Got a shingle and a hankering to be a bankruptcy lawyer? Need to eat regularly? How does a rookie bankruptcy practitioner get off the bench and into the regular lineup?
Go with the experienced lawyer, says my Bankruptcy Law Network colleague Dana Wilkinson, in a piece for consumers who need a bankruptcy lawyer. Good advice, unless you are the bankruptcy lawyer without experience.
Time moves at its own tempo: calendar-wise, you won’t be “experienced” for years. What do you do if you are new to bankruptcy practice?
For a start, we’ll rewrite the consumer advice: go with the capable lawyer.
Then, let’s figure out how to become capable quickly.
- Read the Code Often, repeatedly, and carefully. This is where it all starts, yet a distressing number of new practitioners apparently haven’t taken the cellophane off of their copy. Take a page out of the Sunday School play book and read a verse (section) a day. Read the official forms, too, not just the petition input screens.
- Take every class, seminar, or workshop available Look for the big picture into which each tidbit fits. For every hour in class, devote an hour to reviewing the material and integrating it into what you know.
- Develop an intake routine A high percentage of newbie mistakes result from failure to uncover the client’s unusual assets or transfers. Make a checklist, spend time with the client, ask questions, read tax returns and think about what you learn and where that information may lead you.
- Connect with your bankruptcy peers Find a mentor, either local or online. Join NACBA, and any local bankruptcy groups. If there isn’t a group, form one. Talking about clients and the law brings new insights.
- Spend time in courtrooms Learn vicariously from the experiences of other bankruptcy lawyers, good and not so good.
- Cultivate humility There will be clients and fact patterns that are simply out of your league when you begin. Don’t be afraid to hand those cases off to the more experienced and let them know you’d like their referrals for their overflow. Nothing screams “good judgment” for me more than the newbie who knows a prospect is over their head, at this point in their career.
Then, of course, keep reading here. It’s the new bankruptcy lawyers I’m writing for.
Image courtesy of RodAllday and geograph.org.uk.
Join NACBA, get on listserv. That is the only shortcut
NACBA and active involvement in the list serve is essential, but not suffiicient in my view. I think a rookie has to be more proactive than waiting for tidbits to float downstream into their waiting maw.
When I started actively mentoring some local newbies, it was clear that even when I supplied the answer, or even asked the question about schedules that they hadn’t seen, they didn’t get the big picture of how that piece fit into the bigger puzzle. Getting that big picture takes applied effort, not just passive consumption.
My two cents.