Max Gardner is one of America’s great bankruptcy attorneys. For years, he’s been running a “bankruptcy boot camp” for his fellow attorneys, in his wooded redoubt in the hills of North Carolina. Normally the event has a few dozen lawyers. He did his first webinar boot camp about a week ago: 776 attorneys signed up. “I really fear something worse than the Great Depression,” Gardner told me. “Every system is going to be overwhelmed.”
Bankruptcy has so far been spared this crush; new filings are kind of a lagging indicator, since it is a last resort for people at a low point. The cases aren’t likely to start piling up for a few months. But Rohan Pavuluri, CEO an co-founder of Upsolve, a large non-profit that assists bankruptcy filers, has already seen intense interest. Seven of the top ten referrals to Upsolve have the term “COVID” or “coronavirus” in them. There’s been ten times more interest in the group’s COVID-19 FAQ page than its homepage.
That page explains some of the realities of bankruptcy since the 2005 reform law (paging Joe Biden), particularly for those who can’t afford an attorney, the kind of people Upsolve assists. “If you cannot afford a lawyer, you cannot file electronically in the vast majority of districts, you have to mail or hand-deliver,” Pavuluri explains.