Since we are Bankruptcy lawyers, with many years of experience, we see firsthand the dangers and hazards of trying to file a case without a lawyer. On a daily basis, people on legal forums like AVVO and Lawguru post questions about getting out of trouble they have gotten themselves into by not hiring a good Bankruptcy lawyer. Many people who choose to file a case without a lawyer use “Petition Preparers.” Simply stated, a Petition Preparer is a person who, for a fee (often around $200), assists in the preparation of your Bankruptcy Petition and Schedules and gets them ready to file with the Court. They often use the same document software we use to type in the information you provide. In short, they provide typing/secretarial services. Petition Preparers, by law, are forbidden from giving you any legal advice. They cannot, among other things, tell you whether you are eligible for a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13, which chapter you should file, tell you what property is or is not exempt, advise you on how to deal with creditors or the Trustee, advise you on any requirements for getting a discharge and so on. Literally, their sole purpose is to take information you provide and type it in the paperwork. If they do more – and often you will know it in the first conversation – they are breaking the law and it is a red flag. Unless the client has a broad knowledge of the Bankruptcy system, which is rare, hiring a Petition Preparer instead of a lawyer is a really, really bad idea.
Petition Preparers have been around a while, but as Bankruptcy cases have increased over the years they have become more prevalent. They often use the same marketing techniques as Bankruptcy lawyers, including using direct mail. A few years ago, Congress saw the need to regulate them to some extent, so Petition Preparers now have to complete a form to file in Bankruptcy cases identifying themselves and the fees charged. Trustees will normally ask about this during the first meeting of creditors. Violations of the law by Petition Preparers are frequent. Almost every month in my district the U.S. Trustee has to file a proceeding against a Petition Preparer for violations of the law. These violations are often so egregious the Preparer is banned from further work in the area, or even jailed. Now, this does not mean that all Petition Preparers are violating the law or are bad people. There are a few who understand their legal duties and make sure they comply with them, and do a good job in preparing the paperwork. They just cannot guide someone through a Bankruptcy case, and they cannot be there to answer questions about a case and deal with the problems that arise. Unfortunately, by the time you pay someone to do the work you will not know whether or not they did a good job or whether you should have even filed the case.
Virtually all good Bankruptcy lawyers offer free initial consultations so there is really no good reason to not have a telephone or office conference with a lawyer to discuss your case. It will not take long to see why you need a good lawyer to make sure your financial future is as secure as possible. If you are in Georgia, contact us and we will do out best to make sure that happens.