Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Profile / J. Todd Tracy: Strength Through Kindness

Profile / J. Todd Tracy: Strength Through Kindness

May 2022 Bar Bulletin

By Steven Reilly

The Roman philosopher Seneca opined that “wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.” I have met few people in life who embody this philosophy more than Todd Tracy. 

As one of the preeminent commercial bankruptcy attorneys in the Northwest, Todd regularly works with businesses and their owners during their darkest hours. Times when shadows of loan defaults and eminent garnishments and foreclosures loom on the horizon. Times when entrepreneurial aspirations collide with the harsh realities of economic distress. Times when things might seem a bit hopeless. 

Having practiced insolvency law for over 35 years, Todd knows exactly how difficult and stressful these periods can be on people. He truly understands that it is not just dollars and cents at issue; it is often peoples’ pride and sense of self that is on the line. His compassion is palpable. His concern genuine and his desire to help sincere. 

Yet, to frame Todd as simply a “nice guy” is a disservice to his depth of character and his multitude of strengths as a practitioner. Todd might be incredibly kind but he is also a fearless advocate who is willing to go to the mat for his clients and fight tirelessly on their behalf. He is also thoughtful, quick-witted, easy to laugh, well-versed in the latest memes and reality shows (okay, mostly just Ninja Warrior and Survivor), and his integrity is matched only by his competence; his knowledge of the Bankruptcy Code, receiverships, and debtor-creditor rights almost encyclopedic. 

Like all of us, Todd’s upbringing and life experiences are what forged him into the person he is today. Born in 1962 in Boise, Idaho, Todd spent his first nine years bouncing between Boise, Idaho Falls, and Salt Lake City; his father a salesman and his mother a registered surgical nurse at the time. In 1971, Todd’s father pivoted careers and bought a lumber yard in Jackson, Wyoming, where Todd spent the rest of his formative years. 

Todd greatly enjoyed his many years in Jackson (for the record, this was well before it got fancy and celebrified) and spent much of his free time enjoying the outdoors in and around Grand Teton National Park. On Friday afternoons in the winters, school used to let out an hour early so students could go skiing on the local ski hill. In the summers, when Todd wasn’t working at his father’s lumber yard, there was an abundance of nearby places to hike, boat, fish, and engage in typical teenage mischief. 

But Jackson wasn’t without its downsides. In the winter it got cold. Sometimes really cold. During one particularly brutal cold snap where the temperatures had dropped into the negative sixties, the water in the house froze, and Todd happened to be filling out college applications. It was then and there that he decided that Arizona State would be an ideal place to attend college. It also didn’t hurt that his high school sweetheart and future wife, Debbie, had also recently moved to Arizona to attend college. During the summers Todd returned to Jackson to work construction to earn money for school. 

Todd graduated from Arizona State with a B.S. in psychology in 1984. He had always done speech and debate and found the study of law intriguing so law school was a natural next step. Allured by the beauty of the PNW, and buoyed by family ties in the area, Todd began law school at the University of Washington the same year. Like many of us, Todd was originally unsure of what type of law he wanted to practice when he began law school, and bankruptcy sort of fell in his lap. “The reasons for getting into bankruptcy were two-fold,” he recalls. “First, my wife was a paralegal in Lane Powell’s bankruptcy department at the time so I at least had some exposure to it. Second, I found that I really like the code and statute-based classes in school. I really kind of fell into it.” Then, in his third year of law school, Todd got an externship with the late Honorable Sidney Volinn, Bankruptcy Judge for the Western District of Washington, who also served on the Ninth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel. While Todd may have fallen into bankruptcy law, it was during that time that he fell in love with it. “Seeing the different types of law that came into play, and seeing the negotiations going on between different groups, and seeing businesses come up with plans on how they could reorganize, that’s what really intrigued me.” 

After graduating from the University Washington School of Law in 1987, Todd spent two years clerking for the late Honorable Samuel Steiner, Bankruptcy Judge for the Western District of Washington. Todd describes Judge Steiner with admiration; a stoic, cigar-smoking, pragmatic intellectual, who, above-all, recognized there were real people behind every case whose lives would be impacted by his decisions. “Always being respectful was the main thing he taught me. That and that there are two sides to every story and you can often find solutions that work for everyone, even if it might not initially look like it.”

In 1989, Following his clerkship with Judge Steiner, Todd began working as an associate at the boutique creditor-debtor rights firm, Hatch & Leslie, where he really cut his teeth as a practitioner. While Todd focused primarily on chapter 11 work and creditor representation, he was thrown into all sorts of insolvency related matters, often representing debtors and creditors in different cases on the same docket. “I would be on the chapter 13 docket on Mondays and [then Bankruptcy] Judge Glover would purposefully call one case where I represented the debtor, and then immediately call the next case where I represented a creditor. He’d ask what hat I was wearing and I would reply, ‘I always wear the hat of the good and righteous.’” Todd reflected as he smiled reminiscently. Hatch & Leslie merged with Foster Pepper & Shefleman in 1991, and Todd continued to work there as an associate until 1994. 

Following his time at Foster Pepper, Todd spent several years at Shulkin Hutton, where he continued to tackle a vast array of creditor-debtor issues, representing creditors and debtors alike in out-of-court workouts, state court receiverships, and bankruptcy proceedings under all chapters of “The Code” (as bankruptcy practitioners reverently refer to it). Subsequently, Todd moved on to become a principal at Reed McClure, a partner at Ogden Murphy & Wallace, and then President of The Crocker Law Group, before going on to start his own creditor-debtor rights firm, The Tracy Law Group, in 2013. 

Throughout his entire career, Todd has been active in the legal community. He has served as President of the Federal Bar Association for the Western District of Washington, as a lawyer representative to the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference, as President of the King County Bar Association Bankruptcy Section, and currently sits on the Executive Committee for the WSBA Creditor-Debtor Section as well as the Board of CENTS (Consumer Education and Training Services), a non-profit dedicated to providing financial education and legal resources to those facing financial challenges. 

When asked about his all-time favorite cases that he’s worked on, Todd quickly ticks off a handful of victories from larger commercial cases: the confirmation of a chapter 11 plan of reorganization that involved the sale of the Met Park towers to the Benaroya Co. in 1995; the successful restructuring of a developer with over a hundred properties on the back end of the Great Recession; the representation of a state-court receiver of a struggling tech company which allowed the company to be sold as a going-concern and which preserved almost 100 jobs; just to name a few. But it’s a pro bono consumer case that really makes him light up. Through his work with the Seattle University pro bono bankruptcy clinic, Todd ended up speaking with an elderly woman who had been taken advantage of by a siding company that got her to enter into a contract that she would not be able to afford on her limited fixed income. This put her home at risk of being foreclosed on. Todd helped her file for bankruptcy and save her house. For years after her case had been resolved, the woman would send him tiny sets of clothes that she knit for his daughters’ dolls. She would also call him every year before the holidays to sing him his “Christmas Song,” a practice which soon turned into a beloved annual tradition.

If Todd could offer one piece of advice to younger lawyers it would be, “to be respectful. I think you can be a strong advocate without being a jerk.” After having the pleasure of working with Todd for over a decade and witnessing the results he achieves and the kindness and respect that he extends to everyone, from clients to opposing counsel, I couldn’t agree more.

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