The front page piece of the Grey Lady recently exposed that newly admitted lawyers can’t practice law. Had the reporter contacted me for input, I would have pointed to this site as an attack on the problem.
After all, that’s what this site has been all about for two years now, helping lawyers make that transition from neophyte to capable bankruptcy lawyer.
The tall building firms in the NYT story find they have to train new associates in how to practice. Those classes in law school didn’t tell you how the law works in the business world. By reason of the size and organization of the firms featured in the Times story, the firm’s clients are generally spared harm from the newbies’ befuddlement.
Avoiding harm to clients is more difficult in consumer bankruptcy where most of us practice as solos or in very small firms. Even those in firms may be the only bankruptcy lawyer there. There is seldom an apprenticeship program in consumer bankruptcy law. We’re tossed in the pool to sink or swim.
Add to our difficulties the nature of our clients. They are broke, stressed, and insecure. They don’t really want to have a relationship with us, even if we are their lawyers. We don’t speak the same language. Yet, they are the only source of much of the information we need to represent them well.
Too many lawyers in bankruptcy law at the moment didn’t choose this field. Rather it was the only apparent field of law that offered clients: firms weren’t making offers to new graduates and were thinning their ranks of young associates. Not only was there a recession on, but bankruptcy was just “filing out forms”, according to the outsiders.
To my continuing distress, a number of our colleagues haven’t gotten much beyond the forms. In fact, some have read no farther than their software’s input screens. They haven’t read the official forms the software spits out, much less the code sections the form implements.
With the lull in filings, some new to this field will be moving on. This is complex work under difficult conditions for clients we hope not to serve again and a bench that doesn’t always value what we do. If you are here as a matter of opportunism, now’s a good time to exit.
But it is important work; the intersection between bankruptcy law and the underlying state law is fascinating, and the nature of our clientele demands good people skills if you want to exercise your legal skills.
If you’re in for the long haul, then hang around here and let’s keep talking about what it takes to master bankruptcy law. As we go through a variety of topics and thoughts, I encourage you to jump in with your point of view. In the end, it makes for a better bankruptcy bar as well as for a stronger individual practitioner.
Image courtesy of Thomas Hawk.