Having worked with several bankruptcy attorneys over the years, I have gained an immense appreciation for their dedication, work ethic and, yes, their intelligence.  I haven’t committed my opinion to provable scrutiny, but it is my opinion that they are smarter than a lot of us.  The question, of course, is who constitutes “us?”  By “us” I am not including the Einsteins of the world, brain surgeons, nuclear scientists, card counters in Vegas, or certainly anyone in my LinkedIn network.  I simply mean the average person you may bump into at Panera Bread (my favorite lunch place) or that the starter may put with you on the first tee at your local golf course (my favorite luck of the draw place).  Also, by “smarter” I don’t mean worlds apart smarter, I only mean “slightly smarter,” “marginally smarter” or “smart enough to impress your mother-in-law.”  Now before you fire off your dissenting brief because you handle criminal matters or civil cases, just hear my reasoning.

Reason 1 (Extended Education) Law schools, preparation for bar exams and clerking assignments are the core competency elements for a career as an attorney.  That’s just enough training to gain a grasp of the basic workings of the legal profession.  The decision to enter the field of bankruptcy, however, brings with it a sobering reality that your legal education has only just begun.  You now have to dedicate yourself to years of learning “specialty” law.  Many of the terms and references that are part of criminal law, or civil law, can be heard routinely either during a popular movie or while watching TV.  Not so with bankruptcy law.  The terms and procedures that are associated with the bankruptcy code are very precise and unique. Learning how to recite them, and apply them, is what sets a bankruptcy attorney apart from the rest of us.  That type of education cannot be gained through osmosis or kismet.  It is only painstaking learned through the process of closely watching and learning from seasoned bankruptcy professionals.

Reason 2 (Complexity) In general, criminal and civil matters usually involve two parties, i.e. plaintiff and defendant or movant and respondent.  We have transcribed bankruptcy proceedings that involve at least 20 different parties and over 50 attorneys.  In addition to the main case, adversaries (smaller disputes with the main bankruptcy) can be as complicated, and require as much strategy, as the overall bankruptcy.  All tolled, just keeping track of the many moving parts, and the different motivations and strategies of the parties, can be far more complex than what is involved in criminal or civil matters.  In addition, some bankruptcies have criminal and/or civil components so you have to keep current with what is transpiring in either district or state court.  That means understanding the legal ramifications of not only bankruptcy court jurisdictions and/or rulings, but district and state courts as well.

Reason 3 (Financial Acumen) In order to equitably distribute funds and protect a client’s financial interest, a bankruptcy attorney has to gain a thorough knowledge, not working knowledge, but thorough knowledge, of a client’s assets and liabilities.  That means spending and inordinate amount of time reviewing reams and reams of reports and financial statements.  In addition, that knowledge then has to be balanced against what the bankruptcy code says about the distribution of net proceeds, or in reality, how each bankruptcy attorney interprets what the bankruptcy code says.  The average person probably only has to deal with their monthly bank statement, but a bankruptcy attorney has to sometime untangle and simplify years of financial records and make cogent, winning arguments to a trustee, or judge, regarding them. You don’t have to be a CPA to be a good bankruptcy attorney, but to be successful, you almost have to become one.

Having offered these points, I want to add that being “smarter” doesn’t make them better or wiser than the rest of us.  Being smarter also doesn’t mean they have more character. It is merely an observation that you may, or may not, agree with.

Lewis Parham
Writer’s Cramp, Inc.
(609) 588-8043