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The Uneven Rise and Fall of Bankruptcy Filings

posted by Bob Lawless

2010 to 2009 Bankruptcy Small Map Using data from Automated Access to Court Electronic Records (AACER), I recently posted about the 4.2% drop in total bankruptcy filings for the month of April, which came on the heels of a 35% increase in the month of March. These are national figures and mask considerable variations across the country. To look at variation across the country, I compared the total daily bankruptcy filing rate for the first four months of 2010 to the daily filing rate for all of 2009. Also, I used the federal judicial districts as the unit of measurement. Although federal judicial districts are not an ideal geographic breakdown, they do allow for a little bit more nuanced picture than using state-level data and avoid what can be an overwhelming morass of county-level data (which are not readily available anyway)

There are some areas of the country that are experiencing declining or flat bankruptcy filing rates. Of the 91 federal judicial districts (not counting Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands), 22 have experienced a decline or no increase in the bankruptcy filing rate. As the map to the right shows (click on it for a bigger image), the areas with declines (blue) are mainly in the southeast. Nevada stands out as an exception, although that district experienced such huge increases last year, its decline for the first four months may just be a regression to the mean.

The rate of increase across the entire nation was 10%. There are 29 judicial districts that saw a rate of increase greater than 10%. Those judicial districts fall principally in three areas: the plains and west coast, the upper Midwest, and the northeast. Thus, the national statistics do mask a great deal of regional variation. I'll stop there -- my flight is about to get called.


ATL needs to do a story about how many lawyers endured through 20 hour per days and 300+ hour per months, how many partnerships crumbled due to the absence and stress related to lawyers trying to help save a business, how getting a car service to take you home at 4 a.m. is not a pleasure but a must because the lawyer is so fatigued that he might not make it home if they chose to drive themselves, use a taxi or some form of public transportation.

I only looked at one court, the one in which I am the clerk, and though it is represented on your map as having 1-10% growth, our growth for the first four months of 2010 over 2009 is 12.9%. Oklahoma Northern, the little white area in the north east corner of Oklahoma should be red. Are there any others that should? 1,279 filings January through April 2009; 1,445 filings January through April 2010.

I got a similar comment from another court. The title on the graph is not very clear. The comparison is the first four months of 2010 as compared to ALL OF 2009. Whether that is a good metric can be debated, but I believe the math is right. (Let me know if it's not.) Comparing the Jan. - Apr. 2010 to all of 2009 has the benefit of capturing the most recent data, but perhaps the downside that is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

Ya, I think we had 900 locally last year, 700 something the year before. To date the case numbers are showing we are now in the 400s. We are a little more than 1/4th of that. So ya I guess we are within that 6-10% projected increase. Who knows though? Summers coming and we have no clue where the oil column (the oil that has not risen to the surface in the gulf) is. Fishing guides are already having a hard time with the recession. If local shrimpers, guides etc. can't fish we could see a "gusher" of new bk filings. Not to mention all the stinking tar balls I will have to scrape from my feet and surfboards! Will have to take Vaseline to the beach every time!

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