Lots of lawyers are trying to build a bankruptcy practice these days. Many make the critical mistake of using outmoded ways of getting the practice off the ground, and end up being an also-ran in their area. Competition is fierce, and lawyers are working smarter - not only harder - to be successful.
10 Steps To Building a Successful Bankruptcy Practice
- Join the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys: This is the largest national organization dedicated to the plight of consumer debtors. With well over 4,400 bankruptcy lawyer members, it is the best source of information and continuing education for the new and established practitioner alike. NACBA also runs some very active listservs to help members share information.
- Buy the entire National Consumer Law Center library - including the consumer bankruptcy book: NCLC puts out the most comprehensive set of books on bankruptcy, consumer protection and related issues. Period. After practicing bankruptcy law over over 14 years I still refer to my books on a near-daily basis. If you go to any of the NACBA conventions you will find the NCLC books on sale at a significant discount.
- Sample the petition preparation software packages and get the one you like best: You cannot practice bankruptcy law without a petition preparation package. There are lots of good ones out there - BestCase, EZFiling, Bankruptcy2010 and Bankruptcy Pro are among the best - but you won't know which one is best for you until you sample them. All provide a free downloadable demo to work through, so take the time before spending a dime.
- Go to court: Find out where your court's bankruptcy hearings are held, and make plans to sit there each day for a week or more. You'll learn about the trustees as well as about the types of people who file for bankruptcy in your area. Once you know more about who files for bankruptcy you'll be in a better position to know their motivations and concerns.
- Sign up for CM/ECF: Most courts require bankruptcy lawyers to file cases electronically via the court's electronic case filing system. You need to get a password and (in some places) attend a training to learn how to file cases.
- Get a scanner: Bankruptcy is a paper-intensive practice area. If you don't start scanning everything into your system now, you'll get snowed under. I personally use a Fujitsu ScanSnap, and it's a life-saver (plus, it comes with a fully-functional copy of Adobe Acrobat).
- Start reading bankruptcy blogs: There are a lot of terrific resources online to help you keep up-to-date on the latest issues in bankruptcy. Bankruptcy Law Network, BankruptcyProf Blog, and Bankruptcy Mastery are just a few substantive sites that can teach you a lot.
- Learn how to write: Yes, you know how to write like a lawyer, but that's not what's important. You need to be able to communicate in a way that your prospective clients understand without a dictionary. Writing like a lawyer is OK for judges, but clients need you to make it easier.
- Online legal marketing basics: Most people start their search for a bankruptcy lawyer by hitting a search engine, so it's important for you to know about the underpinnings of online legal marketing. Start a blog, set up Twitter, and consider if marketing your practice with video is right for you.
- Start compiling forms: Your bankruptcy practice will require you to be organized, so things like intake forms and retainer agreements are critical. The best places to find these are other lawyers. If you're on the NACBA listservs, just ask and ye shall receive - there's no reason to pay money to get canned intake documents.