"Good morning! Welcome to bankruptcy court. I'm glad you're here." That's how I often greet prose debtors who are appearing in my courtroom, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York, in Brooklyn, nervous and concerned that something has gone wrong in their case. Sometimes I also explain that bankruptcy relief has deep roots in the U.S. legal system, and that it is provided for in the United States Constitution where the Founders empowered Congress in Article I, Section 8 to "establish ... uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies." Then as now, a federal bankruptcy law was viewed as necessary to provide relief and a "fresh start" to the "honest but unfortunate debtor" who is overwhelmed by debt.
More than one million bankruptcy cases were filed in the United States last year, and each one might have led to a discharge for the debtor and, where there were assets, a distribution to creditors. But in tens of thousands of those cases, the debtor filed the case without the assistance of a lawyer. And many of those cases ended in a dismissal for failure to comply with one of the Bankruptcy Code's procedural or administrative requirements. The prospect of relief for the debtor, and perhaps, distribution to creditors, was lost.