Bankruptcy is expensive. Whether you are in a repayment plan or a Chapter 7 liquidation, court fees, credit counseling fees, and attorney fees can really add up. Some bankruptcy debtors are tempted to "go it alone" and file a bankruptcy case without an attorney. However, before you file a "pro se" bankruptcy, consider how your choice will affect your case.
First, proceeding pro se (Latin meaning “for himself”) does not entitle you to special treatment during your bankruptcy case. The court expects and requires that you file all of the bankruptcy paperwork correctly, obey all of the orders of the bankruptcy court, and follow all of the proper procedures outlined in the Bankruptcy Code, the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, as well as in the bankruptcy court’s local rules. These rules are often supplemented by case law and the procedural customs of the trustee and the judge.
Bankruptcy attorneys have studied these laws, cases, and rules during three years in law school, and years afterwards in actual practice representing real clients in bankruptcy court. Bankruptcy debtors benefit from the knowledge and experience of experienced bankruptcy counsel.
Second, the federal and state exemption laws can be very complex. In some cases criminal laws or collection laws may be implicated. Protecting your property is one of the chief goals of the bankruptcy process, and one of the easiest to foul up. Failing to properly protect an asset during bankruptcy could result in the loss of that asset, including a home, vehicle, retirement account, or other valuable property.
Third, even if the pro se bankruptcy debtor is able to navigate the bankruptcy procedure and adequately protect her assets, can the case withstand the scrutiny of the bankruptcy trustee? Because the debtor is pro se, the trustee will spend extra time evaluating the case and closely inspecting the bankruptcy paperwork. Frankly, the trustee does not trust the pro se debtor and will assume that the debtor is concealing assets (either on purpose or by honest mistake). Pro se debtors are often placed at the end of the 341 meeting docket and receive "extra attention" from the trustee (never a good thing).
Fourth, a skilled bankruptcy attorney may be reluctant to step into the middle of a pro se case when things go wrong. The case may also degenerate to the point where dismissal or conversion may be the only options.
Bankruptcy cases are being filed in record numbers. The vast majority of bankruptcy cases are processed quickly and efficiently. On the other hand, pro se filings are always red flagged as potential problem cases and receive extra attention – and rightly so! Many of these cases have problems. Some pro se cases result in loss of property, and others have allegations of bankruptcy fraud. Don’t risk your property or your peace of mind. Hire an experienced attorney to guide you safely through the bankruptcy process.