Is a Pro Se Bankruptcy Right for Me? - Borowitz & Clark

Is a Pro Se Bankruptcy Right for Me?

There is no law or regulation requiring that people filing for bankruptcy in Los Angeles work with a bankruptcy attorney. In fact, a significant percentage of cases in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California file their bankruptcy cases pro se, or without an attorney. But, whether it’s possible to file a consumer bankruptcy case on your own may be the wrong question. While many people represent themselves in both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases, the success rate among pro se filers is low.

Los Angeles Bankruptcy Filing Statistics

In 2018, there were 28,456 Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases filed in the Central District of California. 3,660 of those, or 12.86%, were filed by the bankruptcy petitioner without legal representation. The rate of pro se filing among Chapter 13 debtors was even higher: 2,402 of the 8,273 cases in 2018, or 29%. These rates are already high, but the rate of filing without an attorney is even higher in Los Angeles: 13.31% of Chapter 7 filers and 33.1% of Chapter 13 petitioners filed on their own.

Success Rates of Pro Se Bankruptcy Petitioners

It probably comes as no surprise that bankruptcy petitioners who work with an experienced bankruptcy lawyer tend to fare better in their bankruptcy cases. After all, successful completion of a bankruptcy case requires following very specific requirements, including submitting detailed information in prescribed formats, ensuring that interested parties receive notice, giving testimony at a meeting of creditors, and ensuring that various obligations are fulfilled by certain deadlines or landmarks in the bankruptcy case. 

In the Los Angeles area, we don’t have to guess at just how significant the difference in success rates is. The Central District of California has more pro se filings than any other bankruptcy court in the country. Therefore, the court tracks data relating to pro se filings and periodically releases a report with detailed information about bankruptcy cases filed without an attorney. 

The most recent pro se report was released in 2016. In both 2015 and 2016, more than 24% of bankruptcy petitioners in the district filed on their own. That’s compared with a national average of less than 9%.

The report shows that both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 petitioner’s who file without attorneys fare worse in the process than those who are represented. Chapter 13 filers are much more likely to file on their own, but also much more likely to see unsuccessful outcomes when they do so.

Non-Attorney Assistance in California Bankruptcy Cases

A significant percentage of those who file bankruptcy without an attorney do seek some sort of outside assistance, ranging from consulting the court’s help desk staff to hiring a bankruptcy petition preparer. This information isn’t precise, since a large number of pro se bankruptcy petitioners are believed to use undisclosed bankruptcy petition preparers. However, the court tracks a variety of indicators that allow for close estimates in each category.

In Chapter 7 cases, 93.9% of those who file with an attorney receive a discharge. Those with disclosed bankruptcy petition preparers come in second, at 85.7%. However, the report notes that cases filed by disclosed bankruptcy petition preparer’s are heavily weighted toward the straightforward, uncomplicated cases. Fewer than half of those who filed without assistance or with undisclosed assistance receive a discharge. In the group the court classifies as “runner,” cases–cases where it appears that the petition was prepared by an undisclosed petition preparer–just 23.7% successfully complete their Chapter 7 cases. 

Fewer than half of those who did not disclose any assistance received a discharge. That means about 1,800 people each year in the Central District of California alone invest the time and money to attempt Chapter 7 bankrutpcy without an attorney and don’t get relief from their debts. 

Chapter 13 cases weren’t tracked all the way through in the study, but were measured by the percentage that was still pending and had a confirmed Chapter 13 plan by the middle of the subsequent calendar year. Although a larger percentage of Chapter 13 cases are filed pro se, the success rate is near zero. Among bankruptcy petitioners who used a disclosed bankruptcy petition preparer, just 1.6% had a confirmed plan by May of the following year. Another 3.1% had a case still pending, but with no confirmed plan. That means more than 95% of these bankruptcy cases had been dismissed by the middle of the following year.

That’s pretty dismal, but it’s much better than the success rates of other pro se Chapter 13 filers. Among those who disclosed no assistance, just .6% had a confirmed plan, and among those classified as “runner” cases, just .1%. The dismissal rate for the “no disclosed assistance” group was 98.4%, and for the runner group, 99.2%.

The Value of an Experienced Bankruptcy Attorney

An experienced Los Angeles bankrutpcy attorney understands the pitfalls that can lead to dismissal and how to avoid them. That’s why those who disclosed no assistance in their Chapter 13 cases were more than eight times as likely to see their cases dismissed for failure to provide required information than those who were represented by an attorney.

Bankruptcy is an investment in your financial future, and receiving full benefit requires taking pains to ensure that you have complete and accurate information and the guidance you need to keep the case moving forward. That starts with a free consultation. You can schedule yours now by calling 877-439-9717 or filling out the contact form on this site.

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