Filing Without an Attorney

The Court welcomes you to our informational site for the self-represented filer.  The information gathered here is not legal advice. You can only receive that from a lawyer.  Rather, this information is organized here so that publically available information is in one place to help you gather and assess information about the bankruptcy process. Filing bankruptcy is a serious decision and should not be taken without considering the long-term financial and legal consequences.  While the law permits individuals to file bankruptcy without an attorney, at a minimum, you should meet with a lawyer before you file so that you may carefully consider all your options.

Bankruptcy law can be very complex, particularly with respect to cases under Chapter 13. Over 95% of people who filed a chapter 13 bankruptcy case without an attorney, did not have their debts cleared and did not get their financial fresh start.*  Many of these people might have gotten better results with the assistance of an attorney. For these reasons, we strongly encourage people seeking Bankruptcy relief to consult with a lawyer before filing. Legal assistance may be available at no, or low cost. Some lawyers also may agree to accept a case with little or no upfront payments and/or accept payments over time through a Chapter 13 repayment plan. Filers are encouraged to speak with attorneys about these payment possibilities before filing on their own.

Below is short video on the benefits of consulting an attorney before filing:

Please read the following important information before proceeding further.

  • All actions taken by the court, attorneys, and those seeking relief are governed by the U.S Bankruptcy Code, Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure and the court’s Local Rules.  If you choose to represent yourself, you will be expected to know and understand the provisions of the law and procedures just like an attorney.  A trustee will also be appointed by the United States Trustee and assigned to your case. If you are filing a chapter 7 case, you will be required to meet with the trustee to review your debts and any assets. The trustee has the authority to liquidate available assets that you have and distribute them to those who you are in debt to. If you are filing a chapter 13 case, you will be required to make monthly payments for up to 5 years to your trustee, who in turn will pay back creditors to whom you owe money.
  • When you file your bankruptcy case, you are asking the court to discharge (forgive or legally release) a portion of or the entirety of your debts.  You will be required to prove to the court that you do not have the means to pay your debt.  In turn, the court will require all information it needs to determine your eligibility for relief from your debts.
  • The duties of the Clerk’s Office include accepting bankruptcy petitions and other legal documents for filing and sending out court orders and official notices to parties involved in the bankruptcy process. The office also provides staff support to our bankruptcy judges.  Because of the Clerk’s official responsibilities, please be aware that staff of this office cannot provide legal advice to you.  Legal advice is only available from attorneys. 

Legal Services

The Clerk’s office is prohibited by 28 USC §955 from giving legal advice or assisting with the preparation of forms.  Bankruptcy is a very complex process.  As such, the following information about bankruptcy attorneys and legal services in the Middle District is provided so that a person considering a pro se filing can assess his/her legal options.  Attorneys must be admitted to practice before the Bankruptcy Court.  Other sources of legal information and aid are available through MidPenn Legal Services and North Penn Legal Services to assist those with limited means.

Other Considerations

At times, creditors may object to your discharge in general or to the discharge of the debt you owe them, or (in chapter 13) object to your repayment plan.  In either event, the creditor may file an Adversary Proceeding for which you will be required to defend. Whether or not you anticipate any of these issues within your bankruptcy case and because you may not know the bankruptcy process thoroughly, you are at greater risk of having your case dismissed without the benefit of receiving a discharge. Therefore you should strongly consider hiring a lawyer before filing bankruptcy. 

*In Calendar Year 2014 - 170 ch. 13 cases were filed by people without an attorney, 162 of these cases failed. In Calendar Year 2013 - 159 ch. 13 cases were filed by people without an attorney, 157 of these cases failed. (Source: US Bankruptcy Court Official Statistics)