Mr. MaGee, why have you made bankruptcy the primary focus of your legal career?

If you do not mind a bit of a long story, I will tell you why I became a bankruptcy lawyer.

I was always fascinated with bankruptcy and insolvency, but my first few years in practice were aimed at wills, trusts and estate planning. But here is the story.

I first bumped into bankruptcy topics in 1980, at the tender age of 13 years old. A strong impression was left upon me.

In 1980, my small Christian school closed its doors because the church we had attended (which sponsored the school) had bankrupted itself with excessive expansion, likely theft by a financial manager and some ill-conceived over expenditure on an ambitious building program.

The loss of the Christian school was a true shame. Class sizes had been small, and the atmosphere was very studious and disciplined. The teachers cared. I enjoyed two teachers who held PhDs. One of my music teachers was Don Lanphere, who had enjoyed a big-time famous jazz career in the 1950s and 1960s, and then a Seattle career rebirth in the mid-1980s through the 1990s. Don Lanphere had played with jazz great Charlie Parker in New York City in the 1950s.

After the school imploded, my younger sister and I were then placed in public schools starting September 1980. Unfortunately, there was no other viable private school option in our midsized Central Washington town. It was a shame that the small private school could not have been kept open.

I have often wondered: If there had been more sophisticated bankruptcy legal representation available, might not the school have been saved? Might not it have been “carved out” and sold or transferred to some other organization to operate?

Needless to say, the start of public school classes in September 1980 was a shock for me at age 13 years. The public schools were a mess. The public schools seemed out of control and nearly lawless compared to the studious and polite atmosphere of the private Christian school. There was marijuana, kids smoking cigarettes in the bathrooms, and posters of scantily clad women adorned nearly every boy’s locker. There were students with behavioral problems mixed in with studious high achievers. There was substantial alcohol use. There was rock music playing from boom boxes, plenty of mild violence, and unrestrained over-the-top behavior. Even worse, some of the teachers couldn’t have cared less.

There were other problems, too. As if one doesn’t already have enough to worry about in 8th grade junior high school in 1980, we had some special stresses at home.

In 1980, we had an urgent need to refinance our farm/home loan to avoid a balloon payment requirement. Interest rates were high and loans were hard to come by. To add further injury, some speculative family investments had collapsed in value, yet there was still expensive debt to service relative to the investments. This only added to the financial strain. 1980 was a tumultuous time.

If it had not been for a lucky and fortuitous increase in earned household income starting in 1981 and a lucky income “windfall” in 1983, bankruptcy might have been just around the corner.

But for some extreme luck, our family in 1980 may have needed an exit from the stress of the collapsed investments and a hard-to-refinance farm/home loan. That exit may very well have been bankruptcy, especially if there had been any sort of job loss, failed farm crop, income reduction or family illness/injury.

In 1980, my family got lucky with income increases and no illness or layoffs. In addition, some economic events unfolded that were truly heaven sent. I do also credit my hardworking parents. But it was in my view a combination of hard work and substantial luck that avoided a family bankruptcy filing in 1980.

I find that all of my clients are hardworking people. But I am here to help those of you who did not receive the luck of increased income and financial windfalls as did my family so receive back in 1980.

Your family may be under incredible loads of stress from financial issues. I am here to tell you that there can truly be life after bankruptcy. A life free from the burden of crushing debt. I would like to help you lighten the load when you feel like you just can’t take it any longer.