THE MYTH OF PANDORA
An Attorney’s Journey to find Hope
By Steve Berken
Law Office of Stephen E. Berken
andora opened the box and all
the illnesses and hardships that
gods had hidden in the vessel
escaped. Frightened by the ghostly
forms she saw fleeing from the box,
she tried to close it as fast as she could.
The one remaining spirit, trapped in the
box, was Hope.
Yes, I am a lawyer, and I “practice the
law.” Bankruptcy law. But what I really
do for living—have always done—is
rescue people. I am good at it, but it takes
a toll on me. At my age, I am supposed
to be “hardened” against the down-onluck stories. The endless accounts of
illness in the family, loss of a job, the
car accidents without insurance, the
health insurance that was there but ran
out, thoughts of suicide at the prospect
of losing the family home, the wayward
child enmeshed in the criminal system.
I listen to their stories. And I know
that people who file for bankruptcy
protection come from regular families
who hit hard times. A loss of a job, a
medical problem, a divorce. It’s not
the stories the media spins out—that
people have lost their sense of right and
wrong, deadbeats buying consumer
products they do not need.
And, they blame themselves. They
cringe at why they took out a home
loan they did not understand. For failing
to appreciate that they have no job
security. For trusting family members
who let them down. For thinking their
health insurance would cover the
CONSUMER BANKRUPTCY JOURNAL
At my age, I am supposed to be
jaded—that I have heard it all, figured
out the angles, fixed much. That I am
entitled to say “no” when faced with a
plea for help, because I am too busy,
too tired, or as my dad used to warn,
“let George do it.”
This is the problem. Either I have a bad
memory (a real possibility at 58 years
of age) in thinking that the tough stories
I heard 30 years ago were not that bad,
or we are living in the most disastrous
economic time of the last eighty years.
Yes, I can get people back on their feet,
financially, by getting rid of debt. I can
get rid of second mortgages. I can pay
the value of a car instead of what is
owed; get five years to repay taxes with
no interest or penalties. I can get rid of
those devilish credit cards and pay-day
But here is the point—I can’t
create income for my clients. I
can’t return thriving businesses to
our community, or develop wellpaying jobs. I can’t restructure our
educational system to train hightech manufacturing to produce
what Germany does.
Our community has been hijacked by
Corporate America, whose eye on the
bottom line has nothing to do with the
well-being of Americans. And the game
is so terribly rigged that I am pessimistic
for my generation and many to follow.
I fear for my daughters that they will
not be able to make a living or afford a
home without working 60 hours a week.
As I said, the game is rigged. More
than 50% of former Congressmen and
U.S. Senators become lobbyists and
75% of judges sitting on the federal
bench came from practices focusing
on corporate clients and their interests.
Our U.S. Supreme Court has decided
that a corporation is entitled to the same
“free speech” that you and I enjoy.
So what do I do in my little office? I
figure out fantasy budgets for a family,
and pretend that three people can eat
on $300 a month and that kids really
don’t need many clothes. And I have to
tell clients that, no matter how hard I try
to get the budget to work, they just can’t
afford the tiny, tired house in Morrison.
This thing I do—helping people who
are broke—is becoming very hard.
And instead of becoming jaded, I
look at the faces of my clients and
feel the pain like I have never felt
I have stopped looking at the faces of
people on the street, because I wonder
and worry—how are they making it?
At 58 years old, having litigated just
abo ut every issue there is in consumer
bankruptcy—I know how to rescue. But
I am getting old and I can’t shrug off
stress like I used to.
So, I have been reading about stress
and how damaging it is to one’s health.
And like a good student, I have read
National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys