How Are You Spending Your MLK Holiday?

January 17 is Martin Luther King Day, but unlike many, I won’t be “off” from work.  I’ll be presenting at and attending the ABI’s Northeast Consumer Winter Conference at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.  I can understand how it might seem disrespectful to be attending a conference on a day when we should be celebrating the life of a civil rights leader.  But it is also, I think, particularly fitting.  Let me explain…

When I was writing Chapter 13 in 13 Chapters, my editor suggested that I write a segment on the role of the chapter 13 trustee.  I was admittedly a bit befuddled because my initial thought was something like ‘uh…they collect the money, then they pay it out.  How am I going to squeeze a chapter out of that?!’  But then I decided to poke around a bit and researched more about the origins of chapter 13.

To make a long story short…and not to reiterate what you’ll find in chapter 2 of the book, chapter 13 – as we know it now – was sort of conceived in Birmingham, Alabama back in the early 30s.  It was a means by which debtors could repay something to their creditors, and creditors would likely get more than they would if the debtor merely liquidated their debts under chapter 7. It was also away that debtors could retain some of their dignity as they tried to extricate themselves from the clutches of debt.  It was the (first) Great Depression.  And let’s face it, back then, consumer protection laws were nothing like they are today.  Debtors had a tough time holding their head high… so this new way of giving income earners some bankruptcy relief was a welcome idea for both debtors and creditors.  It led to the Wage Earners Plan, which was part of the Bankruptcy Act of 1938.

The the years after World War II and the incredible growth in both consumer credit and consumption outpaced the protections put in place in 1938.  It took almost 40 years for Congress to get around to passing the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978, which ultimately created the Chapter 13 Trustee role as we know it today.

Of course, the notoriety of the City of Birmingham, Alabama is a little different when looked at through the eyes of Dr. King.  History books are replete with images – sometimes horrific – of police attacking blacks who were openly defying segregation laws. Some of them were just kids.  Yet, as I write this, I cannot imagine a world where a black man cannot sit next to me on a bus or a train, or sit at a dining table next to me and my family in a local eatery anywhere in this country.  Yet this was the Birmingham Dr. King saw.  And, because of his efforts, and those that have followed his message, there is more freedom and more dignity for all Americans.

Except perhaps, in one big area of our lives.

The consequences of our bad economy continue to ravage our communities.  There’s speculation and talk of higher gas prices – which for commuting families may be just enough to push them over the financial edge.  I shop at many of the same grocery stores you do and the higher food prices are not lost on me – or my bank account.  People are becoming increasingly fearful.  And bankruptcy law is changing more rapidly and more challenging as each year passes.  Being able to keep up with those changes and meeting those challenges is of paramount importance.  My clients expect it and my current and future clients need it.

So on a day when many will be attending ceremonies honoring Dr. King, I will be joining my colleagues at the 3rd Annual ABI Northeast Consumer Winter Conference.  I’ll be talking about Chapter 13, which is the first panel of the day.  And when I’m done, I’ll roll up my sleeves, join my colleagues in the audience and listen to the other great panels that will include sitting and former bankruptcy judges, bankruptcy trustees (including our new US Trustee) and some of the best and brightest legal minds from the bankruptcy and insolvency field in the Northeast.

If you practice bankruptcy law, please join me.  Attendees get a free copy of my book Chapter 13 in 13 Chapters, in addition to the materials prepared by the panelists. 

If you’re not a bankruptcy attorney – but perhaps someone considering or even in bankruptcy – consider asking your bankruptcy attorney how they are spending their Martin Luther King Day holiday.  If they are not attending this important conference, think about asking them this:

“Why not?

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