LLAM February Program – Bankruptcy Overview

By Susan Herrick
Research Librarian
University of Maryland School of Law

Our February program was a presentation on bankruptcy law by Edith K. Altice, Esq., of Saul Ewing.

Edie began her presentation by describing her background as a business attorney who was drafted into bankruptcy work when her firm became involved in a large high profile corporate bankruptcy case about ten years ago. Although she has obviously gained much expertise in bankruptcy during the intervening years, she emphasized the complexity of the area and stated that there was always much more to learn.

Edie covered the basics of bankruptcy law, starting with the constitutional authority of the U.S. Congress to legislate regarding bankruptcy, a power aimed toward avoiding debtors’ prisons. She described how federal and state law intersect in this area –  essentially that states can opt to define through legislation what property can be held exempt from bankruptcy, rather than adopting the federal exemptions. Edie then walked us through the bankruptcy process, introducing and explaining many essential concepts and terms along the way: from DIP (debtor in possession) and preferences, to more colorful and evocative terms such as “cram downs” and “claw backs,” attendees came away with a greatly improved understanding of the specialized and sometimes mystifying vocabulary of bankruptcy law.

Edie’s presentation addressed Chapter 11 corporate reorganizations as well as Chapter 7 liquidations and Chapter 13 personal reorganizations.  That’s a lot of ground in just over an hour, but she covered it with aplomb, offering many interesting examples related to high profile bankruptcy cases along the way, including those of Bernie Madoff and Borders (not her clients!), and some personal experiences with corporate clients of her firm.

Attending LLAM members asked many questions drawn from their own experiences as librarians trying to guide patrons involved in bankruptcy research. In addition to providing the legal perspective, Edie addressed some of the personal aspects of the various forms of bankruptcy, thus adding the “human touch” to a topic that touches the lives of many.

Edie also distributed an extremely helpful handout with a “nutshell” overview of the bankruptcy process and concise definitions of many specialized terms, which will prove a useful reference.

LLAM thanks Edie Altice for an extremely instructive and entertaining program!