Credit Slips Policy Discussion on Pro Se Filers

From a post I originally wrote on March 7, 2012:

Today I wanted to mention the Credit Slips blog to those that may not be familiar with it. Credit Slips is self-described as being a blog on all things about credit, bankruptcy, consumers and financial institutions, with nine contributing academics who regularly write with their knowledge and passion. I recommend it to anyone interested in thought-provoking policy discussion on these topics.

This past week, Credit Slips featured a post from Professor Angela Littwin of the University of Texas School of Law on the chapter that she wrote for Broke, a new book regarding bankruptcy and the middle class. Her chapter is entitled The Do-it-Yourself Mirage: Complexity in the Bankruptcy System.

In it, based on her review of recent empirical data, Professor Littwin makes two interesting arguments. First, she argues that bankruptcy has become so complex that even those with high educational backgrounds have difficulty filing for it correctly without a lawyer. Second, she points to her conclusion that it may be the role of lawyers that assist the bankruptcy system to run effectively to the extent it does.

While I do not represent consumer debtors in my present practice other than on an occasional pro bono basis, I have frequently witnessed in court the struggles faced by pro se persons (i.e. those going to court without a lawyer). Their cases seem to more often suffer from consequences such as dismissal of the case on technicalities and successful routine motions by creditors or trustees due to failure to adequately defend, all costly errors which a lawyer can help to avoid.

Some courts, such as in Massachusetts, offer some basic assistance for pro se filers. But, even this is likely only a limited solution, as in most if not all cases, getting representation is advisable to help the case run more smoothly and manage complications. As highlighted by Professor Littwin, balancing the cost of hiring of lawyer with keeping bankruptcy accessible to the neediest persons continue to be sensitive issues.

With my friend David Yen, I co-wrote an article a few years back entitled The New Bankruptcy Law: Challenge and Opportunity on the 2005 bankruptcy amendments, which added significant layers of complexities to the modern-day bankruptcy system, particularly for consumers. I am happy to send a copy to anyone who contacts me.

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