postings by Jason Kilborn

The decline and fall of commercial law

posted by Jason Kilborn

A listserv post this morning accentuated a troubling trend at the intersection of commercial law and bankruptcy practice: a marked decline in confident expertise in the former.

The scenario is simple and, I suspect, common: perfected security interest in collateral (say, a car), collateral destroyed (either before or after bankruptcy filing), insurance company sends check to bankruptcy trustee rather than to the debtor or secured creditor. Trustee then claims the insurance check is not subject to the security interest, which understandably takes the secured creditor's lawyer quite by unpleasant surprise. Is this check not obviously "substitute collateral" for the destroyed original collateral (the car), s/he asks?

Well, yes, but ... neither the trustee nor a judge is likely to accept the creditor's lawyer's correct answer without some compelling analysis as to why; that is, citation to governing law (i.e., statutory authority). The challenge, which I emphasize to my Secured Transactions students every year, is that the security agreement is unlikely to resolve this. Only a lawyer who is very familiar with secured transactions law could possibly know how this answer gets worked out (regardless of what the security agreement says or does not say about insurance "proceeds"). Analysis below the fold (you know you can't resist!) ...  

Continue reading "The decline and fall of commercial law" »

Bye, Bye, ABI

posted by Jason Kilborn

I have been an American Bankruptcy Institute member since June 1999, but I have finally made the difficult decision to allow my membership to lapse after 22 years at the end of next month. 

I've been thinking about this for some time. Academic friends had been suggesting to me for years that they were uncomfortable with some of ABI's practices, and I was shocked when ABI sharply raised my membership dues for the first time in two decades a few years ago. I've been thinking since then about the value proposition of my membership, and I had begun to notice that I seemed to be getting very little value for my increased dues ... and then I received the first of several renewal notice emails.

When I reviewed the renewal webpage, I recalled my friends' concerns about ABI's objectionable practices as I saw what seemed to me to be a troublesome new practice. For years, I have simply renewed and paid electronically, with no "gotcha" commitments. This year, for the first time, I noticed that I had to select a box indicating that I agreed to have my membership auto-renewed and my credit card auto-charged for future dues. Perhaps it's irrational, but this really stuck in my craw. I envisioned one of those misleading commercials for leggings or bamboo socks that suck you into an auto-renewal scheme, and more importantly, I recalled the FTC's concerns about the abusive auto-renewal trend that seems to have popped up in recent years. States have begun to pass anti-auto-renewal laws to curb this abusive practice. I understand, of course, that auto-renewal is convenient and desirable for many people, and the checkbox on ABI's renewal page would be unobjectionable if it were optional. But forcing members to "agree"--again, for the first time ever--to auto-renew and auto-pay in the following years (or navigate back into the electronic membership labyrinth and manage to figure out how to cancel this auto-renewal in time to avoid it) is a shocking practice for an organization that purports to stand for (among other things) protecting consumers. Unseemly at the very least.

Continue reading "Bye, Bye, ABI" »

Annotated Bibliography of Histories of Debt and Bankruptcy

posted by Jason Kilborn

I just read a really fabulous annotated bibliography of books (alas, articles by such luminaries as Emily Kadens are excluded) on the history of credit, debt, and bankruptcy in the United States. Many of my favorites are on here, along with a few new entrants with which I was, embarrassingly, unfamiliar. This is a great resource for new lawyers and law professors, in particular, but also for anyone interested in this fascinating history and/or looking for something to help while away the cold, blizzard-bound winter hours. Enjoy! 

Contract Ambiguity: Paying Versus Still Owing a Debt

posted by Jason Kilborn

I've been meaning for some time to tell this brain-candy story involving an amazing ambiguity in a Chinese debt-related contract. Now that my career-first research semester is drawing to a close and the holiday break is upon us, I thought now's the time to tell it.

To set up the story, the equivalent of the legal-cultural Latin phrase pacta sunt servanda (debts are to be paid) in Chinese is 欠债还钱 (qiàn zhài huán qián) [the phrase continues, but this is the key bit]. It means "If you owe a debt, return the money." Here's where the craziness comes in: Most Chinese characters have one and only one single-syllable pronunciation. That syllable might have many diverse meanings, but how that character sounds is consistent.

Not so with the key character in the above phrase. The character 还 can convey the sound huán, in which case it means "return," or more frequently, it carries the sound hái, which means "still" (that is, carrying on, as in "I still love him despite his sometimes beastly behavior").

Continue reading "Contract Ambiguity: Paying Versus Still Owing a Debt" »

SBRA technical amendment = technical foul?

posted by Jason Kilborn

A great Arabic folk idiom describes an all-too-common occurrence: Literally, "he came to apply eye liner to her, but blinded her." [اجا يكحلها عماها  izha ikaHil-ha, cama-ha] In other words, someone attempted to improve a situation but ended up ruining it. I believe I've encountered an example in the "technical amendment" made by the CARES Act to the Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019.

As Bob pointed out almost exactly two years ago, the original SBRA definition of a "small business debtor" was designed to keep out large public companies and their subsidiaries, but the language was ... inelegant. The first of two subsections (laid out in Bob's post) excluded companies subject to reporting requirements under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (that is, a company with shares widely held by "the public," as defined by the SEC), while an immediately following exclusion applied to such a company that was an affiliate of a debtor (that is, another company already in bankruptcy). Well, whether you're an affiliate of a debtor or not, if you try to file under subchapter V, and you're subject to the '34 Act reporting requirements, you're excluded by the first subsection, so isn't this second provision redundant?

Yes, but ... in 2020, the CARES Act came to put eye liner on this section and blinded it. Rather than fixing this by saying what seems to have been the intention--that an affiliate of a public reporting company cannot file under subchapter V--instead, a "technical amendment" changed the final provision entirely by simply excluding an affiliate of an "issuer, as defined in section 3 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934." [the same language was inserted in both sections 101(51D)(B)(iii) and 1182, so this change is not temporary]

The problem, it seems to me, is that the definition of "issuer" in the '34 Act includes far more than a big, public reporting company--it includes any company that issues so many as one share of stock (or other "security"). The '34 Act is generally about trading of public securities, but that's not the only thing it's about, and the definition of "issuer" in the '34 Act is simply reproduced from the '33 Act, with far broader application.

Continue reading "SBRA technical amendment = technical foul?" »

Personal Insolvency in Asia and Currency Comparison

posted by Jason Kilborn

While Shenzhen has gotten all the good press since its March launch of the first personal bankruptcy regime in Mainland China, a number of other Asian regimes have also been on the move. I recently examined the rapidly developing personal insolvency system in Singapore, and others have done great work on the unique processes in Japan and Korea. As an outsider, I struggle to capture the real feeling of life under these procedures. The challenge is expressed brilliantly by my favorite article on the difficulty of examining legal phenomena that are utterly foreign to the examiner, a paper that sought to answer the question "what was it like to try a rat?" This struggle is particularly acute in a new paper I've just posted on the fascinating evolution of Shenzhen's new law from its roots in a little-known 2008 consumer insolvency law in Taiwan. The Taiwan law is still in effect, of course (as amended in important respects), and the rocky experience of its first decade offers important lessons for personal insolvency policymakers in Asia and beyond. In both Taiwan and Shenzhen, a potential continuing challenge that intrigues me is among the most important and impactful in any such law--the measure of "necessary" household expenses to be budgeted to debtors for the purgatory period of three years (in Taiwan, it's six!) preceding a discharge. Both Taiwan and Shenzhen chose the social assistance minimum income; basically, the poverty level. Taiwan recently increased this by 20% after years of criticism of forcing bankrupt debtors into the extreme austerity of living within these tight budgets. Shenzhen has decided not to go beyond the poverty level, at least for now.

Expressing the strictures of these poverty levels in useful comparative terms is really difficult for me. Official exchange rates are quite misleading when the question is "what is it like to try to make do on X [local currency units] for three years in [X country]?" Purchasing power parity exchange rates likely get closer to the mark, but with China, I'm not even sure that approach captures the pain (or ease) that debtors in the "discharge examination period" must endure. The figures I'm wrestling with are 1950 yuan in Shenzhen and about 18,000 new Taiwan dollars (15,000 x 1.2) in Taipei (less in the outlying areas). I vaguely understand these to correspond to about US$465 and US$600, respectively, per month, but this just seems untenable to me. How could anyone survive on these amounts for 36 months in Shenzhen or 72 months in Taipei? Granted, both sets of figures are per person, so a debtor caring for parents and/or children might end up with several multiples of these figures per month, but even then, supporting a family of four on US$1860 per month for three years in a major city like Shenzhen still strikes me as so austere as to dissuade people from seeking relief. Am I just out of touch with the reality of modern financial struggles generally (I know some low-income Americans also strain to make ends meet on somewhat similar budgets), or am I not understanding something about life in big-city China, or are the figures just not reflecting the feeling of life within these limits? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

Book Rec: Range (or Yet Another Paean to Learning from Failure)

posted by Jason Kilborn

With summer upon us, I thought others might be searching for good new reading, as I was when I took up a smart friend's longtime recommendation to read Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. So much good stuff in here. Perhaps contrary to the topic of the book, my brain is constantly in "insolvency policy" mode, so I was particularly interested in the many passages about famous people's meandering struggles to find their passion that catapulted them to success.

Among my favorites was a description of Nike co-founder Phil Knight's entrepreneurship philosophy: [155] "his main goal for his nascent shoe company was to fail fast enough that he could apply what he was learning to his next venture. He made one short-term pivot after another, applying the lessons as he went." This is exactly the advice offered to country after country hoping to develop more effective SME-friendly bankruptcy regimes ... as they unfortunately continue to stick to Old English draconian policies of imposing various restrictions and disabilities on post-bankruptcy entrepreneurs. Range offers yet another extended analysis of why this mindset is so persistent and so counterproductive. We need to let people fail, learn from whatever caused that failure (either mistakes or general economic volatility ... or COVID) and get back on their feet quickly to move on to other ventures.

Continue reading "Book Rec: Range (or Yet Another Paean to Learning from Failure)" »

Contributors

Current Guests

Kindle and ePub Versions of Bankruptcy Code

  • Free Kindle and ePub versions of the Bankruptcy Code are available through Credit Slips. For details and links, visit the original blog post announcing the availability of these files.

Follow Us On Twitter

News Feed

Honors

  •    

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