Presidents Column

Presidents Column

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Staying on Top of the News

The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA) is now in effect, and everyone is adjusting to a new reality. The days leading up to Oct. 17 were quite a challenge for everyone involved in the bankruptcy system.

Attorneys (along with their staffs) worked long hours to complete the paperwork for the thousands of new cases that were filed under the old law. The record-breaking filings from the quarter ended June 30 were overwhelmed by the tidal wave of filings in September and first part of October. Courts had a bit of trouble absorbing the filings, and their electronic case filing (ECF) systems slowed to a crawl as even more cases flowed into the system.

While all of this occurred in our corner of the world, everyone else came to learn of the law's changes and why so many people were filing for chapter 7 relief before Oct. 17. Calls to ABI from the news media started out slowly, but then became almost constant as the deadline approached. "What changed," "How will it affect consumers," "How will it affect Katrina & Rita victims," "How will it become more expensive for the 'average person' to file for bankruptcy," "What is the 'means test' and how does it work"—these questions and more became all-too-frequent refrains from scores of reporters from coast to coast and even from other countries.

In the news business, reporters' need for timely information and swift call-backs are quite real. For them, if they do not report a story as it happens (or even slightly ahead of a breaking story), it is not news—it is history. Responding to the crush of media requests in the mayhem of October showed ABI's strength and depth.

The media has come to rely on ABI for unbiased, nonpartisan information regarding events in the bankruptcy world, and they needed ABI more than ever in September and October. ABI rose to the occasion in many different ways such that virtually no story on the change in the law was published without at least one quote from an ABI source.

The fact that we have come to be the "go to" source for reliable bankruptcy information is a testament to ABI's staff and leadership. Getting to this position did not happen overnight. Through many years of countless interviews and repeatedly responding to the same questions, Sam Gerdano and ABI's leaders built a reputation for timeliness and accuracy that would be the envy of any of Washington, D.C.'s countless "think tanks."

As the largest change in bankruptcy law in a generation was about to occur, only a "full court press" could respond to the media's craving for information, interviews and quotes. Prof. Jeffrey Morris had already set the bar quite high for ABI's resident scholars with his many interviews as the bill passed through Congress and went on to President Bush's desk. Prof. Nathalie Martin, ABI's current resident scholar, talked to reporters continually during the weeks leading up to the fateful day. She fielded calls at all hours of the day and from wherever she happened to be to always provide the reporters with the access and information they needed.

Behind the scenes, everyone on ABI's staff worked to assure that the media's requests were satisfied as quickly as possible. ABI's Strategic Communications Manager, Lissa Hurwitz, worked long hours of many consecutive days to field reporters' calls and coordinate with Prof. Martin and others to schedule interviews as the needs presented themselves.

As the print media reported on the changes, the electronic media began to take notice in early October. Calls for radio and television appearances increased and had to be worked into the mix. Prof. Martin and Sam Gerdano again stepped into the breach to provide the interviews and sound bites that are so common in radio and television. Each appeared on CNN and other networks to provide information and let the viewers know about ABI.

To respond to the incredible demand from television stations, Lissa Hurwitz even arranged for ABI's first ever "satellite media tour" on the Friday before Oct. 17. Local television stations in more than 20 of the top markets interviewed Prof. Martin and Sam Gerdano from a studio in Washington, D.C.

This unprecedented event required a substantial amount of logistical effort and coordination to assure that the various stations were ready to go when their time on the satellite arrived. The endurance, composure and grace shown during the two and a half hours of back-to-back-to-back interviews was immeasurable, since each station was entitled to feel that they were the most important stop "on the tour."

The professionalism, dedication, perseverance and fortitude everyone demonstrated showed that the media's confidence and reliance on ABI was not misplaced. How ABI responded from April through October will surely be recalled as among ABI's finest hours (at least when it comes to meeting demands by the media), and we are all understandably proud of how everyone at ABI excelled in facing this unprecedented challenge.

Journal Date: 
Thursday, December 1, 2005