National Study of Professional Fees
There is probably no more important issue to the bankruptcy community than bringing rationality and consistency to professional fees. This is a highly misunderstood aspect of the bankruptcy system, generating (often out of ignorance of facts and context) negative media attention that puts the entire profession in a bad light. Litigation over professional-fee issues creates its own cost in the system, draining many hours of time—including judicial time—more productively devoted to the hard issues of restructuring and liquidating.
Some courts and districts have initiated new programs to address professional-fee problems, including the use of fee examiners and committees. There has also been a respectable debate about whether the fee problem should be addressed in a national, comprehensive way, or whether ad hoc experimental programs should continue.
We formed an ABI study group to consider this issue last spring with the support and advocacy of a variety of ABI members. Since the initial meetings of this steering committee, led by Chip Bowles and myself—along with the participation of Dierdre Martini, Bettina Whyte, John Penn, Judge Wes Steen and Sam Gerdano—we are near an agreement to provide significant funding (from our Endowment Fund and other resources) for an academic scholar (who would serve as reporter) to undertake a comprehensive national survey. The issue is simply too important to leave to random experimentation. We want to understand what works and why, and we need to know whether high fees are a function of poor practice or the labor-intensive economics that attend large cases.
The National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges Endowment for Education has designated two of its members, Judge Steven W. Rhodes and Judge Gregg Zive, to work with us. Our hope is that the NCBJ will assist with the funding. If all goes well, we may be making formal announcements about this study in the near future, and I will at that time appoint a larger fee-study committee to work with the reporter in order to provide important feedback as the work takes shape. If we do this right—and I believe we will—it may well be one of the most important ABI projects ever.
At last year's Annual Spring Meeting, I pledged to do more to recognize our past leaders and memorialize what has, up until now, been largely an oral history of ABI. I asked the past presidents (whose names now appear in a masthead set next to our Board of Directors on the last page of the ABI Journal) to consider writing periodic Journal columns on ABI history. I am very pleased that this project is now getting off the ground, and you will see in the next issue the very first such column, written by Ed Creel, ABI's first president.
As this issue of the Journal demonstrates, many countries are in the process of modifying, or have recently modified, their bankruptcy laws to more closely resemble the chapter 11 model. We have experience tto be usefully shared with our colleagues in other countries. We are planning our first-ever conference in London, slated to be held next fall. Working closely with ABI member firms in the legal and financial consulting community who have significant practices in London and throughout Europe, we will enhance the likelihood of a critical mass of attendance. (To state it differently, while we would be delighted if American and Canadian ABI members decided to "cross the pond" for this program, we are not designing it to attract North Americans, but rather to serve European interests.) In early 2005, we will again hold our U.S.-Canada cross-border program, this time in Toronto. We thank our Vice President-International, Steven Golick, for again heading this up.
New U.S. Programs
Among our new CLE programs in 2005 is the Mid-Atlantic Bankruptcy Workshop, to be held in August at the Hyatt Resort on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Thanks go to Program Co-chairs Laura Davis Jones (Pachulski, Stang, et al.) and Skip DiMassa (Duane Morris), and Judicial Chairs Judi Fitzgerald (W.D. Pa.) and Mary Walrath (D. Del.) for organizing this exciting new venture.
And a Few Words of Thanks
I am nearly two-thirds of the way through my all-too-brief (at least in my opinion) term as ABI president. In that time, I have had the great pleasure of attending and representing ABI at many regional programs that I had never before attended, and to work with and get to know many people. The number of our members who give enormous amounts of their time and energy for this organization, for no reason other than their desire to see ABI succeed as the premier association of insolvency professionals, is truly remarkable.
Finally, I continue to believe that we have the finest professional staff of any nonprofit organization in the country, bar none. Our executive director, Sam Gerdano, has hand-picked a fiercely loyal band of meeting planners, marketing specialists, media experts, webmasters, financial staffers and others, all of whom keep ABI ever-present in the media, in your mailbox, on your computer screen and at your service. Over the last nine months I have been repeatedly offered sympathy from people who think that being ABI president must be a difficult and demanding job. I must confess that Sam and the ABI staff have made it easy for me. I'd love to complain, but I have no just cause to do so. We are all truly fortunate to have them, and I thank each and every one of them for a job well done.