On-Boarding Guide for Legal Aid Staff

This guide explains everything you need to know to use Upsolve with your bankruptcy clients. It was written for both legal aid organizations and pro bono agencies. For convenience, both are referred to as “Legal Aid Providers.” Each Legal Aid Provider will have a designated “Upsolve Coordinator,” who coordinates the referral of clients to Upsolve. For some organizations, like Bay Area Legal Aid, the Upsolve Coordinator will be the same person as the attorney reviewing the client’s bankruptcy forms. Other organizations like Pine Tree Legal Assistance use a pro bono model, where the coordinator and the reviewing attorney will be different people. Either way, the attorney review described in Section III works the same way.

Before starting, there are two important things to understand.

First, Upsolve’s bankruptcy filings are pro se limited assistance. Under Upsolve’s model engagement agreement between the Legal Aid Provider and the client, the Legal Aid Provider’s assistance is limited to (1) referring the client to Upsolve to compile their bankruptcy forms, and (2) providing an attorney review of the forms before filing. Once that’s done, the engagement is over. Upsolve guides the debtor through the rest of the process to discharge. That includes ensuring all documents have been mailed to the trustee, ensuring the debtor education course is completed and filed, preparing the debtor for the 341 Meeting by video, reminding the debtor to attend the 341 meeting, answering any questions the debtor has post-filing, and referring the debtor back to the Legal Aid Provider in the relatively rare cases where additional assistance may be required.

Second, attorneys are never listed on Upsolve’s filings. Instead, each filing contains this notice of pro se assistance. The notice states that the relevant Legal Aid Provider has assisted the pro se debtor in preparing their bankruptcy forms, but makes no certification as to their accuracy. Thus, an attorney assisting an Upsolve debtor has significantly fewer diligence obligations than they would as the debtor’s counsel of record. And in the rare cases where the debtor requires further assistance after filing (for example, defending an adversary proceeding), the Legal Aid Provider may choose to provide it, but is not obligated to do so.

This limited assistance pro se model makes pro bono bankruptcy significantly easier and more efficient, reducing it from 10 hours of attorney time in traditional representation to under 2 hours in Upsolve cases. And we hope it allows you to multiply the clients you’re able to serve with a fresh start.

Now, we’ll discuss the lifecycle of an Upsolve case.

I. Screening

II. Debtor Uses Upsolve

III. Attorney Review

IV. Filing Pro Se

V. Debtor Returns to Upsolve


I. Screening

The process begins when a debtor calls or visits the Legal Aid Provider to ask for bankruptcy help. The Legal Aid Provider’s intake staff pulls up Upsolve’s screening questionnaire at upsolve.org/intake. The questionnaire, designed by a leading bankruptcy scholar, tells you whether a client would be a good fit for Upsolve in 10 questions, which take 5 minutes to answer. It tells the intake staff one of two things:

Option 1: The debtor is very likely a good fit for Upsolve and should be referred to upsolve.org

Debtors who pass this screener will end up filing 95% of the time. But a complete bankruptcy diagnosis will still be made by an attorney after the debtor has completed the interview and uploaded their documents.

Option 2: The debtor is not a good fit for Upsolve

This happens if the debtor owns a home, wants to file jointly with their spouse, owes under $10,000 in unsecured debt, would lose expensive property by filing, requires a car reaffirmation, or is not comfortable using a computer. If you believe someone screened by this tool would still be a good fit for Upsolve, feel free to refer them to our website so long as they are not homeowners or joint filers.

II. Debtor Uses Upsolve

On upsolve.org, the debtor will create an account linked to their referring Legal Aid Provider. The debtor then completes the following three tasks, which can either be done on a smartphone or a computer.

  1. Fill out information. Our website asks the debtor everything they make, spend, owe, and own, along with other questions required by the bankruptcy forms. Cartoons and videos guide the user through the questions. In all, it takes 30–60 minutes.
  2. Take Course 1. We guide the debtor to take their mandatory credit counseling course with a company called DebtorCC. The course takes about 60 minutes and costs $14.95. We’re unable to automate the fee waiver process, but the debtor receives information on how to apply.
  3. Get documents. The debtor must get their last 60 days worth of pay stubs (if employed) and take a photo of them on our app. If the debtor has been unemployed, we provide a declaration of no documents as part of our draft bankruptcy forms. Upsolve also pays Universal Credit Services to obtain two of the debtor’s credit reports and their tax transcripts for last two years. Why doesn’t Upsolve require six months worth of pay stubs, bank statements, title to vehicles, and other documents often required by attorneys in full representation cases? It’s because obtaining documents is hard for pro se debtors. And the more documents we require, the more debtors drop out. Thus, we intentionally only ask for the minimum set of documents required by the Bankruptcy Code. This works well for our pro se model. And if a reviewing attorney believes more documents are necessary, they can always email the debtor before their final meeting to ask for them.

Most debtors will complete these three tasks within a week. We call and email debtors who do not complete the three steps in that time. And we generally close the account of any debtor who doesn’t complete them within a month, giving extra lenience and encouragement to those who need it. In those cases where we close a debtor’s account, we email the Upsolve coordinator to close the case.

Upsolve Generates Draft Bankruptcy Forms

Once the debtor completes these tasks, Upsolve populates all the required federal and local bankruptcy forms, including the creditors from the Experian and Transition credit reports. We review the forms and documents for accuracy. Then, we upload the forms in editable PDF format to the Attorney Portal, along with all the supporting documents (tax returns, pay stubs, credit reports, credit counseling certificate, etc.).

A legal aid coordinator will assign an attorney to the case, using the Attorney Portal. The attorney is responsible for diagnosing the debtor and finalizing the case.

You should read this guide to learn how the Attorney Portal works. Create an account at attorney.upsolve.org/register.

III. Attorney Review

As discussed above, the attorney reviewing the bankruptcy forms might be a pro bono attorney or an in-house attorney at the Legal Aid Provider. Either way, these are the next 3 steps:

Attorney Diagnoses Debtor

Upon receiving the email from the Upsolve Coordinator, the reviewing attorney will review the draft bankruptcy forms and supporting documents. The attorney will call the debtor to ask any outstanding questions and will confirm that the debtor should file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Attorney Finalizes Bankruptcy Forms in Adobe Acrobat

If so, the attorney will finalize the bankruptcy forms using **the Attorney Checklist**. The checklist asks the attorney to review and revise fields populated by Upsolve and to complete a few fields that are currently blank. The checklist also asks the attorney to redact any supporting documents containing personally identifiable information. Executing the checklist should take under 1 hour.

Note the attorney must revise the PDF bankruptcy forms in Adobe Acrobat Reader, an application that’s standard on most PCs and available for free **download here**. Any changes made in Adobe to income, expenses, or debts will update in other relevant places in the bankruptcy forms. So for example, increasing the debtor’s monthly food expense by $50 on Schedule J will automatically increase the debtor’s total monthly expenses by $50 on Schedule J, the Summary of Schedules, and the Fee Waiver Application. But changes to the PDF will not update in other parts of the bankruptcy forms if you’re using a different PDF reader like Mac’s “Preview” application.

If the attorney has questions about using the checklist or editing the PDF, they can contact Jonathan anytime at (646) 203–6733 and jonathan@upsolve.org. In addition, if the attorney needs personalized training with Upsolve, they can schedule a call or video conference with Jonathan at www.calendly.com/upsolve.

Attorney Meets Debtor on Filing Day

At the final meeting or call, the attorney will review the finalized bankruptcy forms with the debtor to ensure everything is accurate. For convenience, the attorney can use the yellow notes inside the PDF to guide their review with the client. Once the review is complete, the forms can be printed and signed by the debtor.

The attorney will then provide the debtor with the address of the local bankruptcy court and the nearest post office, and copy center (if needed). The attorney will also give the debtor a post-filing checklist in the packet, which explains what they need to do after filing on Upsolve to obtain a discharge, including mailing documents to the trustee.

As soon as the meeting is over, the attorney will email the Upsolve Coordinator with the finalized PDF bankruptcy forms, informing them that the consultation has been completed and the case can be closed. The Upsolve Coordinator can then save the email and attachments in their case management system in case the bankruptcy forms need to be amended at any point in the future.

IV. Filing Pro Se

Because electronic filing is generally not permitted for pro se debtors, the debtor must file their bankruptcy forms in one of two ways: either (1) bring them to the clerk’s office of their local bankruptcy court, or (2) mail them to the bankruptcy court.

Hand delivery is the best method, when possible, because it allows the debtor to get a feel for what the court is like and where it’s located. But if the bankruptcy court is too far for the debtor to hand deliver the bankruptcy forms, the debtor can mail them to the court.

As explained on the debtor’s post-filing checklist, immediately after filing, the debtor must mail their Chapter 7 trustee a copy of their bankruptcy forms, their most recent tax return, and their pay stubs for the last 60 days (or the declaration of no documents, if applicable).

V. Debtor Returns to Upsolve

After filing and mailing the trustee, the Debtor must go to upsolve.org/finish to complete two final tasks, all of which can be done on a smartphone or computer.

  1. Take Course 2. The debtor will list their new bankruptcy case number and confirm they have mailed the required documents to their trustee. We then guide the debtor to take the post-filing debtor education course with DebtorCC. It costs $9.95 and takes 2 hours. Upon completion of the course, the course certificate is filed with the court by Debtor CC. Upsolve monitors the docket to ensure that the debtor’s certificate is filed. As a backup, though, we also instruct the debtor to print out the certificate and give it to the clerk’s office if they go to court for the 341 Meeting.
  2. Prepare for 341 Meeting. The debtor will show up by themselves at the 341 Meeting. To prepare the debtor, Upsolve has a mock-341 video in which the debtor practices answering the questions that the Chapter 7 Trustee will ask him. In addition, Upsolve emails the Debtor a calendar invitation for the 341 Meeting. And the day before the meeting, Upsolve sends both SMS and voicemail messages, reminding the debtor about the need to attend.
  3. After the 341 meeting. The debtor’s work is complete. In most cases, the debtor will receive a letter of discharge in the mail just over two months later.

Other Post-Filing Assistance

Upsolve will handle all of the debtor’s questions after filing. The debtor can ask us questions by phone at (646) 203–6733 or through our forthcoming live chat tool on upsolve.org/finish. Upsolve will refer certain questions back to the Upsolve Coordinator if they relate to requests for additional assistance.

Upsolve will create a docket alert to track the case. So Upsolve (and the Upsolve coordinator, if desired) will receive a daily email update whenever a new filing is made in the case.

This allows Upsolve to do three important things. First, if we receive a notice that the Debtor has failed to mail documents to the trustee, we will email the trustee those documents, cc’ing the debtor and the Upsolve Coordinator. Second, as stated above, if we receive a docket notice that the debtor education course certificate was not filed, we contact the debtor and course provider to ensure it’s filed. Third, if any litigation is filed in the case like an adversary proceeding, we contact the Upsolve Coordinator to allow them to determine the best course of action.

Finally, a month after discharge, Upsolve sends an automated email to check in. Are debt collectors still calling debtors about their discharged debts? If so, we provide them with a letter to send to debt collectors, notifying them that they are violating the discharge injunction.


Other Questions?

If you need any extra help, we’ve answered these Frequently Asked Questions. And we’re always available by phone or email at (646) 203–6733 and jonathan@upsolve.org.

Thanks for reading. We’re excited help you serve more folks with a fresh start!

Warmly,

The Upsolve Team

Upsolve is a 501(c)(3) legal aid nonprofit that started in 2016. Our mission is to help low-income Americans in financial distress get a fresh start through Chapter 7 bankruptcy at no cost. We do this by combining the power of technology with pro bono attorneys. Spun out of Harvard Law School, our team includes lawyers, engineers, and judges. We have mission-driven funders that include the U.S. government, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and private charities.

To learn more, read our reviews from past clients, or read our press coverage.