1. What is Bankruptcy Law?
Lawyers who practice bankruptcy law may be divided into two very distinct segments of the bar: consumer bankruptcy lawyers and business bankruptcy lawyers.
Consumer Bankruptcy Law
The practice of consumer bankruptcy law generally involves small firms who represent individuals in Chapter 7 (liquidation) and Chapter 13 (payment plan) proceedings. This is a specialized field where lawyers make extensive use of forms and software. Students considering a career with extensive client interaction and the rewards of helping people in serious financial difficulty may want to consider consumer bankruptcy law. For many students, these rewards outweigh some drawbacks to the practice: it can be repetitive as such cases often encounter the same or similar facts and legal issues; fees are limited by competition and by bankruptcy courts, and consequently lawyers practicing within this area must handle a high volume of cases.
Business Bankruptcy Law
The practice of business bankruptcy law generally involves work in larger law firms representing either debtors or creditors, or both, in a Chapter 11 reorganization of a business. This practice includes representation of the same parties in the restructuring of a business to rescue it from financial difficulties outside of bankruptcy. Debtor clients range from sole proprietorships to the largest publicly held companies (e.g. United Airlines). Students considering a career in business bankruptcy law can expect a greater variety in cases and legal issues and more sophisticated financial analysis given the complexity of the business organizations involved. Students interested in finance and business may want to consider a career in business bankruptcy law.
Related Areas of the Law
Collection law involves use of legal mechanisms (e.g. wage garnishment or execution on other property) to assist a creditor in enforcing a judgment against a consumer. Debt collection practices law deals with federal and state laws to protect consumers from inappropriate (sometimes outrageous) debt collection practices.
The recent collapse of the housing bubble has increased the need for bankruptcy attorneys but has also increased the need for loan modification attorneys. These lawyers approach mortgage banks and try to renegotiate the mortgage terms on behalf of the home owner in order to avoid foreclosure.
Similarly the housing collapse will create a need for attorneys specializing in litigating deceptive lending practice claims.
Students interested these related areas of the law should arrange to meet with LCS to develop a job search strategy as the balance of this guide will focus on bankruptcy law.
2. Where is it practiced?
- Consumer Bankruptcy Law: Small firms (1-3 lawyers with some staff)
- Business Bankruptcy Law: Boutique firms specializing in bankruptcy law (5-15 lawyers) or bankruptcy law departments of large law firms
- United States Trustee: An administrative body, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, which works exclusively on a variety of issues in bankruptcy cases
3. What Courses and Academic Experiences would be helpful?
- Real Estate Finance
- Commercial Transactions
- Federal Income Tax
- Federal Taxation of Business Entities (business bankruptcy law)
- Debtors and Creditors Rights
4. What timeline should I be following?
There is no set timeline for taking the courses listed in the prior section and there is no particular sequence in which the courses should be taken. Students should note that said courses have been listed as core courses for the study of bankruptcy law and it is recommended that students enroll for the courses mentioned above.
Most employers look for candidates with a demonstrated interest in bankruptcy law. The following section lists a number of professional organizations and associations that provide programs tailored to students. These organizations and associations present an excellent opportunity for students to network with bankruptcy professionals and students should strongly consider joining any number of them.
Any kind of actual experience with bankruptcy law will help students stand out to employers. Students interested in externing with a Bankruptcy Judge should note that judicial externships are limited and highly competitive. Please attend sessions organized by the Externship Office and refer to its handouts dedicated to judicial externships to learn more about the guidelines to follow in pursuing a judicial externship. Students interested in bankruptcy work at small or large firms can start researching potential employers as early as fall of their first year and may begin submitting materials that December. Another option for students to consider is participation in the KGACLC Clinic in providing advice to debtors. This option may be of particular interest to those students looking to pursue careers in consumer bankruptcy law.
Another way to attract the attention of employers is for students to write a bankruptcy-related paper. Students may want to consider submitting a paper for publication to the Santa Clara Law Review or any of the journals dedicated to bankruptcy law.
Students interested in pursuing a LL.M. degree in bankruptcy law may want to look into the bankruptcy program at St. Johns University.
5. What Professional Organizations and Associations can I join to meet people and find out more?
- American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI) Student memberships are offered at $20 annually and provide access to: a database of journal and law review articles, information about the ABI/Duberstein National Memorial Moot Court Competition, and a listing of job openings.
- National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys
- Congressman Don Edwards Bankruptcy Inn of Court: A group of approximately 60 lawyers who practice Chapter 11 business bankruptcy law that provides various programs related to bankruptcy law and has student memberships available. Please contact Professor Neustadter for membership information.
- Bay Area Bankruptcy Forum
- Bar Insolvency Law Committee of the Business Law Section of CA Bar
- Consumer/Business Bankruptcy Committee of the Business Law Section of the ABA
- Many of these organizations are available on Linkedin:
6. Which faculty members at SCU have worked in Bankruptcy Law?
- Gary Neustadter
- Cynthia Mertens (Real Estate Finance)
- Kerry Macintosh (Commercial Transactions)
- Eric Wright (Consumer Law)
- Scott Maurer (KGACLC Debtor/Creditor Clinic)