Find an Attorney (Sometimes Available for Free)
Only an attorney is qualified to give you legal advice. “Petition preparers” or “document preparers” are not authorized to give debtors or other parties legal advice. A petition preparer’s role is strictly limited to a typing service. For a minimal fee, a petition preparer will merely fill in the required forms using information a debtor provides without making suggestions about what papers are legally appropriate or what information is legally appropriate to include on the papers.
The court and the Clerk’s Office cannot advise you about who you should employ as an attorney. But you can review court files at the Clerk’s Office to see how an attorney has handled other bankruptcy cases, and to see the fees a debtor’s attorney has charged in other cases. You may also attend any public hearings the court conducts to observe attorneys. The Clerk’s Office has the court’s hearing schedule.
Below are suggestions for finding an attorney to represent you in your bankruptcy case.
- The D.C. Bar website has information regarding how to find and work with an attorney.
- The D.C. Bar offers free Advice and Referral Clinics at which you can obtain free advice regarding many legal problems including debt collection problems, landlord-tenant problems, and bankruptcy:
- The American Bar Association’s website, is another possible starting point for finding an attorney, and it offers information regarding dealing with an attorney. It lists links for finding an attorney for each state.
- The LawHelp website posts some information about how to locate attorney help for free.
- Bankruptcy Pro Bono Resource Locator ABI provides an interactive, national locator for consumers needing pro bono bankruptcy services.
- Besides the D.C. Bar’s free Advice and Referral Clinics, there are three other programs in the District of Columbia that may provide free legal representation in bankruptcy cases:
- The Neighborhood Legal Services Program - Southeast, Telephone Number: (202) 399-1346, may offer free representation regarding debt collection problems and bankruptcy. According to the LawHelp.org website, your family's income should be at or below 125.0% of the poverty level in order to qualify for free assistance from this program.
- The Neighborhood Legal Services - Headquarters, Telephone Number: (202) 269-5100, may offer free representation regarding debt collection problems and bankruptcy. According to the LawHelp.org website, your family's income should be at or below 125.0% of the poverty level in order to qualify for free assistance from this program.
- The Archdiocesan Legal Network of Catholic Charities, Telephone Number: (202) 350-4305 (or (202) 772-4325 for Spanish) may place you with an attorney who will represent you for free regarding debt collection problems or bankruptcy
- If you are indigent and need legal representation to pursue or defend against a proceeding within the bankruptcy case, you may be eligible for free representation upon application to the court. This program is available to debtors and non-debtor parties. Contact the Clerk’s Office for the form used to request free representation.
At the clinics, you may ask an attorney about bankruptcy (including asking the attorney for advice about how to complete papers you might file in a bankruptcy case). In addition, certain indigent debtors in need of the protections of the bankruptcy laws may be referred to an attorney who will file a case under chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code for free. Although such a debtor is responsible for filing fees, the debtor may be eligible for a waiver of such fees from the court.
Examples of proceedings to which this program applies are:
- an adversary proceeding brought against the debtor to determine dischargeability of a particular debt;
- an adversary proceeding brought by the debtor to determine dischargeability of a student loan debt;
- an adversary proceeding to deny the debtor a discharge or to revoke a discharge;
- an adversary proceeding to recover a judgment against an individual, such as a bankruptcy trustee’s or a debtor’s complaint against someone for having allegedly received property from the debtor for inadequate conisderation or for having received payment of a debt that gave the creditor preferential treatment in comparison to other creditors;
- a motion by the debtor to avoid a lien that impairs the debtor’s exemptions;
- an objection to the debtor’s objections;
- a motion to hold a creditor in contempt for violating the automatic stay, co-debtor stay, or discharge injunction;
- an adversary proceeding to enjoin someone from undertaking certain acts in the future.
This program does not include pursuing or defending against a motion for relief from the automatic stay.