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Saturday, October 29, 2011


Richard Isacoff

Reading Professor Warren's background, especially her grass roots methodology, made me think about my own decision to go to law school. While I never pursued an academic career, I took the basis of Prof. Warren's beliefs (unknown to me at the time) and made them a part of my career in banking which overlapped my time as an attorney.

I grew up in a middle class family, working in my dad's auto salvage yard after school, vacations etc. I also saw my dad get his B.A. and M.S. in business by going to school nights for years. While I moved away from the family business, I too went to school at night, to get my J.D., but stayed in Banking for 18 years before going into private practice.

I learned banking from the ground up and at one point had the responsibility to meet with members of the Senate and House Banking Committees, as a representative of the Mutual Savings Bank Industry, to try to create a buffer that would allow these community based banks to survive. Then I worked for various regulators "fixing" failed S&Ls, and then doing part of a bank-wide workout when a large commercial bank failed.

During that part of my work history and since 1992 in private practice, I have never lost the understanding that people make mistakes, that life is not fair, that bad things happen to good people and so-called bad people without discrimination, that nearly everyone deserves a second chance, and that there are different kinds of currency.

In my law practice the majority of my work is bankruptcy - I have seen it from both sides of the creditor-debtor divide as a banker and as a practicing attorney. Prof. Warren is correct, I believe, when she discusses the purposes of the bankruptcy/insolvency laws. Those in legal education and pontification and those in business who are adamant about Bankruptcy being a system fro creditors to be paid their pro-rata share of a failed company or of a failed household, change their position when it is their company that has failed or is in need of a restructuring. I can state unequivocally that I have witnessed it from both sides - banker/attorney and debtors' counsel.

Academia is grand - I would love to teach a class on Bankruptcy and the Theory of American Economics, but neither Harvard nor any other school has asked. In the meantime, I have applied Prof. Warren's principles and ethics to my practice and my clients. After 1000+/- bankruptcies and workouts I can state that it appears this time in our modern economic history is unique. The application of the original concept of lawyering is more critical now than ever - to heal conflict, not create it; that's where the "Counselor at Law" comes in.

If we are to heal conflict, to help our society to get through the current a future economic turmoil, we will have to give credence to the precepts of giving people (or companies) a "Fresh Start". That what the bankruptcy laws mandate.

With due respect to Prof. Zwicker and Prof. Baird; they have the Adam Smith half of the equation but not the John Maynard Keynes portion. They are not practicing or espousing legal principles, but those of economics. In these days of shouts of "class warfare", foolish as those shouts may be, Prof Warren's attempt to strike a balance among the diverse interests is critical.

From the comments coming before this one, it appears that there is a polarization of society - back to the concepts of "Do Unto Others.. Before They Do Unto You."

Richard Isacoff

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