Behind the photo: A bankruptcy lawyer who identifies with her clients

Savannah bankruptcy lawyer Barbara Braziel with a client who borrowed around $2,500 from World Finance and its subsidiaries. Those installment loans, and the interest, fees and credit insurance associated with them helped land her in bankruptcy.

By the time I got to bankruptcy lawyer Barbara Braziel's office near downtown Savannah that Wednesday night, I'd already put about 250 miles on my rental car chasing down predatory lenders out at Fort Stewart Army Base. Now I was back in Savannah for interviews on a related story: high-interest installment loans that get regular civilians into a world of financial hurt.

It was going on 7 p.m. and I was worried that Braziel would have closed up legal shop for the day.

Not a chance.

Braziel presides over a warren of offices piled high with bankruptcy filings and law books. The computer network had gone down during the day.

"They call it 'the cloud,'" she quipped in her slow Southern drawl. "But the girls call it 'the fog.'"

Braziel is a different class from her low-income clients; she's a professional running a busy business, working long hours, making payroll. But I could sense in the way she looked at her bankruptcy client that day, the way she touched her arm gently as she urged her to tell her story, that she identifies deeply with these people who come to her in desperate financial trouble.

People who can't find an easy way out in the short-term—without getting deeper in, in the long-run.

"I too was a single mom," she told me. "You're trying to keep the lights on, you're trying not to be homeless. So you really just need to solve the problem you have in front of you. And the cost is secondary."


Read other stories from the Marketplace and Propublica joint investigation "Beyond payday loans: Installment lending and the cycle of debt." Explore the whole series here.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...