Job Search

Bankruptcy Law

Presented by Andrea S. Hartley and Carolina (Carol) Y. Sales

Note: This is not for CLE.  Live webinars are free and open to the public. The recorded program and materials are exclusively for ABA members.

The Career Choice Series is designed to help you choose your career path. Whether you’re a law student, young lawyer, or transitioning attorney, find out what it’s like to work in various practice areas and the best way to position yourself to get there.

In this segment, our speakers share their career path into bankruptcy law and the many facets that involve including business reorganization, consolidating or eliminating debts, settling outstanding disputes, state litigation, federal litigation, etc. working with either corporate clients or consumers.

They provide invaluable insight into what skills you’ll need to break into this area, what drew them to this practice area, the pros and cons, and what a typical day in their practice entails.

Speakers:

Andrea S. Hartley, Chair, Bankruptcy & Reorganization Practice Group, Akerman LLP, Miami, FL

Carolina (Carol) Y. Sales, Bauch & Michaels, LLC, Chicago, IL

Moderator:
Cheryl Niro, Senior Strategy Advisor to the Executive Director, American Bar Association, Chicago, IL

Sponsored by ABA Career CenterYoung Lawyers Division, and Law Student Division

Materials, Video and Q&A

 

Q&A

Carolina Y. Sales spent some time responding to the questions that were asked by viewers of the webinar.

Could you talk about the differences between individual bankruptcies and business bankruptcies (especially in terms of the type of work you do and the kind of skills you need)?

Individuals’ main bankruptcy goals can include obtaining a discharge of personal debt and keeping a home. Entities don’t obtain a discharge, so the goal for their bankruptcies could include selling real/personal property, pursuing claims, or reorganizing. Business bankruptcies often involve more decisionmakers and key people, and can involve more work – especially if the company continues to operate during the case. You should be able to work well with people, listen, be organized, and do legal research.

Other than taking bankruptcy class, is there anything else I should do as a 2L?

You could clerk at a law firm, attend networking events, and take other classes like tax law, leasing, secured transactions, and real estate finance.

What’s the relationship between bankruptcy law and tax law?

A lot of debtors have tax debt (state and federal), and the bankruptcy could have tax consequences for the debtor. For individuals, only some types of tax debt is dischargeable.

With the smaller clients filing bankruptcy, how do you structure your payment for services?

In Chapter 13 cases, some attorneys accept payments over time during the bankruptcy case. Our firm will only file Chapter 13 cases if we receive the fees before filing (and a Chapter 7 if we receive a retainer before filing). If the debtor is going to file bankruptcy, he/she will stop paying other creditors and will have funds available for the bankruptcy. For Chapter 11 cases, attorneys usually request a large retainer before filing. During a Chapter 11 (and 13), the payment of professional fees must be approved by the bankruptcy court. If the case is dismissed or converted to a Chapter 7, attorneys’ fees can remain unpaid.

I recently opened a small law firm. Is bankruptcy a viable practice for a small firm? I currently practice in small business law and estate planning. If I wanted to get into this field, what types of clients should I try to obtain and how would you suggest I find them? What areas within bankruptcy law should I focus on?

A small firm can definitely handle bankruptcy cases. Bauch & Michaels, LLC only has 3 attorneys. You should buy bankruptcy software (such as BestCase) because the forms are much harder to complete without this software. You could obtain clients by attending networking functions, volunteering, etc. The areas you focus on depend on your interests (and the types of clients you’re able to get). If you get a client who wants to file a Chapter 11, you would have to team up with an experienced person or the court won’t approve your retention. You could also volunteer at the bankruptcy court help desk (if your district has one).

I am a practicing attorney and want to get training in bankruptcy. How would I get training? Are there CLEs available or special classes?

There’s a yearly conference that offers a lot of bankruptcy CLEs. The ABA offers programs in connection with this conference. You could also take a bankruptcy LL.M. class.

Does the extensive litigation apply in all chapter filings or it is less in Chapter 13 filings?

The amount of litigation depends on the client’s circumstances, but I have usually seen more litigation with Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 cases.

Are there any changes coming to the consumer protection universe that might affect the bankruptcy practice, either by creating more work for attorneys or reducing the number of bankruptcies?

Bankruptcy practitioners were busy in 2005 because of BAPCPA (and other factors), but the amount of work is usually tied to the economy. The bankruptcy forms also recently changed and are easier to complete, so more individuals might want to file pro se cases.

Is bankruptcy lucrative enough to as a solo practitioner?

Yes, but you would definitely want to buy bankruptcy software and possibly hire one or more secretaries, paralegals, and law clerks.

How many hours a week do you typically work for your firm?

Typically, 40 in the office (plus time outside of the office responding to emails and phone calls), but much more if there’s a trial.

What if I had a horrible grade in bankruptcy in law school?

You might want to take a bankruptcy LL.M. class, attend CLEs, read articles and books, and become involved in a bankruptcy networking group.

What are some complementary practice areas that would help round out a solo law firm?

Real estate transactions, estate planning, and commercial litigation could work well.

If you are a practicing attorney and have an interest in doing bankruptcy, what is the best thing you can do to get started in that area of law?

You could join a bankruptcy networking group, attend CLEs, take an LL.M. class, offer to help an attorney with a case that’s currently pending, read bankruptcy textbooks, and volunteer at a bankruptcy help desk or nonprofit that handles bankruptcy matters.

What other courses should we take? Does an MBA help?

An MBA might help you understand business matters. You could take secured transactions, real estate finance, tax, and leasing.

What about work life balance – how balanced is it for you?

It’s mostly well balanced. I’m at a small firm and have two young children (one with special needs). I usually have time to attend one meeting or networking/social event during the week. Friday and Saturday nights (after the kids are asleep) are also good times to see friends.

I am LL.M. student from India and I am going to take NY Bar. How is it useful to me?

It depends on what area you plan to practice in.

Please correct the statement that Drake filed for bankruptcy. That is completely false. The most recent rapper to file bankruptcy was 50 Cent who filed a Chapter 11 case.

Thanks for the correction! I’m not sure who mentioned that.

Is bankruptcy law is an area of law that contributes to social justice? Are there are nonprofits working in bankruptcy?

Bankruptcy can contribute to social justice when it helps a person obtain a “fresh start.” It can also have the opposite effect. Some legal aid groups provide bankruptcy assistance.

Any advertising tips?

You could create/improve your website, write articles, and attend networking events.

This may be a stupid question, but I am a senior law student who has only recently become interested in this area of the law and have only had practical experience in criminal law. Since bankruptcy law is based on federal code, does an attorney need to be admitted to practice law in federal courts?

It’s a good question. Yes – you can find the information on the website for your district (and the district where the case is pending).

How does the job market look right now for bankruptcy law?

It seems slow right now, but things can change quickly.

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