Time is fast running out before the Oct. 17 change in bankruptcy law that will likely make Chapter 11 restructuring more difficult for companies.

Bankruptcy experts say a few large stragglers might still squeeze in Chapter 11 filings before then, but they say there probably won't be the kind of last-minute scramble seen among individual filers. Personal filings topped more than 102,000 last week, according to Lundquist Consulting Inc., roughly triple the weekly average in recent years.

The law's timing has certainly affected decision-making at some big companies. Perhaps the best example is Delphi ( DPHIQ), whose Chapter 11 filing last weekend was the largest ever by an auto-parts supplier.

Robert S. Miller, the restructuring veteran who took Delphi's helm in July, set Oct. 17 as a deadline for that company to file if it couldn't secure a bailout plan from its biggest customer and former parent, General Motors ( GM), along with big concessions from the United Auto Workers Union. He reportedly said he didn't want to be a "guinea pig" for the new law.

The coming bankruptcy changes were also a factor in Northwest Airlines' ( NWACQ) decision to file for Chapter 11 on Sept. 14, although the company's CEO said the post-Hurricane Katrina fuel spike was the immediate catalyst pushing the No. 4 U.S. carrier over the edge.

A slew of provisions is likely to make restructuring more difficult for companies under Chapter 11. Perhaps the biggest change puts an 18-month limit on the period of exclusivity when a bankrupt company's management can file a reorganization plan. After that, creditors, unions and other parties will be free to offer competing plans.

Tectonic Shift?

The existing law has a 120-day exclusivity period, but bankruptcy judges routinely extend this, giving some companies an almost indefinite period to come up with a plan. A case in point is UAL's ( UALAQ) United Airlines, which took more than two-and-a-half years to file its plan.

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