Lawyer Limelight: Jane Downey

Bankruptcy attorney Jane Downey brings her all to every case – whether shes representing high-profile business creditors in major financial cases or families and elderly community members in pro bono bankruptcy matters. She has served South Carolina as a specialist in bankruptcy and debtor/creditor law since 1996. In her work, Downey excels in making the financial personal. 

Downey is a partner at her firm, Moore Bradley Myers, where she manages the bankruptcy section of the firm in addition to her own cases. She serves the legal profession outside of the office, as well: She is a member of the American Bankruptcy Institute and an incorporating attorney, member of, and past president of the South Carolina Bankruptcy Law Association. Downey also uses her profession to improve her community through pro bono bankruptcy cases which she tries via the South Carolina Bar Pro Bono Program, and by teaching financial literacy classes to residents of all ages.

Lawdragon: Can you describe the mix of work you do within your practice?

Jane Downey: I represent debtors or creditors, typically in small to medium-size bankruptcy cases. I also do restructuring work for individuals and businesses trying to avoid filing bankruptcy.

LD: How did you first become interested in bankruptcy law?

JD: Retired Judge Keith Lundin would fly from Nashville to my law school in Atlanta and teach a three-hour bankruptcy class once a week. I figured if I could sit through a three-hour class with interest I needed to consider practicing in that subject matter. 

George Cauthen and Nelson Mullins gave me that opportunity in 1990 when they represented the unsecured creditors committee in a large bankruptcy case. I had the fortune of practicing in South Carolina under Chief Judge Bratton Davis and was hooked by how professionally and courteously he handled people in his courtroom. 

LD: What keeps you excited about your practice now? 

JD: Stressed-out debtors come to me at their lowest financial point, typically, and through the legal system their lives get better. I like to see the confidence they have in themselves as they work through the process. Frustrated creditors come to me wanting answers, sometimes to complicated situations. I enjoy the mix of working with both.

LD: What kind of matters are you seeing the most right now? 

JD: Filings are the lowest in my 30-year career. In my debtor cases, loan modifications are on the rise as mortgage forbearances end. Evictions and car repossessions are beginning. Recently, we’ve also seen Chapter 7 trustees bring fraudulent transfer type actions against insiders of businesses, and I have been defending those.

LD: Tell me about those fraudulent actions. How have you seen them impact your clients?

JD: I am frustrated with the trustees’ delay in the time it takes for them to pay creditors by instead spending years litigating fraudulent conveyance actions and running up fees in matters they would have skipped in years past when they were busy.

LD: Looking back to your time in school, do you think your undergraduate work pushed you towards a career in the law?

JD: I switched from being a chemistry major to becoming a political science major after taking American government classes.

LD: And what about after undergrad – did you have any jobs before law school? 

JD: I spent part of a summer interning in Washington, D.C., for a senator and for a political advertising firm. Seeing the Capitol and the Supreme Court sparked an interest in the three branches of government. I found the job of the judiciary, the interpretation of the law, most interesting.

LD: Is there a specific reason why you chose your law school over another law school?

JD: I considered my law school as one of my top three choices for college, but I ended up going to the other two. I figured I would round out the three by attending Emory Law School. Emory was located in the Southeast and I wanted to live in the Southeast after law school but didn’t know in what state. I figured attending a top 25 law school in the Southeast was a good springboard to living there.

LD: Is your practice now the kind of practice you expected you’d have when you were in law school?

JD: In law school I gravitated to code classes like bankruptcy, tax and probate rather than torts because code classes were more black and white and required less creativity. Upon graduation, I really did not want to spend more time in school pursuing an LLM, so bankruptcy was a good fit.

LD: What advice do you have for current law school students?

JD: Think. Spot issues. I had a professor named Professor Andrew Kull who, in his contracts class, asked us, “What is really going on here?” I go back to that question often when I need to think outside of the box for a resolution. Usually that means having to stop and listen to what matters to the client rather than always being the one to speak. In one of my cases, that was an apology. After the hospital apologized to the family, the case settled.

LD: Was there an early experience or mentor who really helped shape the course of your professional life, either in law school or after?

JD: George Cauthen was my boss for the first seven years of my practice. He taught me to think outside the box to find a resolution and encouraged me to read as much as I could early on, because he said I wouldn’t have time later. George has a keen sense of humor and is an advocate for pro bono work. 

Don Stubbs supervised me at the same time. He was a fantastic writer and always treated people with respect. Biff Sowell, a terrific litigator with a big heart, always had time for me and was very approachable when I had questions. 

LD: How has your practice changed since that early part of your career?

JD: In the beginning I almost exclusively represented business creditors in larger cases except for my pro bono work. Now I do more consumer work and represent more consumers and small businesses in small to medium-size debtor cases.

LD: It’s hard to narrow down, but has there been a client at any point in your career who has stuck out to you as particularly memorable? 

JD: Electric City Printing was one of my favorite creditor clients. Joel Hogg, its president and COO, went through an interesting case with lots of twists and turns. When I left Nelson Mullins, he had the confidence to stick with me, and we had a successful outcome. Joel had a great personality and made even frustrating moments enjoyable. 

LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer? 

JD: I try hard to resolve my cases through settlement, but I am not afraid to litigate as a last resort.

LD: Tell me a bit about your pro bono clients and your work creating financial literacy classes with CARE (Credit Abuse Resistance Education). What do you find meaningful about that kind of work? 

JD: If I can contribute to even one person’s life becoming better, it is worth the time. Once, I had a pro bono client give me a spatula and spoon set. I still keep it by my stove almost 20 years later. It grounds me to think how thoughtful that was of someone who had such little financial means and reminds me to try to be as considerate and serving to others.

LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?

JD: I love being outdoors. I enjoy the water especially, so I gravitate to kayaking and the beach, although I also like to hike and ride my bike.

LD: Do you have a favorite book or movie about the justice system?

JD: Can it be any other than “My Cousin Vinny”?

LD: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now?

JD: I always thought it would have been fun to be either a baseball umpire or a horse trainer.