Becoming a Bankruptcy Lawyer: Salary Information & Job Description

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A bankruptcy lawyer's median annual salary is about $115,000, but is it worth the education requirements and debt? Get the truth about job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Bankruptcy Lawyer

Bankruptcy lawyers represent clients who have more debts than assets, guiding them through court proceedings to reduce or eliminate debt. Weigh both the pros and cons of the career to decide if becoming a bankruptcy lawyer is the right path for you.

PROS of a Bankruptcy Lawyer Career
High earning potential (lawyers earned a median salary of $115,000 as of 2014)*
Strong job prospects due to economic struggle and, in effect, greater demand for bankruptcy services***
Steady employment growth (ten percent from 2012-2022)*
Varied types of employment available, including self-employment, public sector and private sector*

CONS of a Bankruptcy Lawyer Career
Large debt after graduation (average of about $93,000)**
Lengthy schooling (seven years of undergrad and law school)*
Intense competition for law school admission and entry-level jobs*
Long work hours, especially for lawyers employed in private practices or large law firms*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **U.S. News and World Report, ***Reuters

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a bankruptcy lawyer, you will assist and counsel individuals and businesses throughout the process of filing for bankruptcy. This can include determining assets and debts, reporting all findings to the court and managing the process of negotiating and/or dissolving debts. You may represent debtors, creditors, trustees or lending institutions, depending on the type of firm you work for. Bankruptcy lawyers may also represent businesses or corporations, both to discharge debts and to renegotiate lending agreements to prevent bankruptcy.

Duties can include meeting with clients, researching applicable laws, preparing reports, filing paperwork and appearing in court. You'll spend much of your work time in offices, courtrooms and law libraries. You may have a set work schedule, but many lawyers also work evenings and weekends to meet with clients, prepare briefs and complete research.

Job Growth and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for all lawyers in general was projected to increase ten percent from 2012-2022. Job growth may be limited by the increasing tendency for businesses to turn to accounting firms and paralegals for their legal needs, but people, businesses and government will continue to need lawyers. Additionally, in 2010, Reuters highlighted the growing need for bankruptcy lawyers in specific due to economic downturn and slow recovery, noting that the strongest job prospects were for litigators and bankruptcy experts. Entry-level bankruptcy lawyers can still expect to face stiff competition when entering the job market; the BLS warns that competition will remain high due to the high volume of law school graduates.

The BLS reports that lawyers in general earned a median salary of about $115,000 as of 2014. However, your starting salary can vary greatly by private and public sectors.

What Are the Requirements?

You'll need to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree to become a lawyer; however, competition to get into prestigious law schools is fierce. Anyone thinking about a career as a bankruptcy lawyer should start preparing early by allowing plenty of time to complete applications and prepare for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

Be prepared to spend the first year of law school taking courses such as property law, legal writing and constitutional law. After completing core course, you will be able to explore your specialized field, taking courses on topics such as creditors' rights, income taxation, negotiations and other bankruptcy-specific courses. Most schools also include moot trials and externships into their curricula to give you hands-on experience. After law school, you must pass your state's bar exam to become licensed and practice as a lawyer. Many states also require that lawyers undergo continuing education to maintain licensure.

Essential Skills

Excellent communication and research skills are crucial for working as a lawyer. To work in bankruptcy law, specifically, you'll also need a strong background in finance. Other skills that are indicative of your ability to tackle challenging problems, successfully litigate a case and effectively work with clients and associates include:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • A strong eye for detail
  • Ability to analyze large amounts of data
  • Logic and reasoning
  • Effective decision-making skills
  • Persuasiveness and the ability to negotiate

Job Postings from Real Employers

When seeking bankruptcy lawyers, employers tend to emphasize a need for licensed, well-educated attorneys. Experience particular to the employer's sector may also be required. Following are some examples of a few bankruptcy lawyer job listings from March 2012 to give you an idea of the qualificationd that employers were seeking:

  • A Delaware-based law firm requested a lawyer who specializes in Chapter 11 bankruptcy with 3-6 years of experience, an excellent educational background and a current state license.
  • A law firm in Pennsylvania looked for a full-time bankruptcy lawyer to work directly under one of the firm's partners. Applicants must be graduates of an accredited law school, be state-licensed and have advanced experience in bankruptcy court litigation. Candidates must also pass a drug screening as well as background and credit checks.
  • A law firm in New York sought a bankruptcy attorney with 5-8 years of experience and a strong familiarity with documents such as forbearance and credit agreements. Ideal applicants will have experience with bankruptcy corporate restructuring and litigation.

How to Stand Out

Pursue Admission to a Prestigious Law School

One way to stand above the crowd as a bankruptcy lawyer is to attend a top law school. In fact, the American Bar Association (ABA) reports that, while a variety of factors must be taken into account when choosing a school, students who graduate from prestigious schools may have an easier time getting hired right after school. Getting a solid GPA during your undergraduate studies and a high LSAT score is crucial to getting into a highly-ranked law school. Even if you don't get into one of the top law schools right off the bat, if you work hard and get excellent grades in your first year, you may be able to transfer to a school with a better ranking during your second year.

Join Professional Organizations

You can also join a professional association to demonstrate your dedication to the field. For example, the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI) allows law students and seasoned professionals to join, and it offers its members industry updates, continuing education programs at reduced rates and access to various publications. You could also join the ABA or the National Lawyers Association.

Other Careers to Consider

A Different Law Specialty

If you want to work in law, but bankruptcy doesn't seem right for you, consider another law specialty. Other specialties that also require a strong financial background include tax and corporate law. Real estate law is another lucrative field; Reuters reported in 2010 that lawyers who specialize in foreclosure have among the strongest job outlook in the legal field, alongside bankruptcy lawyers.

Bankruptcy Paralegal

If you're interested in working with bankruptcy, but you don't want to deal with the lengthy education and debt, consider a career as a bankruptcy paralegal. In this position, you'll assist lawyers in preparing for trials or hearings. This can involve gathering information from clients regarding assets and debts and preparing reports and motions to file with the court. You can enter this profession with only an associate's degree in paralegal studies or, if you already have a bachelor's in another major, you can supplement it with a certificate in paralegal studies. You'll earn considerably less than a lawyer - the BLS reports that paralegals earned a median salary of about $47,000 as of 2011; however, the BLS also reports that jobs were expected to grow at a higher rate of 18% from 2010-2020 for paralegals.

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Legal Studies
  • Bachelor: Tax Accountancy
  • AAS in Legal Support and Services
  • Postbaccalaureate Certificate - Pathway to Paralegal

Which subject are you interested in?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Legal Studies

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
  • M.S. - Criminal Justice
  • BS - Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Widener University

  • Dual Master of Jurisprudence in Corporate and Business Law / Master of Business Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Government - Law and Public Policy
  • Master of Arts in Law - General Legal Studies
  • Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies
  • Bachelor of Arts in Government - Pre-Law

What is your highest level of education completed?

Central Christian College of Kansas

  • BS in Criminal Justice
  • AA in Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education completed?

Post University

  • B.S. in Legal Studies
  • A.S. in Legal Studies
  • A.S. in Criminal Justice

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