« National Mortgage Servicing Settlement Progress Report: Little to Show (And Little Expected) | Main | EU Update (And FI Reality) »

Consumer Bankruptcy Fee Study

posted by Alan White

I have just finished reading Lois Lupica’s paper on her impressive consumer bankruptcy fee study.  This is a model of what empirical, law-and-society research should be – it combines data from electronic court records with focus groups and key player interviews to give a textured understanding of the role lawyer’s fees play in this particular legal system. 

The finding that jumped out for me was a little-discussed but critical aspect of local bankruptcy culture: not how much, but when the trustee pays Chapter 13 lawyers’ fees (pp. 105-106). I practiced in a district where (before BAPCPA) the trustee paid out the fees as the first priority claim i.e. ahead of even secured creditors, but adequate protection payments (current mortgage and auto loan payments, e.g.) were paid directly to the creditors.  There are apparently districts where every plan must include a $200 monthly payment for the first 15 months to pay the attorney, others where the pre-confirmation adequate protection payments are diverted to the attorney’s fees and added to the arrears paid over the remaining plan life (i.e. borrowed from secured creditors), and many other fascinating variations.

Considering the practical consequences of these disparate rules for attorneys as they decide what cases to take, and how to structure plan payments, it is easy to see why Chapter choice, and Chapter 13 success rates, would vary so dramatically from one district to another.  For example, the front-loading of payments for the legal fee, followed by a payment step-down, would seem to increase the risk of plan failure. The sooner the lawyer is paid, the less risk she takes in filing the case.  That could increase access, but could also encourage filing more risky Chapter 13 plans. If we are concerned about the high failure rate of Chapter 13s on the one hand, and the high costs and difficulty of obtaining counsel on the other, we might do well to study these variations further to see what outcomes they produce for debtors, creditors and lawyers.

It also struck me that Professor Lupica's extensive data tables with fees actually paid, by chapter, state, district and case outcome, and no-look fees for Chapter 13, can provide important independent variables for other studies modeling bankruptcy outcomes.

Comments

In this jurisdiction (Utah), the priority unsecureds and the secureds who are in the plan will object to fee payments longer than 4-5 months, the trustee will join, and the plan will not be approved. Most secureds are outside the plan to minimize the trustee fee, but any arrearage is inside, so those secureds have a stake. There is no step-down after the fee is paid. As for causes of failure for approved plans, I see essentially two: 1) major new expenses (typically medical and auto), and 2) inability to maintain steady income for the life of the plan (an unavoidable problem in this economy). Neither of these risks can be assessed up front in any meaningful fashion, so they can't really be used to decide which cases to file and what fee arrangement to make.

the imperialist creditor nations -- which placed themselves permanently in charge of the IMF and World Bank when they created them after WWII

The comments to this entry are closed.

Contributors

Current Guests

Follow Us On Twitter

Like Us on Facebook

  • Like Us on Facebook

    By "Liking" us on Facebook, you will receive excerpts of our posts in your Facebook news feed. (If you change your mind, you can undo it later.) Note that this is different than "Liking" our Facebook page, although a "Like" in either place will get you Credit Slips post on your Facebook news feed.

News Feed

Categories

Bankr-L

  • As a public service, the University of Illinois College of Law operates Bankr-L, an e-mail list on which bankruptcy professionals can exchange information. Bankr-L is administered by one of the Credit Slips bloggers, Professor Robert M. Lawless of the University of Illinois. Although Bankr-L is a free service, membership is limited only to persons with a professional connection to the bankruptcy field (e.g., lawyer, accountant, academic, judge). To request a subscription on Bankr-L, click here to visit the page for the list and then click on the link for "Subscribe." After completing the information there, please also send an e-mail to Professor Lawless (rlawless@illinois.edu) with a short description of your professional connection to bankruptcy. A link to a URL with a professional bio or other identifying information would be great.

OTHER STUFF

Powered by TypePad