Your Questions about bankruptcy court, answered:
What is CM/ECF?
This term refers to "Case Management/Electronic Case Filing."
This an "electronic filing" procedure that only applies to attorneys.
If you are filing for bankruptcy without an attorney (also known as filing 'pro se'), you can safely ignore all the warnings about "mandatory CM/ECF" -- you are not required to file electronically.
If you are an attorney, don't worry. This procedure is not as complicated as it sounds. In most districts, it basically means that the forms must be saved as PDF files and submitted in a specified manner.
Can I file electronically (eSR) in California Eastern District Bankruptcy Court? Am I Required To?
Electronic Filing for Self-Represented Debtors (eSR)
Not so long ago, self represented debtors had no way to file online. Now, thanks to about a dozen pioneering bankruptcy courts, eSR or "Electronic Self Representation " for debtors is now available.
CM/ECF for Attorneys
Many court web sites have prominent references to "mandatory" electronic filing or "mandatory ECF." Do not be alarmed. You are not required to file electronically, unless you are an attorney.
It is true that, in most courts, attorneys must now file all documents and forms electronically, and they must take training on how to file electronically with the court. However, by law, that rule does not apply to individuals filing without the help of an attorney. If a court clerk tells you otherwise, they are incorrect. Ask to talk to their supervisor to clear up the matter.
In most cases filing electronically is not all that technologically challenging. In many districts, it simply means filing the documents in PDF format.
Electronic filing for self-represented debtors.
Some courts are now offering do it yourself electronic filing for self represented debtors but only in a few districts. The new service called "eSR" or "electronic Self Representation" of debtors. More districts are adding this option all the time. So check the California Eastern District Bankruptcy Court website often to see if they offer it.
If you have no real estate and have income that is low enough, you may be able to use a service like upsolve.org to file online.
What does “pro se” mean?
If you're filing for bankruptcy without the help of an attorney, follow all links that use the term "pro se." "Pro se" (pronounced 'pro-SAY') is the Latin term for people handling their own legal matters without a lawyer.
Many courts (as if to make things harder for non-lawyers) provide information for such persons by using this Latin term, rather than plain-English. The more service-oriented courts labeled such information with links like "Filing without an attorney." Courts that aren't as helpful tend to hide such information behind a link called "pro se information" or "pro se filers."
Will the court staff explain the filing procedure to me?
To some extent, yes, but it depends on the court.
Some courts are quite willing to help non-attorneys and will give you a packet of information that explains the filing procedure in detail, and in plain English.
Other courts are quite hostile to debtors attempting to represent themselves and will make it a point not to help you at all.
The difference between courts can be dramatic, as evidenced by the wide range of difference between various court websites.
See the "court ratings" section on this page. The list of courts that "get it" provide helpful information to non attorneys.
If the staff at your court tells you that they can't offer you any help, you may wish to refer them to the websites of these other bankruptcy courts that manage to provide ample help the general public.
What is a 341 Hearing?
The Justice Department's Office of the US Trustee offers instructions for 341 meetings that are unique to each district
Click this link to get information and meeting locations for your district.
Some meetings, especially in rural areas, can now can be done virtually with no need to travel to to the courthouse. Contact your bankruptcy court clerk or trustee to find out whether "virtual" 341 meetings are being conducted in your district.
A 341 hearing is the so-called "creditors meeting" that every bankruptcy filer must attend shortly after you file your bankruptcy papers.
For many filers, this will be your only trip to the courthouse.
This is when you meet with the bankruptcy trustee appointed to your case, and are asked questions about the information you have entered on your forms.
Most court websites post schedules of 341 hearings. When you file, you will be notified of your hearing date and location.
If you are the debtor, you will need to bring certain documents to the 341 hearing, including:
- Government-issued photo identification, such as a driver's license or passport
- Social Security card or other proof of your Social Security number
- Your bankruptcy petition and all schedules and statements that you filed with the court
- Any pay stubs or other proof of income that you have received since filing for bankruptcy
- Any bank statements or other financial statements that you have received since filing for bankruptcy
- Any other documents that the bankruptcy trustee has requested that you bring to the hearing.
It is important to review your bankruptcy petition and all other documents filed with the court before the hearing to make sure that everything is accurate and complete.
When you show up for your hearing, you will find that many other people have hearings set for the same day. You sit wait for your name to be called.
This is also the time when creditors can ask questions about your papers, and objections to your filing may be raised by creditors. But most of the time, no creditors attend. After all, it's the job of the trustee to represent the creditors' interests, and it routine cases, there are no issues.
The book How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy provides detailed information about what to expect at your 341 hearing.
What does “pro bono” mean
"Pro bono" is a Latin term that refers to lawyers who are willing to provide assistance for free. Bar associations like to talk about the fact that lawyers do 'pro bono' but, in fact, very few actually do, and the need for legal services is far greater than the amount of pro bono help available. Nevertheless, some court websites will direct you to pro bono services instead of simply providing the information you need.
Pro bono services can be uneven. Some can be excellent while others may be done by lawyers with little expertise in bankruptcy law. If you read a good book on how to file for bankruptcy before you meet with your pro bono lawyer, you will be better able to gauge their knowledge of bankruptcy law.