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34 Emory Bankruptcy Developments Journal 341 (2018)


This essay examines the state of access to justice in the context of consumer bankruptcy from two vantage points: (1) how people decide that their money problems are legal problems addressable by filing bankruptcy; and (2) the barriers people face in using the consumer bankruptcy system. To shed new light on how people decide to use bankruptcy to address their financial troubles, I analyze a sample of narratives accompanying consumers' complaints about financial products and services submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I also chronicle the evolution of research regarding consumer bankruptcy’s “local legal culture,” systemic racial bias, and the link between attorneys’ fees and bankruptcy chapter choice. The essay ends by outlining key questions for future research about how individuals translate their financial problems to legal problems addressable by filing bankruptcy, and by calling on bankruptcy attorneys, judges, and trustees to ensure that the system itself does not compound the financial problems people face outside of bankruptcy.