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.
1. The D.C. Bar website has information regarding how to find and work with an attorney.
2. 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:
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.
3. The Bar Association of the District of Columbia Lawyer Referral Service Telephone Number: (202) 296-7845. This is a fee-based service, providing a means for members of the general public to be referred to attorneys who are experienced in the area of law in which they need assistance.
4. 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.
5. The LawHelp website posts some information about how to locate attorney help for free.
6. Bankruptcy Pro Bono Resource Locator ABI provides an interactive, national locator for consumers needing pro bono bankruptcy services.
7. Besides the D.C. Bar’s free Advice and Referral Clinics, there are five other programs in the District of Columbia that may provide free legal representation in bankruptcy cases:
a. American University, General Practice Clinic, Telephone Number: (202) 274-4148, may offer free representation regarding bankruptcy. The clinic is available during the fall and spring semesters only.
b. 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. According to the program, your family's income should be at or below 200% of the poverty level in order to qualify for free assistance.
c. Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Telephone number: (202) 434-2120 services are provided through a variety of mechanisms including hotline advice, staff attorneys, the Pro Bono Project which refers cases to private and government attorneys, and Self-Help Offices at outreach sites.
8. 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.
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 consideration 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.
9. Legal Information Helpline District of Columbia, Telephone Number: (202) 626-3499 or (202) 626-3492 this 24-hour helpline offers general information in consumer/credit law and provides callers with additional information about the availability of free legal services.