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ANALYSIS: Bankruptcy Attorneys Are in No Rush to End Remote Work

July 26, 2021, 9:01 AM

Some law firms are feeling new pressure to call their attorneys back into the office. If this becomes a widespread trend, return-to-office mandates could hit bankruptcy attorneys particularly hard.

Based on results from Bloomberg Law’s Remote Practice 2021 Survey, which asked attorneys for their views on the future of remote work in the legal industry, bankruptcy practitioners seem more ready to welcome a virtual future than attorneys in other practice areas. Although fewer than half of all non-bankruptcy respondents said they want remote options to continue for uncontested hearings and status or discovery conferences, a full 71% of bankruptcy lawyers said they would like to see those tasks remain available through remote work, even after social distancing restrictions are lifted.

Why would bankruptcy lawyers find remote work a good fit? For one thing, bankruptcy, by definition, is an area of law with limited resources. Prior to the pandemic, bankruptcy courts routinely held cattle call-type hearing dates where all Chapter 11 or Chapter 13 hearings were heard. Attorneys could wait in the courtroom for hours for their case to be called. Attorneys could save time—and therefore their clients’ money—by practicing remotely.

Also, bankruptcy law itself is changing. Bankruptcy attorneys have a reputation as old curmudgeons who are slow to embrace change. While that may have been true in the past, the bankruptcy bar of today is a more diverse one, with attorneys of all ages and backgrounds. In 2020, we learned that nearly two-thirds of bankruptcy practice groups are expanding and many are even recruiting new blood from other practice groups. Embracing change in practitioners might be fostering a coinciding embrace of a change in practice.

Finally, while there are some bad apples, bankruptcy attorneys are generally congenial in and out of the courtroom. The bankruptcy bar in most jurisdictions remains comparatively small, making for a more intimate community. Practitioners will frequently work with and across from the same attorneys and the same judges repeatedly, often all in the trenches together trying to create something from nothing. Working together so closely often fosters a sense of familiarity and trust. This unique bond in the bankruptcy bar could make bankruptcy attorneys’ virtual work as effective as in-person work.

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