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Henry J. Sommer Papers and Consumer Rights

March 24, 2023

Pamphlets created by Community Legal Services on bankruptcy rights
Pamphlets created by Community Legal Services on bankruptcy rights

Material has been added to the Henry J. Sommer Papers that document his lifelong work in bankruptcy and consumer law. The updated collection is now available for research.

The Henry J. Sommer papers were processed at the Biddle Law Library Archives in 2011 and focused on the early stages of Sommer’s legal career. Recently, additional material donated by Sommer has been added to the collection to create a more wholistic documentation of his lifelong work in bankruptcy reform and protecting consumer rights. 

Bankruptcy pamphlets created by Community Legal Services in Philadelphia

Henry Sommer was born in 1949 in Rochester, New York. Sommer received his JD cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1974. After graduating, he worked for Community Legal Services in Philadelphia as Project Head of the Consumer Law Project until 1996. Sommer litigated major cases involving bankruptcy, consumer law, and civil rights. From 1996 to 2018, Sommer served as Supervising Attorney for the pro-bono Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Project, and in 2018 he became president of the National Consumer Bankruptcy Rights Center.

Sommer (second from the right) at a meeting of the Federal Reserve Board Consumer Advisory Council in 1983.

Additionally, Sommer has served professional associations and committees related to bankruptcy law. He has been a member of the National Bankruptcy Conference since 1983, a member of the Federal Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Bankruptcy Rules from 1991 to 1998, a chairman of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Conference from 1998 to 1999, and the President of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys from 2005 to 2008.

Sommer (third row, third from the right) stands next to Judge Joe Lee at the National Bankruptcy Conference 1997 meeting.

Sommer has spoken before both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, has lectured at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and served as faculty on continuing legal education programs with numerous institutions. In 1990, Sommer became the first recipient of National Consumer Law Center’s Vern Countryman Consumer Law Award. He also received the Excellence in Education Award from the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges in 2010. For more information on Sommer’s career and community involvement, listen to his oral history given as part of the National Bankruptcy Archives Oral History Program or access the transcript.

A finding aid for the updated Henry J. SommerpPapers is now available online. The collection, originally 40 boxes, now consists of 90 boxes with material spanning 1966 to 2014. Additions to the collection include:

Sommer featured at a meeting of the National Bankruptcy Conference.

  • Sommer’s involvement in legislative reform throughout his career. The collection contains correspondence on revisions to the Bankruptcy Amendments Act of 1994; drafts of legislative proposals created by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys; working group proposals from the Bankruptcy Review Commission; testimonies from senate hearings on the Mortgage Foreclosure Assistance Legislation (Act 91), and more.


  • Sommer has been a popular speaker at bankruptcy seminars and workshops for decades. His collection includes speaking notes, conference programs, and training materials from continuing legal education programs of the American Law Institute and the American Bar Association, the Federal Judicial Center workshops for judges, and the National Consumer Law Conference Consumer Rights Litigation Conferences.

Tapes from a 1981 Philadelphia seminar on the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978

  • Sommer has written extensively on consumer bankruptcy. He has published many articles, has been a contributing author to the Matthew Bender treatise on Debtor-Creditor law, co-authored Collier Family Law and the Bankruptcy Code, and served as the editor-in-chief of Collier on Bankruptcy. Sommer’s collection holds early drafts and outlines on some of his major publications such as the NCLC Consumer Bankruptcy Law and Practice published in 1981 and the Collier Consumer Bankruptcy Practice Guide published in 1997.


CRA Protest Outline written in 1977

  • During Sommer’s time as head of the Consumer Law Project at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, he litigated many cases related to consumer protections. The collection contains interoffice memos with updates on these cases and legislative reforms as well as bankruptcy pamphlets created for clients, other resources for community education, and training materials that Sommer used for sessions on foreclosure and introductions to consumer law.
  • The Community Legal Services files also include a section on Sommer’s work with community groups to challenge local banks under the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 for refusing to extend credit to residents solely based on where they lived. The material includes meeting materials and flyers from neighborhood organizations including the Kensington Joint Action Council, Neighborhood Economic Survival Coalition, and the Eastern Philadelphia Organizing Project.

The updated Henry J. Sommer papers provide insight into the history of consumer advocacy work in Philadelphia. The collection is part of the National Bankruptcy Archives, created by the Biddle Law Library and the American College of Bankruptcy in 2000. The archive holds both institution and personal papers related to the history of debtor-creditor relations, bankruptcy, and the reorganization of debt. The Henry J. Sommer papers were the foundation of the archives’ effort to collect more material related to consumer bankruptcy law and remain a major collection for this research.