Tribute to Professor Philip Shuchman

Our friend and former Consumers League of NJ Board member Philip Shuchman died November 29, 2004 in Florida.

Professor Shuchman was a champion of the underdog-- the average debtor in bankruptcy. In the early 1980s, creditors attacked the 1978 Bankruptcy Code, and claimed that bankrupts could afford payment plans, hence bankruptcy should be made more onerous. Professor Shuchman set out scientifically to see what the facts were. He decided to do a statistical study of bankrupts. He enlisted law students to go the Court and get the data right out of the bankruptcy petitions. In an era when computers were still too hard to understand, he enlisted one of his law students with a computer background to write custom database programs to keep track of the information. After months of gathering and analyzing the data, Professor Shuchman proved that bankrupts were really broke, and that many had significant medical bills, or otherwise showed good reasons for bankruptcy. The average bankrupt had debts greater than his/her annual salary. see Philip Shuchman, The Average Bankrupt: A Description and Analysis of 753 Personal Bankruptcy Filings in Nine States, 88 Com. L.J. 288 (1983). Philip Shuchman, New Jersey Debtors 1982-1983: An Empirical Study, 15 Seton Hall L. Rev. 541 (1985), Philip Shuchman & Thomas L. Rhorer, Personal Bankruptcy Data for Opt-Out Hearings and Other Purposes, 56 Am. Bankr. L.J. 1, 13 (1982).

Professor Shuchman’s statistical studies of bankrupts in the 1980s, from the data in Bankruptcy Court files, paved the way for Professor Elizabeth Warren’s subsequent statistical studies confirming Professor Shuchman’s conclusions. Professor Shuchman wrote an academic article criticizing the methodology of Professor Warren’s study. Consumer attorneys were disappointed in Professor Shuchman’s article because it was used by the banking industry in lobbying against consumer debtors. However Professors Shuchman and Warren were both on the side of the consumer debtor, arguing before two Bankruptcy Commissions, before Congress and in the media, that there was no cause to make bankruptcy filing more difficult for consumers, that debtors were not abusing the bankruptcy laws. Both the Shuchman studies and the Warren studies found that the average debtor who files chapter 7 bankruptcy was indeed broke, and cannot realistically pay back a significant portion of his or her debts. Professors Shuchman and Warren both opposed banking industry lobbying to make bankruptcy more difficult for consumer debtors. In 2005, after Professor Shuchman’s death, Congress passed a bankruptcy “reform” act which mainly increased the tasks and paperwork for consumer debtors, and imposed a “Means Test,” where debtors with incomes above the state median income must file chapter 13 payment plan bankruptcies. Experience shows that very few consumers fail the 2005 “Means Test.” Professors Shuchman and Warren had the same message- that statistics show bankrupts are really broke. It was a shame that they had an academic squabble about methodology.

Professor Shuchman was also well known for his 1969 study "Profit on Default: An Archival Study of Automobile Repossession and Resale," in the Stanford Law Review, 22 (November 1969). When Professor Shuchman came to teach at Rutgers we sought him out.

Professor Shuchman also had a study which disproved the creditor prediction that pro-debtor rulings as to bankruptcy and foreclosure would cause lenders to make fewer mortgages in a state subject the pro-debtor court decision. Mortgage lending went up in states with both pro-creditor and pro-debtor rulings. Lenders did not penalize jurisdictions where courts had ruled for the consumer.

Professor Shuchman spent a lifetime teaching and writing and testifying for decent bankruptcy and consumer credit laws. He will be missed by all who strive for justice for consumers.

Enclosed is the obituary is from The Star-Ledger

Philip Shuchman, 77, Rutgers law professor

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- Philip Shuchman, 77, of Hollywood died here yesterday at home.

A service will be at 2 p.m. today at Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, Pa.

Mr.. Shuchman was a professor for 19 years at Rutgers University School of Law in Newark, N.J., before retiring four years ago.

Earlier, he had taught at the University of Connecticut Law School and Benjamin Cardoza School of Law in New York City. He also maintained a private practice in Philadelphia for many years.

Mr.. Shuchman was a board of director member of the Consumers League of New Jersey, as well as co-chairman of the Coalition to Save Bankruptcy for Consumers.

He was deputy director to the U.S. Commission on the Bankruptcy Laws of the United States and testified before the U.S. Congress during the 1980s.

A graduate of Penn State, State College, Pa., he earned his law degree and a masters degree in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.

Born in Philadelphia, he lived in New York City before moving to Hollywood more than a year ago. He also maintained a summer home in Margate, N.J., for many years.

Surviving are Hedvah, his wife of 52 years; daughters, Carol and Miriam; sons, Matthew and Salem, and seven grandchildren.