Women and Bankruptcy
Recently, Marlene Bernstein was asked to lead one of the educational breakout sessions at the annual conference of Generations Together – a celebration of women graduates sponsored by the Duquesne University School of Law (which, as many of you know, she attended and graduated from just two years behind her son, Robert Bernstein). As an attorney with Bernstein Bernstein Krawec & Wymard, a firm concentrating in the areas of bankruptcy, collections and creditor’s rights, Marlene was asked to speak on the topic of women and bankruptcy. The following excerpts highlight the three major ways in which women are involved in bankruptcy, and the position of women in these three arenas.
As of October 1995, there were 314 active bankruptcy judges, less than 50 of these judges were women. In the Western District of Pennsylvania (location of BBK&W) Judge Judith Fitzgerald sits on the bench–she is the only female bankruptcy judge among the 5 bankruptcy judges presently serving in the District.
Of the 6,569 attorneys who count themselves as members of the Allegheny County Bar Association (location of BBK&W), women number 1,686. The Bankruptcy and Commercial Law Section of the Allegheny County Bar has only 43 women of the 250 attorney members – that’s a ratio of 5 to 1! Bernstein Bernstein Krawec & Wymard has 3 female bankruptcy lawyers out of 10 total lawyers.
Marlene stressed that as an area of practice, bankruptcy provides a positive opportunity for women to combine career with other responsibilities because it is a highly intensive paper practice with very few quick deadlines and very few court appearances per case.
Debtors or spouses/ex-spouses of debtors
This is the area of bankruptcy in which women have dramatically increased in numbers. In 1981, women comprised the smallest group of those declaring bankruptcy–just 17% of all filings (312,000 filings, 53,000 of those filings were by women). By the end of 1999, women were expected to comprise almost 40% of filers (1.3 filings were projected with single women accounting for 500,000 of them). Women are the fastest growing filing population and outnumber men filing alone as well as married couples.
Single women currently filing bankruptcy are not only growing in numbers and percentages, but also are in worse financial shape than their joint-filing counterparts.