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Visualizing Bankruptcy

posted by Elizabeth Warren

The variations in how people learn always amazes me.  For some, a wordy explanation makes the brain smile.  For others a mathematical formula sings out loud.  For me, a good graph is better than a good glass of wine--interesting, complex, and just a surprising hint of color.

So I was tickled to see Lynn LoPucki's new, post-amendments Bankruptcy Visuals are out.  Lynn has developed the most amazing single-sheet graphic on bankruptcy that I've ever seen.  He has one for Chapter 7, one for Chapter 13 and one for Chapter 11, each showing a case from start to finish.  The visual has an explanation of what happens at each juncture, complete with Code cites, which makes it a kind of one-page review of all of bankruptcy.  But the part that makes it special is that by getting it all on one page and putting the pieces in chronological order, the relationships between the parts are all visible at once.  The complexity--and the simplicity--of the system come to life.

No, I'm not Lynn's agent (he didn't know I was going to write this).  But through the years, I've spent hours looking at earlier versions of this graphic.  I've never unfolded it without saying, "Wow."  I just saw the new version, so I thought it was time to share.

Surely there are some brains out there like mine that also love visualizing bankruptcy. 


I have been always impressed with those visuals. I have tried myself something similar for spanish law and never had the patience (probably the skills too) to finish them. It is really hard to do such a very good grahics.


I'm a fan of the visuals too, and I thank Lynn for having the patience (and the computer skills) to put his visual together.

When I teach, I do use basic visuals for some concepts: a triangle for fraudulent conveyances to emphasize the relationships among debtor, transferee and creditor (or trustee); a diamond to add in the bank in the case of an LBO; a timeline that looks like the old-fashioned diagram of a sentence (subject/verb/object) to portray the timeline of a ch 11 (not as sophisticated as Lynn's work, but it really helps with things like future claims).

But I'm just a piker compared to Lynn. Thanks for the post plugging his work.

Every once in a while, I see something differently from the way that I habitually see it—a good experience for a lawyer to have more often than not. That happened with a client recently. At the end of the appointment, I noticed an anxiety in the client’s face that I hadn’t recognized in that way before. We sat back down and talked about it. I was so focused on some unusual complexities of the case that I was oblivious to the client’s lack of a sense of the context of the bankruptcy process.

Suddenly, I had this image of my asking the client to follow me blindly through this maze in which I had some sense of the pattern but in which the client felt boxed without any perspective of where we were going—even though I verbally had outlined the bankruptcy process in a general way. Some clients need more of an idea of the big picture than others, and clients may need to see or hear or think about the big picture in different ways. This client, especially given work experience, probably would get a lot more from visuals than most.

So I have a greater appreciation of LoPucki’s bankruptcy visuals as a road map for showing a client where the case currently is and where it is headed in the bankruptcy process. I expect many would see LoPucki's visuals as nothing more than a meaningless design, but others would appreciate a visual.

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