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1.1.3 Bankruptcy’s Past As Neglected Remedy

Despite its potential importance to consumer clients, the use of bankruptcy law is avoided by some attorneys. These practitioners see bankruptcy as an intimidating maze of paperwork in an unfamiliar and sometimes (for rural offices) inconvenient forum. And, perhaps, a touch of the old-time stigma still remains from the early days of consumer debtor representation, which saw bankruptcy as a lazy cop-out, either for client or lawyer, if not just a bit immoral.

In legal services offices, the disfavored status of bankruptcy has sometimes been officially announced as a principle of office priorities, bankruptcy being a matter which could be left to the private attorneys who traditionally handled bankruptcies in their community. More troubling, though, is the narrow view of bankruptcy which such policies evince—bankruptcy only as an easy way out for judgment-proof debtors.

Offices which have excluded bankruptcy from their practice have excluded a remedy which often can be used to better or more easily deal with those problems which they traditionally handle in other ways. To say “we don’t do bankruptcies” is basically not much different than saying “we don’t file complaints.” In many cases bankruptcy is the best way to prevent loss of housing, utility service, income, a car, or driver’s license necessary to maintain or gain employment, or even freedom, as imprisonment may result from failure to comply with orders to pay support or other indebtedness.63 Bankruptcy has certainly provided millions of people with relief from the incessant collection calls, letters, and other harassment tactics that accompany unpaid debts. Yet, presumably, the clients of some attorneys do not have that remedy available to them.

Footnotes

  • 63 {63} Such debt-related imprisonment still exists in some places. See, e.g., Judice v. Vail, 430 U.S. 327, 97 S. Ct. 1211, 51 L. Ed. 2d 376 (1977). Moreover, virtually every state imposes imprisonment for failure to pay child or spousal support.