Beyond Payday Loans

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

Mitchell Hartman May 13, 2013

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.

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