Local News

Business booming for bankruptcy lawyers

Posted February 13, 2009 5:58 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— A flood of foreclosures and a rising tide of unemployment have left bankruptcy lawyers across the region awash in business.

But the attorneys say the extra work is heartbreaking.

"It scares me," said Bruce Allen, who has filed bankruptcy claims for clients for 20 years. "I've seen people who had factory jobs who are totally out of work, and they're on unemployment, wondering where they are going to turn."

Eighty-nine bankruptcy petitions from Cumberland County were filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in December, compared with 65 a year earlier. Bankruptcies were up across eastern North Carolina during the same period, from 667 to 933.

The Fayetteville branch of The Law Offices of John T. Orcutt processed 65 individual bankruptcy petitions in January, paralegal Annie Kosko said. A year ago, the office handled 40 bankruptcies, she said.

On Friday morning, a dozen people walked into the office, hoping to find relief from mounting debts.

"Sometimes, I almost feel guilty I have a job," Kosko said.

Unemployment in Cumberland County rose from 7.5 to 7.9 percent in December, according to the state Employment Security Commission. Almost 2,000 county residents began receiving unemployment benefits that month, though that was lower than the 2,900 who filed their initial benefits claims in November.

For many people struggling to pay their bills, bankruptcy is their last hope. Some people have taken pay cuts to save their jobs but are left with income that doesn't match their expenses, attorneys said.

"Sometimes, I see people (whose situations) are so severe that bankruptcy can't help," Allen said.

Kosko said every day brings new emotion as she tries to help clients.

"Some of them cry; some of them are angry," she said. "Some days, it's fantastic because you can help everybody you see, and it's wonderful – you feel great. Some days, it's not."