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ANALYSIS: Your First Chapter as a Chapter 11 Attorney

Sept. 9, 2022, 9:00 AM

You have just started work as a bankruptcy and restructuring associate, and there are exciting but also challenging times ahead, including the threat of an economic downturn. While distressing, this economic uncertainty has the potential to provide you with valuable legal experiences—in addition to the ones you’re certain to have—over the next few years.

Here’s a list of things that will help you as you start your adventure as an attorney in the world of Chapter 11.

1. Develop Local Expertise.

While it’s vital to familiarize yourself with the Bankruptcy Code, the Bankruptcy Rules, and Bankruptcy Forms, you should also become proficient with the local rules and customs in the districts where you will be practicing most. For example, specific judges may have standing orders that spell out required procedures in bankruptcy cases assigned to them. One of the most essential local procedures to know is how to obtain an expedited hearing—something that’s commonplace in bankruptcy practice.

2. Think of the Big Picture.

As a new bankruptcy associate, your assignments may fall at various points in the timeline of a Chapter 11 case and may only give you a taste of what’s going on with respect to the larger reorganization effort. It helps to acquire knowledge of what happened before and what the strategy might be for your client going forward. You should not only consider the big picture in your own cases, but also follow the progress of one or two major bankruptcy cases in which you aren’t directly involved. This is a great way to observe the strategies of other firms, how judges handle certain issues, and how particular disputes get resolved. If you’ve already seen how a situation plays out, you’ll have more insight when confronted with the same situation for a client.

3. Research with Dockets.

Debtors and creditors in a Chapter 11 case are more likely to settle a matter than spend years and vast sums of money litigating over it. Because of this, disputed matters often don’t even make it to the published court opinion. Bankruptcy dockets can therefore be a valuable source for your research, especially for novel issues and strategies.

4. Cultivate Your Reputation Within the Firm.

While bankruptcy is a specialty area, it touches on just about every area of the law. Senior bankruptcy partners will often consult with other practice groups to provide legal advice on key issues including health care regulation, tax, real estate, and financing transactions. Even as an associate, start fostering working relationships with attorneys in other practice groups at the firm. Once you’re more experienced, partners within the firm might start turning to you to address discrete bankruptcy questions.

5. Cultivate Your Reputation Outside the Firm.

Your reputation is one of your most valuable assets as an attorney. This is especially true in the small world of bankruptcy. Learn how to properly engage with chambers and court staff. Also be mindful of how you conduct yourself with opposing counsel. Alliances can shift even within the bankruptcy case: Your adversary today could tomorrow be your ally with whom you’ll be collaborating.

While you will undoubtedly be swamped with your own cases, carve out some time to build your network among other bankruptcy and restructuring professionals. Learn how to become active in organizations like the American Bankruptcy Institute and the Turnaround Management Association. The relationships you build today may become valuable later in your career.

6. Keep Track of the Latest Chapter 11 Developments.

In order to provide effective representation to your clients and to develop as a bankruptcy professional, you’ll need to be aware of current developments in the world of Chapter 11. Find news sources that deliver up to the minute coverage of Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases. Also, create alerts in your research platform to keep up with the latest developments in case law, changes to the Bankruptcy Rules, or amendments to the Bankruptcy Code. Take notice of trends with respect to filing venues, industries, plan confirmations and more by using sources like Bloomberg Law’s Chapter 11 Petitions and Litigation Midyear Report.

7. Develop a System for Finding Forms.

In drafting motions, responses, proposed orders, or other documents, you will likely want to find helpful forms to follow. For example, you can use Bloomberg Law Dockets Search to take a look at the latest motions to approve debtor-in-possession financing in your jurisdiction. However, if you find a sample form, you should always pay attention to what happened to that motion or order during the case to see if other parties or the judge found sections problematic. Make sure all of the cited case law is up to date. Also, remember that one size does not fit all. Remove any language that isn’t relevant to your case and add any additional sections that your situation may call for.

8. Keep an Eye on Your Future.

It makes sense to periodically take stock of where you are and where you want to be two, five, or 10 years into the future. While you may be completely satisfied with your current position, it’s possible that you may not enjoy practicing bankruptcy or even law firm life after a few years of practice. The feast or famine nature of bankruptcy practice also means that you should always have a Plan B.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can learn more about bankruptcy practice with the Bankruptcy Fundamentals Toolkit, in addition to the resources on our Bankruptcy Practice Center.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Jeffrey P. Fuller in Washington at