Getting the Work in the Hands of People Who Will Use It

Bob Lawless

Professor of Law

Bob Lawless

Addressing a Societal Problem to Contribute to the Public Good

Motivated by the belief that “scholarship should not sit on a shelf,” Lawless is committed to conducting publicly engaged research. Lawless’ work focuses on examining the bankruptcy system, which is the part of the legal system that Americans are most likely to encounter. One in 10 Americans will file bankruptcy in their lifetimes. To this end, Lawless not only publishes about bankruptcy but also is driven to educate the public about his scholarship. As a professor at a land grant institution, Lawless strongly believes sharing his research with Illinois residents by disseminating it in digestible and accessible ways for laypeople. For example, he administers and contributes to the blog, Credit Slips.

Mutually Beneficial Exchange of Knowledge and Resources

There are countless examples of the ways in which Lawless’ research feeds off of itself to inform the public. When attending conferences, Lawless listens to statements made by attorneys in order to spur new research ideas that may dispel current myths about the legal system. One of his co-authored studies found that one in eight individuals who file bankruptcy are elderly, garnering a lot of media attention, including a front page story in The New York Times and additional inquiries from law reform groups and other media outlets. Subsequently, the Federal Reserve began reporting data on elderly persons filing for bankruptcy.

Collaboration with Communities or Organizations

Lawless emphasizes the synergistic nature of his work. His expertise has informed proposed legislation and procedural changes. He has also worked closely with reporters at national and regional media outlets to provide context or findings on various subjects. He is in close contact with reporters at The Wall Street Journal. His relationships with communities, individuals and organizations enrich his scholarship and his teaching.


Lawless has had a national impact on the public, educating individuals–both those involved and not involved in the legal profession–about bankruptcy. His efforts have spurred a national conversation about bankruptcy. For example, his scholarship was featured in an episode on bankruptcy on “Last Week with John Oliver,” which has been seen by nearly 6 million people. His work revealing the racial disparities in bankruptcy were cited as a reason for the Consumer Bankruptcy Reform Act, which overhauled the bankruptcy system. or Lawless has had a tremendous societal impact on public discourse, practitioners and policy.



Lawless has published more than 49 law review and peer-reviewed articles and has given presentations to conferences across the U. S. He is a co-author of the 9th edition of “Secured Transactions: A Systems Approach”, a leading textbook. He is a co-author of another textbook, “Empirical Methods in Law”. He served as an associate editor for the Law & Society Review. Lawless co-directs the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, which collects data about persons who file bankruptcy. This work has resulted in multiple law review articles and a book under contract with the UC-Berkeley press. His work has been featured in various media, including C-SPAN, CNN, CNBC, NPR, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” ABC News, and The Financial Times.


Lawless has presented his results before the U.S. Congress about the bankruptcy system. He also administers the Credit Slip blog, and he served as the reporter for the American Bankruptcy Institute Commission on Consumer Bankruptcy. Further, he has written amicus briefs to various courts. Earlier in his career, he had a was a contributor to Legal Issues in the News, a program on the local NPR station.

Additional Resources

To learn more about Professor Lawless’ publicly engaged research, visit the links below.