Prof. Braucher's research to be discussed at national symposium
Leading bankruptcy, race and empirical scholars will explore implications of Professor Jean Braucher's recent scholarship at a national symposium this fall.
Braucher, the Roger C. Henderson Professor of Law at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, worked with two colleagues at the University of Illinois College of Law to study race and personal bankruptcy. The study found that blacks are about twice as likely as whites to file for Chapter 13 rather than Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Chapter 13 costs more, takes longer, and requires more of debtors-a multi-year repayment plan.
In addition, a survey used as part of the study showed that bankruptcy lawyers were more likely to suggest to clients who were black that they file for Chapter 13 even when they had identical financial situations as white clients.
The symposium, "Bankruptcy and Race: Is There a Relation?" will take place Octpber 19 at St. John's School of Law in Queens, New York. The symposium is presented by the American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review, along with St. John's School of Law Center for Bankruptcy Studies, and The Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development.
Not only are Braucher's findings significant, the study breaks new ground. Most research about racial disparity has focused on criminal law, not civil. Bankruptcy cases are the largest number of cases in the federal court system. About 2 million people were involved in bankruptcy cases last year.
Braucher said she is hopeful that the discussions at the national symposium will eventually lead to changes in the bankruptcy system. As a modest first step, she and her colleagues have proposed that bankruptcy courts begin to track the race of those filing for bankruptcy.
"There's actually a policy of not collecting race data. They say they don't want to gather data unless it is essential to the administration of justice. So we are arguing: It is" said Braucher.
Gathering information about the filers' race in all bankruptcy cases - instead of a national random sample as their study did - would allow their research to be confirmed or disproved.
Braucher also is working to educate those involved in the bankruptcy system about the apparent problems. Braucher has presented her research findings this year to the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and the National Association of Chapter 13 Trustees.
"If you think about it, you would expect that African-Americans would not be in repayment plan bankruptcies because they have lower rates of home ownership. They have lower incomes. They have lower assets in general. Why are they in the more onerous form of bankruptcy? It just doesn't add up," Braucher said.
"We hope this will be addressed. And we will stop having implicit biases giving people unfair results on the basis of race."
Her research ties into the growing concern that the whole system of consumer bankruptcy needs to be simpler, Braucher said.
"The system has become too complex. The ordinary consumer debtor really can't understand his or her own choices. And that leads to this problem of the professionals as gate keepers, making the decisions for people."