that only bankruptcy attorneys actually know the law and can apply it correctly to your situation. There are many nuances and subtleties in bankruptcy, many of which can have a major effect on the outcome of your case. What you don’t know will hurt you. If you make a mistake, you could end up losing property or not receiving a discharge of your debt; and if your mistake is intentional, you could be charged with a federal bankruptcy crime.
On a related note, filing a bankruptcy is more than just filling out the forms. Not only are the forms difficult, but understanding how your situation relates to the forms (and knowing what the trustee and other parties are looking for on the forms) is critical. Listing your assets and debts is only a part of what bankruptcy attorneys do. The particular quirks and proclivities of the trustee and court are of high importance, and an attorney that practices regularly in a given area will know this information; you likely will not.
Most of our clients have busy lives, trying to make ends meet and managing their households. Frankly, you have other things to do with your time than deal with your case. Trying to learn how to file your case semi-properly can literally take you double or triple the time it would take a qualified attorney to do the job. We have the expertise and training.
Lastly, a good attorney is objective, able to assess your situation fairly with an eye towards how the case will flow through the system and be perceived by the trustee, court, creditors, and other players. This big-picture view is something you necessarily cannot have, since, after all, it’s your life. Your own goals, hopes, and fears quite naturally cloud your judgment and views of the situation. This is why attorneys hire other attorneys when they have a legal matter of their own — it’s too personal. This is why, for example, doctors don’t perform surgery on themselves or relatives. Objectivity leads to better results.