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Thankful for Bankruptcy

by Adam Mack, JD

Hillary Stirling, research assistant
Like many others this time of year, I find myself reflecting on the things I’m grateful for. Among my blessings, I count my wife and kids, my friends and extended family, my home, and the privilege of living in the United States, including all the rights and freedoms that come with that privilege.

A less-common thing I’m grateful for is being in my line of work. Some people might expect “bankruptcy attorney” to be about as fulfilling a career as “accountant” or “sanitation worker,” but they’d probably be surprised after following me around for a day or two. It’s not uncommon for my clients to thank me (often more than once) for helping them and their families out of a tight spot. Some have even gotten choked up or were moved to tears when the debt that had been crushing them was lifted. It’s a good feeling to know that my job is to help people have a future they can look forward to again.

Beyond the human element of helping people, as an attorney I get to see how our carefully-crafted bankruptcy laws help drive our whole economy. An example from some of the earliest bankruptcy provisions helps illustrate what I mean. In the 13th Century, seafaring merchants felt it was too risky to do business in England. They would bring goods in from overseas, but if the retailers who had ordered those goods didn’t have the money to pay for them, the merchants were stuck footing the bill for the goods and their transport. It got so bad that King Edward I and Parliament enacted the Statute of Acton-Brunell in 1283 A.D. (aka the 1283 Statute of Merchants), which allowed the merchant to bring the retailer before the mayor, and if the retailer couldn’t pay up, the retailer’s goods and lands were seized to pay the debt and the retailer was summarily thrown in jail. This ensured that the merchants were paid their fair share, but the results were devastating for the indebted retailers.

Unfortunately, this precedent was expanded beyond just merchants and retailers, and for several hundred years, those who were bankrupt were jailed for their unpaid debts, including here in the American Colonies. Gradual reform over a couple of centuries brought us to our situation today, where there is a carefully-crafted balance between giving the creditors their fair share and giving the debtor a fresh start.

In a world that depends on loans for cars and houses and on credit cards for online transactions, the lock-them-up policies of King Edward would destroy the economy, but as the English understood more than 700 years ago, a creditor who doesn’t have some kind of protection won’t be willing or able to do business. With modern creditors and debtors both enjoying the protections of bankruptcy, our economy – and all the millions of livelihoods that depend on it – is able to move forward. While many businesses, individuals, and families will never find themselves as debtors in a bankruptcy court, the safety net provided by bankruptcy undergirds and supports commerce as a whole.
So yes, I am grateful for the system of bankruptcy we have here in the United States and to be a part of it. After reading this, I hope you are, too.

And if the future you’re facing is one overshadowed by debt, by all means contact us. We’d be happy to help you explore your options for debt relief – both with and without bankruptcy. Chances are you’ll thank us.


These articles are for general informational use and do not constitute legal advice. Since laws change over time, it’s possible some articles are out of date and for that reason, we make no representation that the articles are fully accurate. For actual, up-to-date legal advice (including a free consultation), please contact us!