June 19, 2012
Judge Brown told us about his background and experience in the bankruptcy law industry.
What is your background?
Honorable William Houston Brown retired in 2006 as a United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Western District of Tennessee, and he had been designated to sit also in the Middle District of Tennessee, Southern District of Florida, Eastern District of Michigan and Western District of Kentucky. Judge Brown served a four-year term on the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the Sixth Circuit from 1999 through 2002. He received his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law, where he was Order of the Coif. Judge Brown is a member of the American Bankruptcy Institute, having served on its Board and Executive Committee, and is a Fellow in the American College of Bankruptcy. He is the author or co-author of several texts all published by Thomson Reuters. He is also a principal contributing editor for Norton Bankruptcy Law and Practice 3rd. Judge Brown prepares a quarterly update of consumer cases for the Federal Judicial Center, which distributes those materials to all bankruptcy judges, and he is a speaker at the Federal Judicial Center’s annual seminars for bankruptcy judges. He also speaks regularly at seminars throughout the United States, on consumer bankruptcy topics. Judge Brown acts as a mediator in bankruptcy-related disputes, has conducted mock trials, and has testified as an expert witness in bankruptcy court trials.
In the last year, what has been the hottest topic around bankruptcy law?
Limiting my response to the consumer law developments, a hot topic that has divided the bankruptcy courts and has not yet reached most appellate courts is the issue of whether a Chapter 13 debtor who is not eligible for a discharge (because of having received a prior discharge) may still strip off a wholly unsecured junior lien on the debtor’s home. This issue will reach more appellate courts, perhaps the Supreme Court. Stripping off wholly unsecured liens has been approved generally in Chapter 13 cases, but the 2005 Act added provisions about discharge limitations and lien retention. This issue often appears in cases in which the debtor is or has been a party to a marital dissolution or divorce.
You’re an author. Tell us a bit about the books you have published with West?
In addition to the bankruptcy-related forms in the West’s Federal Forms and West’s Legal Forms sets, which I revise each year, I have been the sole or co-author of the following annually revised books: Bankruptcy and Domestic Relations Manual, Bankruptcy Exemption Manual, and the Law of Debtors and Creditors. The latter two-volume set covers both bankruptcy and consumer lending issues, such as the Truth in Lending Act. Revising these books requires constant monitoring of bankruptcy and appellate courts’ decisions, as well as changes in relevant laws, and I enjoy learning and keeping current on bankruptcy-related developments. When the Bankruptcy Code was amended in 2005, a co-author and I wrote an analysis of the changes in the Code, the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Legislation, with Analysis, which West published in two editions. I have found that this research and writing contributes to my seminar activity.
When you got your start in Bankruptcy Law, what is one thing you found out that you wish someone had told you prior to becoming a bankruptcy attorney?
A fascinating thing about bankruptcy law is that it involves much more than the Bankruptcy Code; it frequently involves the entire range of commercial law issues, including the Uniform Commercial Code and other state laws. As a result, litigation in the bankruptcy court is very interesting, often presenting unique legal and factual issues. Before becoming involved in bankruptcy practice, I probably thought it was mostly driven by filling out forms and handling routine issues. I found out that it can be a much more complex area of the law.
Do you have any advice for attorneys wanting to start their practice in the area of bankruptcy?
Don’t simply learn by your own practice experience; observe experienced attorneys in bankruptcy court and attend significant seminars. Learn from the experience of others, and learn to do things not simply efficiently but with expertise. Impress the courts before whom you practice by your confidence and knowledge of the law.
Since retiring, what has been the best experience you have had?
Outside of the learning experience from continuing legal research and writing, having control of my schedule to do those things that are really interesting to me has been a great experience. The legal writing can be done anywhere, having access to Westlaw, giving me the opportunity to live where I want to, while both working and having fun.
Join us for an information-packed webinar by Judge Brown offering you expert guidance on many bankruptcy topics.
- Planning for bankruptcy when divorce is expected or pending
- Drafting issues for marital dissolution agreements-bankruptcy impacts
- Dischargeability of domestic support and property division obligations
- Attorney fees – are they dischargeable?
- Ethical issues faced by bankruptcy attorneys
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