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Teach Consumer Bankruptcy

posted by Katie Porter

It's the time of year when professors, including those who are adjunct professors or are interested in teaching as adjuncts, submit their proposed courses for the next academic year. Many of us teach a general 3 or 4 unit bankruptcy course that uses a textbook, and some of us teach specialized seminars on chapter 11. This year think about teaching a seminar on consumer bankruptcy. I've got just the class all ready to go--course pack, syllabus, writing assignments, even in-class exercises. All you need to do is put "Consumer Bankruptcy Seminar" on the form and return it to your Associate Dean.

When the chapter authors and I wrote Broke: How Debt Bankrupts the Middle Class, we wanted to create a reader that could support a seminar on consumer debt. I road-tested the book this fall in a seminar at UC Irvine Law School. The students loved it! (You can check out the course evaluations for yourself.) From my standpoint, it is the most fun, creative and easiest-to-prep class that I've taught. Full details are on this site, but the skinny is after the jump.

Each week, students read one chapter of Broke (there are 12 so that aligns perfectly with the length of a semester).  Using Broke, available in a Kindle version for $9.99 and for about $20 as a paperback, means the students save money on paying for a bunch of assorted copyright charges.  More importantly, using Broke as a reader gives the course continuity from week to week, and real data on who files bankruptcy, why, and how the system works. The chapter is supplemented with one or two readings; a complete list of readings is here. The students did six writing assignments during the semester, including reporting on their self-scheduled field trip to a meeting of creditors and offering comments on the proposed bankruptcy forms. Those assignments made the course easy to grade, allowing me to spread the work over the semester. The manageable workload, as well as the seminar's focus on law in practice (rather than rarefied theory), makes this class a great option for talented practitioners who want to teach at a law school but who are daunted by the idea of doing a traditional course or developing a seminar from scratch. 

Complete details, including a letter from me giving more details about the design of the course,  are available at the Stanford University Press site for Broke. And of course, I would be happy to talk with anyone interested in such a course. I also would welcome comments from others about how they teach consumer bankruptcy.  Dr. Deborah Thorne, a sociologist, for example, assigned Broke as part of her graduate sociology seminar on Consumerism.


It's cool that you're offering the course packet to others. It more than offsets the demerits you get for calling attention to your own rock-star course reviews.

Thank you, Prof. Porter! I am currently teaching a ch. 13 & 11 class at UALR Bowen. I came to it late and am working it out as I go. It's 2/3 ch. 13 and 1/3 ch. 11. The fall class is designed to be more of an overview with more focus on ch. 7. I'm seriously considering using your course for next Spring. I may be in touch with some questions for you soon.

Thanks again, and I look forward to reading Broke!

The stumbling block is that law school's do not want their graduates to practice consumer bankruptcy. That practice isn't lucrative enough to generate those fat, alumni donations.

I am also offering the "seminar" as an independent study for a student this semester, and it is working well. The writing assignments give a basis for regular feedback and engagement with the student, and I am also having her send me a few sentences of thoughts on the reading each week. I often get requests from students who "somehow came up a credit short" or "just discovered they need bankruptcy" and want to do an independent project. The materials give professors an efficient and effective way to do an independent study that has some structure to it.

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