As the number of people who have had to file bankruptcy has grown, so has the popularity of paralegals or other non-attorney bankruptcy “petition preparers” who charge a fee in order to prepare a bankruptcy petition for a client. Often these non-attorneys market their services and typing services or petition preparing services. They lure clients in with rates lower than those of an attorney. Here are some reasons why you should consider hiring a bankruptcy attorney instead of a paralegal or bankruptcy petition prepare to file your chapter 7 or chapter 13.
It is crucial that you understand the extent of representation you will receive if you choose this route. You should be aware paralegals and bankruptcy petition preparers are not attorneys and cannot provide you with legal representation. They are only capable of drawing up bankruptcy forms, and cannot act in a court of law or legally provide advice regarding your bankruptcy case. They also cannot represent you at your requisite meeting of the creditors.
Before making any firm decisions regarding your bankruptcy case, it’s vital that you know who can help you, and to what extent. Don’t let the appealing lower fee mislead you. While attorneys charge a higher fee, you get actual attorney representation. Don’t get trapped having your papers drawn up by a paralegal or bankruptcy petition preparer only to later find out that they won’t be representing your case in court. Too often, attorneys get called in to substitute into a case that was filed with improperly prepared paperwork through non-attorneys. At times, their failure to properly prepare the bankruptcy petition puts the client’s case and discharge in jeopardy.
Paralegals CANNOT offer legal advice.
They can only provide typing or petition preparing services. That means that you have to give them all the information, and they simply have to input it into software. If your petition preparer is offering you legal advice, he or she is engaging in unauthorized practice of the law, which is illegal.
Filing your bankruptcy documents does not necessarily mean that your bankruptcy case will be automatically discharged. The actual filing of the petition is merely the first step. You will be required to attend a hearing conducted by a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 trustee. You will be examined by the trustee and will need to answer questions regarding your assets and liabilities. A paralegal or bankruptcy petition preparer cannot represent you at this hearing. Only an attorney can do that. If there are any proofs of claim, objections to discharge or confirmation, or motions to be dealt with, a paralegal cannot offer you legal advice. Basically, any time a paralegal or petition preparer offers legal advice, it is in violation of the law, as non-attorneys are cannot engage in unauthorized practice of the law. There are certain cases that successfully get discharged without the use of an attorney. However, if you’re filing a bankruptcy without the assistance of an attorney and choose the services of petition preparers or paralegals, be aware that if your paperwork was prepared without diligence and accuracy, you may be putting your assets like your home and car at risk.
Unfortunately, lots of people that are in need of filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 13 bankruptcy still don’t fully realize that a paralegal cannot give them legal advice and continue to urge the paralegal typing up their casework to guide them through their case. Many are under the impression paralegals and bankruptcy petition preparers know as much about bankruptcy law as attorneys, but just don’t charge as much. This is not the case. Attorneys undergo several years of rigorous study of the law and need to pass both a challenging bar exam and an ethics exam in order to practice law. Paralegals cannot practice law and if they do, they are engaging in an illegal act.
Questions you’ll need an attorney to answer
Let’s check out a list of questions that you’ll want an experienced bankruptcy lawyer to answer in regards to your case:
- Should I be filing a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13?
- What forms do I need to fill out?
- What documents do I need?
- Can I keep my ___________? (car, house, jewelry, inheritance, etc.)
- Can filing for bankruptcy stop a ____________? (foreclosure, garnishment, repossession, etc.)
- My debts are almost all from my business. Should my LLC or corporation file bankruptcy or should I?
- I filed for bankruptcy three years ago, can I file again now?
- I had very high income, but was recently laid off. Do I qualify to file for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy?
- Will I be able to rebuild credit after a bankruptcy?
If any of these simple questions look like something that you’ll need the answer to, you’ll be in need of an experienced Los Angeles bankruptcy attorney or Orange County bankruptcy attorney. Legally, a paralegal is required NOT to give answers or advice regarding these questions.
Contact us today and begin your journey to a fresh start
If you or any of your loved ones are currently considering filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, contact the law offices of Eryk Escobar today. We offer consultations free of charge. Your case will be personally handled by an experienced, caring attorney from start to finish. We have offices throughout Southern California for your convenience. We can meet you at our offices in Orange County (Irvine) or Los Angeles County (Glendale or Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley). We can meet you during weekends, early mornings, or late evenings if typical office hours don’t work for you. If we don’t have an office near you, we can meet you at your home or a local coffee shop if you prefer. We look forward to getting you back on your feet as quickly as possible. Contact us at 323.426.8300, 949.705.4630 or 818.574.1202. You can also reach us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.