Working as a bankruptcy lawyer during struggling economic times translates to more clients. This is because a down economy usually includes high unemployment rates, more home foreclosures and people obligated to file for bankruptcy.
A bankruptcy lawyer’s primary focus is to assist clients through court proceedings to reduce or eliminate debt or to proceed forward with bankruptcy. A bankruptcy lawyer’s clients may be individuals or corporations. They may represent individual or corporate debtors, individual or corporate creditors, creditors’ committees, and bankruptcy trustees. Work hours are long and meetings with clients frequently occur in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate their client’s schedule. Various environments serve as the bankruptcy lawyer’s workplace- from offices to courtrooms to law libraries.
A juris doctorate is required as well as a current attorney license. For a job applicant, graduation from a prestigious law school can open doors to better employment opportunities. Although there are general law school course requirements, after the first year, the student can select courses in their area of specialization. A future bankruptcy lawyer should take courses like creditors’ rights, income taxation, negotiations and other bankruptcy-specific courses. Work experience in the employer’s sector always puts the job applicant at an advantage.
A master’s of law program in bankruptcy is an option for students who have already obtained their J.D. It is a one-year program for those who want to truly specialize in the field. To demonstrate dedication and commitment to this specialization, a law student or professional should join professional organizations such as the American Bankruptcy Institution (ABI). Memberships allow for continuing education for students and professionals alike as well as access to publications and industry updates.
Job Description & Skills Required
Bankruptcy lawyers work in and out of the court room. Out of the court room, they advise their clients in the complexities of bankruptcy laws and counsel them in reducing their debt load by liquidating assets and paying creditors. Or, they may work on the side of creditors, attempting to extract as much money owed as possible from their debtors.
In the court room, they may present a debt-reorganization plan for the court to approve. Of course, their greatest aim is to guide their client away from full bankruptcy. However, when necessary, they also file bankruptcy documents for their clients. Each state has its own bankruptcy laws. There are federal bankruptcy laws known as the U.S. Bankruptcy Code to follow as well.
Both litigation and transaction skills are necessary to succeed as a bankruptcy lawyer. Strong communication skills, both verbal and written, are helpful in guiding clients through the intricacies of bankruptcy law as well as performing well in court. The process of filing for bankruptcy can be a lengthy and emotional undertaking. A bankruptcy lawyer must handle their client’s affairs with seriousness and delicacy since so much is at stake.
Skills in analysis, negotiation, and math are all great assets in this field. A background in finance provides a solid foundation for this type of law practice. Bankruptcy laws are apt to change so a bankruptcy lawyer must also stay up-to-date with industry news.
Salary & Job Outlook
The average salary for a bankruptcy lawyer is $113,000. However, this varies depending on whether employment is found in the private or public sector. For example, legal departments of large banks, credit card companies, the government, and even public interest organizations are common employers of bankruptcy lawyers. The private sector is the higher paying field.
Currently, the economic decline has meant an increase of caseloads for bankruptcy lawyers. There may be more of a demand for bankruptcy lawyers but this is also a highly competitive field due to the influx of law school graduates into the job market.