Education and Training Requirements
The minimum requirements to become a lawyer are a high school diploma, a college degree, and a law degree. If you want to be a lawyer, classes such as government, history, social studies, and economics will give you a solid background for entering college-level courses. Speech and English (especially writing) courses are also helpful to build strong communication skills that are necessary for the profession. Mathematics and business classes will be especially useful for bankruptcy lawyers, who must have finance and business expertise. Become an expert in computers and the Internet, because lawyers use these tools to conduct research and communicate with clients. Taking a foreign language is also a good idea, since many lawyers represent clients who do not speak English as their first language.
Most law schools require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree. Usually a liberal arts track is most advisable, with courses in English, history, economics, social sciences, logic, and public speaking. Some students earn prelaw degrees. A college student planning on specialization in a particular area of law (such as bankruptcy), however, might also take courses significantly related to that area, such as finance, mathematics, and economics.
Most law schools require that applicants take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), on which prospective law students are tested on their critical thinking, writing, and reasoning abilities.
Currently, 203 law schools in the United States are approved by the American Bar Association; others, many of them night schools, are approved by state authorities only. Most of the approved law schools, however, do offer night sessions to accommodate part-time students. Part-time courses of study usually take four years.
Law school training consists of required courses such as legal writing and research, contracts, constitutional law, torts, and property. The second and third years may be devoted to specialized courses of interest to the student, such as bankruptcy law. The study of cases and decisions is of basic importance to the law student, who will be required to read and study thousands of these cases. A degree of juris doctor (J.D.) or bachelor of laws (LL.B.) is usually granted upon graduation. Some law students considering specialization, research, or teaching may complete further study.
Some lawyers choose to earn a Master of Laws (L.L.M.) degree, an advanced law certification that helps them advance professionally. L.L.M. programs, which typically last one year, are offered in many areas—such as business law, corporate law/corporate governance, dispute resolution, general law, and litigation/trial advocacy. A first law degree is required for admission to L.L.M. programs. Visit https://www.lsac.org/llm-other-law-program-applicants/application-process-llm-other-law-programs for more information. Visit https://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/accreditation/ for a list of L.L.M. specialties and the law schools that offer them.
Other Education or Training
The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys offers a variety of continuing education opportunities at its annual convention. Past sessions included Secured Claims: Limitations and Opportunities; Profitably Combating Privacy and Discharge Violations; Advanced Taxes; Foreclosure Defense and Other Alternatives to Bankruptcy; and Practice Dos and Don’ts: Preventing Fires Before They Start. The association also offers educational seminars on topics such as law office management, effective representation of clients, and emerging practice trends. Other continuing education opportunities are provided by the American Bankruptcy Institute, American Bar Association, Association of Corporate Counsel, National Association for Law Placement, National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges, and state and local bar associations. Contact these organizations for more information.
Most law firms provide in-house continuing education opportunities to their employees, and some offer mentoring programs.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
The American Board of Certification offers voluntary certification to bankruptcy attorneys in business bankruptcy, consumer bankruptcy, and creditors’ rights law. The National Board of Trial Advocacy provides voluntary board certification in civil pretrial practice, civil law, family law, and other areas. Contact these organizations for more information.
Every state requires that lawyers be admitted to the bar of that state before they can practice. Applicants must graduate from an approved law school and pass a written examination in the state in which they plan to practice. In a few states, graduates of law schools within the state are excused from these written examinations. After lawyers have been admitted to the bar in one state, they can practice in another state without taking another written examination if the two states have reciprocity agreements; however, these lawyers will be required to meet certain state standards of good character and legal experience and to pay any applicable fees.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Experience as a bankruptcy law intern or clerk is highly recommended.
Successful bankruptcy attorneys need excellent communication and interpersonal skills in order to work well with clients, judges, bankruptcy trustees, and coworkers. Since they must review and manage sensitive personal financial data, bankruptcy lawyers must win the respect and confidence of their clients.
In addition, they must be organized and have strong research skills and be familiar with the details and changes of bankruptcy law so that they can provide effective representation for their clients. Other important traits include a background in finance, strong litigation skills, a detail-oriented personality, strong ethics, good reasoning abilities, persuasiveness, and the ability to effectively negotiate.
Finally, bankruptcy lawyers need to be detail-oriented, specific, and persuasive when preparing documents listing assets and liabilities of their clients and making analytical arguments in legal briefs and making legal presentations to the court.