What does a bankruptcy lawyer do?
Bankruptcy lawyers deal with large businesses, as well as with smaller firms and individuals. These attorneys generally represent either creditors or debtors and represent their clients in bankruptcy court (which is similar to a federal district court) and at nonjudicial hearings. When dealing with large organizations, attorneys counsel clients on how to avoid or handle bankruptcy. When dealing with individuals, bankruptcy lawyers do not get involved until clients are already in financial trouble.
In representing creditors, bankruptcy lawyers investigate the recent financial dealings of the debtor, attempt to recover property, and litigate or negotiate the terms under which creditors can obtain compensation.
In representing a business that anticipates filing or has already filed for bankruptcy, lawyers work to keep the company in operation and to fend off creditors’ demands. Thus bankruptcy lawyers are combination of litigators and corporate attorneys.
In representing individuals, bankruptcy attorneys must identify all property and liabilities of the debtor as well as deal with the myriad financial issues facing their client. Bankruptcy attorneys try to avert or deal with foreclosure on homes or other property, stop or prevent garnishment, deal with debt collectors, consider domestic situations, and analyze loans or other credit transactions the debtor has entered into. In representing either creditors or debtors, the bankruptcy lawyer must research and consider various strategies for preserving a client’s interest in property.
What skills do I need to be a bankruptcy lawyer?
A bankruptcy lawyer must be meticulous in reviewing a wide variety of legal documents to evaluate a debtor’s situation. Often this involves finding defects or illegalities. Especially when dealing with individual debtors, who often have difficulty handling financial matters, a bankruptcy lawyer must be a good listener. The bankruptcy lawyer should be patient and able to empathize with anxious clients and understand the impact of financial problems on families. At the same time, the attorney must be able to provide objective counsel and not sugarcoat the client’s situation. The bankruptcy lawyer should be a skillful negotiator, since most decisions are made outside of court, but must nevertheless also be a good litigator.
Since bankruptcy practice intersects with almost all other areas of law, the bankruptcy lawyer must be a jack of all trades, willing to explore and grasp diverse laws. In addition, the bankruptcy attorney must be able to work with lawyers from other departments or practices
What kinds of jobs are available for bankruptcy lawyers?
Although some bankruptcy lawyers work as in-house counsels for banks, credit card companies, automobile financing firms and other lenders, most bankruptcy lawyers work at law firms. Lawyers who represent consumers in personal bankruptcy usually work for nonprofits, small firms or their own practices. Lawyers who represent corporations, either debtors or creditors, usually work at large law firms.
What courses should I take?
Students interested in bankruptcy law should take Business Bankruptcy. While bankruptcy draws upon nearly every subject area taught in law school, courses likely to be especially helpful to prospective bankruptcy law practitioners include:
- Federal Income Tax
- Sales & Leases
- Commercial Law
- Employment Law (especially for students interested in representing businesses)
- Family Law (for those interested in representing individuals)
- Consumer Law (for those interested in representing individuals)
Students should also take a clinic and/or a trial practice course.
What co-curricular activities and volunteer activities should I consider?
If you are interested in bankruptcy litigation, consider participating in Moot Court and writing for a law journal. Gain all the litigation experience you can during law school, even if it is not bankruptcy-related. The bankruptcy bar is quite small, so networking is important. Join the American Bankruptcy Institute, the Maryland State Bar Association’s Consumer Bankruptcy Section and the American Bar Association’s Bankruptcy and Insolvency Litigation Section. Find UB alumni who practice bankruptcy law on www.martindale.com and set up informational interviews. An externship with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court or the U.S. Trustee’s Office would be an invaluable experience. Working as an extern or a clerk at a law firm with a bankruptcy practice is the best way to land a job in the private sector after graduation.