One thing you may already know about most court proceedings, is that parties usually have the option to represent themselves without the aid of an attorney. This is called appearing 'Pro Se', which, in Latin means "for oneself". In a bankruptcy proceeding, when money is tight, the thought of saving money by cutting out attorneys and their fees can be pretty tempting. But there are many reasons this is a bad idea.
Bankruptcy can be complicated and bankruptcy judges are a picky bunch. They expect that the preparation of the voluntary petition, schedules, or other documents will be done accurately and on time. A bankruptcy attorney can usually prepare the documents in much less time than it would take for you to figure it out on your own. He or she knows what items of personal property should or should not be included on the petition to avoid a dismissal of your case, and how to apply the Means Test to your situation.
Some courts may give pro se applicants some minor concessions or leeway so that the case can be moved along, but they are careful to avoid crossing the threshold of what may arise to the level of the Court doing the job that a litigant – or his or her counsel – should be doing. Also, many different communications are exchanged between a party and the court, the trustees reviewing the petition, as well as the creditors. Your actions, or lack thereof, during this time, can seriously affect the outcome of your petition, and may even lead to the worst outcome- a dismissal of your case.
Normally, when you retain an attorney to handle a bankruptcy, the attorney will contact creditors on your behalf and attempt to stop any embarrassing, annoying, or even harassing debt-collecting activities. Usually this stops the behavior, even though legally, the creditor still has the right to contact you. He or she can also give you advice on seemingly innocuous activities that could negatively impact your case, such as drawing on retirement funds to pay bills.
Then there is the significant issue of knowing the law. Since there are several sets of rules governing bankruptcy proceedings, trying to navigate all the rules at once can get very confusing. All parties to any bankruptcy proceeding must comply with the Local Bankruptcy Rules, the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. Failure to do so will result in dismissal of the case or other sanctions. Other important aspects of law can come into play at any time during this process as well, such as statutes of limitations, transfer of assets, or tax issues that can have a big impact on your proceedings as well.
Finally, many bankruptcy proceedings are entangled with other legal issues, such as divorce, civil court action, or foreclosure, which could affect the outcome of your bankruptcy proceeding, and vice versa.
Before deciding to gamble with your future, talk to an experienced bankruptcy attorney about it. You will find the cost well worth it.