Paralegals are involved in every aspect of bankruptcy cases. Because of the fast pace at which bankruptcy cases move through the courts, bankruptcy attorneys need paralegals who can help move the process along, satisfying the client’s needs and meeting the court’s timetable.
Paralegals in bankruptcy law may work for a number of employers and in a wide array of settings, all of which would involve unique responsibilities and duties:
Job Duties of the Bankruptcy Paralegals in Community Legal Services
Paralegals working for community legal services represent low-income individuals with financial problems. Paralegals in these offices prepare and manage consumer bankruptcy cases under the supervision and guidance of a paralegal attorney. Their job duties include:
- Attending and/or conducting client interviews
- Maintaining communication with clients
- Obtaining all information needed to prepare and file a bankruptcy petition and the related forms
- Maintaining attorney and court schedules
- Preparing clients for the Section 341 (Chapter 7) meeting
- Drafting reaffirmation agreements
- Solving problems to avoid liens, utility cut-offs, garnishments, repossessions, and foreclosures (Chapter 7 cases)
- Drafting plans of reorganization and monitoring payment plans (Chapter 13 cases)
Job Duties of the Bankruptcy Paralegals in Legal Departments of Government Agencies, Financial Institutions, and Corporations
Bankruptcy paralegals often work as part of a corporation, public agency, or lending institution’s legal staff. Their job duties include:
- Preparing and filing proofs of claims on behalf of their employer
- Providing documents to support bankruptcy claim
- Protecting their employer’s interests regarding unpaid taxes
- Reviewing bankruptcy notices and pleadings
- Obtaining periodic updates of the progress of the case until resolution
- Drafting various motions, such as the motion to compel the rejection of assumption of an unexpired lease or a motion to life the automatic stay
Job Duties of the Bankruptcy Paralegals in Law Firms
Many bankruptcy paralegals are employed in law firms specializing in bankruptcy cases. Many of these law firms represent one of four types of clients – creditors, debtors, committees, or trustees.
Paralegals working for creditors have similar responsibilities as those working for in-house legal departments.
Those working for firms representing debtors must:
- Attend initial meetings with clients
- Gather and review information from the client
- Prepare drafts of the petition
- Respond to questions from creditors and other interested parties
- Prepare applications
- Provide services to the bankruptcy estates
- Help with the sale of assets
- Manage the claims objection process
- Assist the attorneys in adversary proceedings against or by the estates
- Establish time frames for filing financial reports
- Collect accounts receivable
- Prepare liquidation analyses for the reorganization plan (Chapter 11)
- Prepare pleading and fix cutoff dates for filing proofs of claim
- Analyze and file objections to claims
- Prepare for the distribution of money and assets to creditors
Paralegals often work for law firms that represent creditor or equity holder committees in Chapter 11 cases. Paralegals in this setting perform the following duties:
- Gather and analyze information about the debtor’s unsecured and secured debt
- Review monthly financial reports filed by the debtor as to chart its financial condition
- Serve as secretary to the creditor’s committee, where they arrange and attend meetings of the committee
- Track development in the case
- Assist in the examination and analysis of the debtor’s records
- Prepare liquidation analyses
- Prepare applications to obtain fees for the fir and secure reimbursement of expenses incurred by members of the committee
Paralegals representing trustees must complete the following job duties:
- Prepare applications and orders for retaining appraisers, auctioneers, and accountants
- Oversee document production and control in contested matters or adversary proceedings
- Analyze and prepare objections to claims
- Prepare applications and orders that detail the dates for filing administrative claims
- Assist in bankruptcy litigation
- Prepare pleadings necessary for the sale of assets
Independent Bankruptcy Paralegals
Many paralegals establish their own firms, providing bankruptcy services either directly to consumers or to legal service providers. Independent paralegals can deliver low-cost legal services to clients with uncomplicated legal needs.
Education and Certification Options for Paralegals in Bankruptcy Law
The most streamlined route to becoming a paralegal in bankruptcy law involves completing a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
The ABA approved educational programs in paralegal studies at every level. Students may choose to complete a certificate program, an associate degree program, or a bachelor’s degree program, depending on their professional goals. However, a number of paralegal professional associations recommend that students complete a program of at least 60 semester credits (equivalent to an associate’s degree), along with an internship of at least six months.
While an ABA program in paralegal studies provides aspiring paralegals with a comprehensive education in all areas of law, an internship provides them with the opportunity to earn valuable experience in their area of interest, such as bankruptcy law.
Many employers also prefer paralegals who have achieved professional certification. Although paralegal certification is a voluntary effort, it has become commonplace in the profession.
The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers an advanced course in Commercial Bankruptcy, while the National Federation of Paralegal Associations offers an advanced specialty certification in Foreclosure and Creditor/Debtor Law.
To receive this specialty certification, candidates must complete a four-course sequence (all delivered online):
- Real estate
- Bankruptcy law
- Foreclosure law
- Debtor/creditor law