postings by Bob Lawless

Welcome to Chris Odinet

posted by Bob Lawless

On behalf of the other Credit Slips bloggers and myself, I would like to welcome Professor Chris Odinet as a guest blogger. Chris is a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law and is part of a new generation of scholars in the consumer finance space that our readers should know about. He already has an impressive list of scholarly publications and part of important conversations in consumer finance, especially fintech. Welcome, Chris, to Credit Slips.

Bankruptcy Filings Are Still Super Low--Don't Believe the Headlines

posted by Bob Lawless

Headlines recently appeared in the usual places about a big March jump in bankruptcy filings. It is true that March 2021 total bankruptcy filings were 43,425 (according to the Epiq Systems data) and that was a 39.1% increase from February 2021. That looks like a big jump. Of course, March is a longer month, and in fact this March had four more business days than February--almost an entire extra work week. Calculating the filing rate per business day, the March 2021 filing rate was a 14.9% increase from February 2021.

That still feels notable, but let's be careful--very careful. Bankruptcy filings are at historically low levels. When any data series hits a trough and starts creeping back to an old base rate, the increases will feel really big although we are really only getting back to what we had experienced previously. The February filing rate was 1.13 filings per 1,000 persons, the lowest since January 2006 when bankruptcy filings fell to almost nothing after the surge to beat the effective date of the 2005 bankruptcy amendments. (To give you a sense of the surge, the October 2005 rate was 25.53 filings per 1,000 persons.)

Continue reading "Bankruptcy Filings Are Still Super Low--Don't Believe the Headlines" »

Fantastic SBRA Resource from Judge Bonapfel

posted by Bob Lawless

As Credit Slips readers know, the Small Business Reorganization Act added subchapter V to chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code earlier this year. My go-to resource on subchapter V has been a thorough summary written by Judge Paul Bonapfel of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Georgia. It is available for free on the court's web site, and with Judge Bonapfel's permission, I wanted to spread the word about the guide's availability. Judge Bonapfel has just done a November 2020 update of these materials with all of the recent cases. The update is a new chapter at the end of the materials that functions like a pocket part (for those of you who remember pocket parts!). Thank you Judge Bonapfel for this great service to the profession!

Most of What You Read about the Bankruptcy Filing Rate Is Wrong

posted by Bob Lawless

A popular narrative is that bankruptcy filing rates are increasing dramatically. That is not true. If you want to know what is happening with the bankruptcy filing rate during covid-19, the best source is Ed Flynn's analyses over at the American Bankruptcy Institute (current analysis here with a historical archive here). Here some facts, using my own data as well as Flynn's very useful numbers:

  1. Total bankruptcy filings have had some modest gains in recent weeks after falling off the cliff early in the crisis, but total filings remain down 33% on a year-over-year basis.
  2. The number of chapter 11s filings has been very artificially inflated by counting affiliate filings. If one only counts the "parent" and "solo" filings, the chapter 11 rate actually declined in July!
  3. The decline in chapter 13 filings has been much deeper than the decline in chapter 7 filings.

Before expanding on each of these points and like I wrote in an earlier post with the same theme, I am not Pollyannaish about the economy. Things are as bad as they seem. My plea is for accuracy. An understanding of whether and when people turn to the bankruptcy system to help them deal with their business or personal issues makes that system more effective.

Continue reading "Most of What You Read about the Bankruptcy Filing Rate Is Wrong" »

Of Sheep, Twyne's Case, and a Better Story

posted by Bob Lawless

Holden FieldProfessor Emily Kadens has just published a great paper that explodes the myths about Twyne's Case. We all know Twyne as the case where an insolvent farmer gave away his sheep, thereby leading to a Star Chamber decision that laid the foundation for modern fraudulent conveyance law. It turns out most all of the story we know isn't true. Even better, the actual story is much more interesting and instructive.

Kadens did an incredible amount of archival research, going through the depositions and other original records from the case. Obstacles included documents that had been partially eaten by rats, a point I need to remember the next time I want to complain about difficulties with my own research.

Pearce, who was the debtor, had resisted writs of execution from the undersheriff who had come to seize his property, which was a lot more than just a few sheep. And, it was not Pearce himself, but his laborers and community members who did the resisting. Confrontations occurred over three days.  After an unsuccessful foray to Pearce's farm on the first day, the undersheriff made somewhat of a surprise attack on the second day to seize cattle at a more distant place called Holden Field (the picture to the right, courtesy of Kadens). The undersheriff pastured the cattle overnight at Pole Meadow (pictured below the fold, again courtesy of Kadens). The next day, the undersheriff attempted to drive the cattle to market, but Pearce's allies interceded and took the cattle.

Continue reading "Of Sheep, Twyne's Case, and a Better Story" »

For Your Bankruptcy Class or Presentation

posted by Bob Lawless

Bankruptcy Opt-Out StatesOK, bankruptcy mavens. What is this a map of? Answer below the fold.

Continue reading "For Your Bankruptcy Class or Presentation" »

Should Chapter 11 Protect the Sacklers?

posted by Bob Lawless

My colleague, Ralph Brubaker, and Gerald Posner have a New York Times op-ed assailing how the Sacklers are using Purdue Pharma's chapter 11 to shield themselves from personal liability. The bankruptcy world knows this tactic under the labels of third-party or nondebtor releases.

When they first appeared on the scene, third-party releases seemed like another example of the pragmatic problem-solving that the bankruptcy system excels at doing. Parties contribute money to the pot that goes to pay creditors, often victims of some tort. That money increases the amount that victims receive without having to suffer the time, expense, and uncertainty of having to file lawsuits. The release incentivizes the released parties to contribute in the first place. No contribution, no release.

Like many good ideas in the bankruptcy system, third-party releases were supposed to be the rare case but have become commonplace in chapter 11 practice. As Brubaker and Posner point out, if third parties like the Sacklers need protection from tort liability associated with Purdue Pharma, they can always file bankruptcy themselves. They want the protection of the bankruptcy court without subjecting their own assets and affairs to the scrutiny of the bankruptcy court. At the least, that needs to change. 

How Many People Have Filed Bankruptcy?

posted by Bob Lawless

The past few days I had been wondering exactly how many persons in the U.S. have filed bankruptcy. By that, I don't mean how many filed last week, last month, or last year. Rather, how many persons walking around the U.S. have ever filed a bankruptcy case? My estimate is around 10% or 33 million persons. Here is the math.

Continue reading "How Many People Have Filed Bankruptcy?" »

Chapter 11 Filings in May Are Not Up as Much as Everybody Will Say There Are

posted by Bob Lawless

Prediction: you will begin to see stories about an explosion of chapter 11 filings in May 2020. Well, that is not much of a prediction because I already have seen two. Chapter 11 filings did not explode in May.

A few weeks ago, I posted about the huge drop in overall bankruptcy filings and what looks like a modest rise in chapter 11 filings. I did not want to venture more because chapter 11 filings are hard to count. Every petition filed by every subsidiary in a corporate group gets counted as a case, and the number of subsidiaries in a corporate group is arbitrary. Thus, one economic unit can generate what looks like many bankruptcy filings.

Continue reading "Chapter 11 Filings in May Are Not Up as Much as Everybody Will Say There Are " »

Total Bankruptcy Filings Remain Low, Chapter 11s Not So Much

posted by Bob Lawless

(Updated and corrected, 5/22). An earlier post noted that bankruptcy filings were down substantially over 50% the first two weeks of April. As the American Bankruptcy Institute reported, bankruptcy filings declined by 46% over the entire month and on a year-over-year basis. I wondered whether the expected increase in bankruptcy filings had begun, and the answer appears to be "not yet."

Using PACER docket searches, I get the following filing numbers for the past six weeks. The decline in filings for the first two weeks of May was roughly the same as the last two weeks of April. There were the same number of business days in all these time periods so the numbers should be comparable:

Total Bankruptcy Filings
  2019 2020 change
April 1 - April 15 33,017 16,097 -51.2%
April 16 - April 30 38,289 22,347 -41.6%
May 1 - May 15 31,958 18,578 -41.8%

Continue reading "Total Bankruptcy Filings Remain Low, Chapter 11s Not So Much" »

Letter from 163 Bankruptcy Judges Backs Venue Reform

posted by Bob Lawless

Support seems to keep building even more for changes to where large corporate debtors can file chapter 11. The latest is a letter from "163 sitting, recalled, or retired United States Bankruptcy Judges." From the letter:

The venue selection options for bankruptcy cases under current law have led to forum shopping abuses that have disenfranchised local employees, creditors, and parties in interest from participation in bankruptcy cases, undermined public confidence in the integrity of the United States Courts and the bankruptcy process, inhibited the development of uniform, national bankruptcy jurisprudence, and led to inefficient allocation of judicial resources. 

The judges join forty-two state attorneys general who signed a February letter supporting similar changes. The House bill (H.R. 4421) now has fifteen co-sponsors, which I believe is more than any venue reform bill has had. With all of that support, my views don't matter much, but I agree too

Like I wrote before, there have been lots of efforts at venue reform, but this time feels different.

A Coming Consumer Bankruptcy Tsunami, Wave, or Ripple?

posted by Bob Lawless

With the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a lot of talk about a coming surge of consumer bankruptcy filings. In the very short-term, however, bankruptcy filing numbers are down. According to data from Epiq Systems, daily bankruptcy filings declined 18.4% in March 2020 on a year-over-year basis. March 2020 filings were 62,847 as compared to 73,521 in March 2019 but were spread out over one more business day (and hence had an even lower daily filing rate).

The downward trend appears to have continued in April. I say "appear to" because the numbers are down so much that I wonder whether my computations are accurate. Immediate national bankruptcy filing numbers are hard to assemble. Using docket searches on Bloomberg Law that produced all of the bankruptcy cases filed on particular dates, I got the following national bankruptcy filing counts in 2020 as compared to 2019

  2019 2020 decline
last seven days of March 21,656 15,096 -30.3%
first seven days of April 14,886 7,432 -50.1%
second seven days of April 15,602 7,225 -53.7%

If anyone has better data or can confirm these numbers, please leave a comment. Even if these numbers are not spot on, I am confident enough to say there have been big drops in consumer bankruptcy filings the first two weeks in April.

Continue reading "A Coming Consumer Bankruptcy Tsunami, Wave, or Ripple?" »

Model Standstill/Tolling Agreement

posted by Bob Lawless

The Business Law Section of the American Bar Association has posted a model standstill/tolling agreement drafted by Jonathan Lipson and Norm Powell. Business relationships will undoubtedly strain as the crisis means more parties are not able to fulfill their side of a deal. Often, an aggrieved party will have to enforce their rights lest they lose these rights by not taking action. A "standstill/tolling agreement" removes that pressure and preserves the status quo. In Lipson and Powell's words, the goal is to allow parties "to produce an acceptable, temporary workout that obviates the need for litigation and, ideally, preserves a productive economic relationship."

They have made the model agreement publicly available, recognizing that not every business will be able to retain counsel. The agreement is available with annotations to explain its provisions as well as a clean version that parties can use by filling in the blanks. As Lipson and Powell also stress, the model agreement is not intended as a substitute for legal advice and parties should consider retaining legal counsel when possible.

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  • 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.

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