According to statistics from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, there were nearly one million bankruptcy filings (personal and business) in the U.S. in 2015. Although bankruptcy filings have steadily decreased in recent years, bankruptcy protection remains a financial safety net for many Americans, solidifying bankruptcy law as a popular specialization for paralegals.
Job Duties of Bankruptcy Paralegals
Paralegals provide bankruptcy attorneys with competent assistance in the areas of document preparation, legal research, and legal support:
Bankruptcy paralegals research specific issues, such as exemptions (property individual debtors are allowed to keep after filing bankruptcy) and relief from stay motions (efforts of secured creditors to repossess or foreclose on a debtor’s property).
The research performed by bankruptcy paralegals regarding these matters is critical to the rights of debtors and creditors during bankruptcy proceedings.
Paralegals in bankruptcy law assist counsel in preparing statements, schedules, and statements of monthly income. Preparing a proof of claim and a motion for relief of automatic stay are the most common forms of document preparation. They also prepare preliminary drafts of motions, complaints objecting to the discharge of a debtor, and motions to sell property. They may also be called upon to prepare preliminary drafts of briefs or memoranda in support of—or in opposition to—motions.
Similar to paralegals in other areas of law, bankruptcy paralegals prepare deposition digests, assemble and mark exhibits, compile factual data, and make charts and other visual aids for use by counsel.
The legal support provided by paralegals in bankruptcy law includes:
- Client Interaction: Meeting with the client, listening to the needs of the client, and conferring with the attorney regarding the appropriate bankruptcy filing
- Collection of Financial Documents: Collecting all appropriate financial documentation from the client required to complete the bankruptcy filing
- Creditor Communication: Notifying creditors that a bankruptcy proceeding has been initiated
- Scheduling: Scheduling creditor and client meetings and other hearings
How to Become a Paralegal in Bankruptcy Law: Education and Certification Options
The American Bar Association (ABA) accredits paralegal programs at every level, from associate degrees to master’s degrees.
There are no national requirements for minimum paralegal education, although a number of professional paralegal associations (including the American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)) recommend programs of no less than 60 semester credits—the equivalent to an associate’s degree. Some employers seek paralegals that hold bachelor’s degrees or higher.
Both the AAfPE and NALA recommend the completion of an internship, which allows new graduates to achieve specialized training in a chosen area of law like bankruptcy.
While national certification is not required, many paralegals achieve one or more nationally recognized paralegal designations to increase their value to employers and display a commitment to their profession.
The following organizations offer nationally recognized paralegal certifications:
- NALS – The Association for Legal Professionals
- Professional Paralegal (PP) credential
- American Alliance of Paralegals (AAPI)
- American Alliance Certified Paralegal (AACP) credential
- National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- Certified Paralegal (CP) credential
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- CORE Registered Paralegal (CRP) credential (CRP)
- PACE Registered Paralegal credential (RP)
Earning Specialty Certification in Foreclosure and Creditor/Debtor Law
The National Federation of Paralegal Associations also offers an advanced specialty certification in foreclosure and creditor/debtor law, which is well suited to those specializing in bankruptcy.
To receive this specialty certification, candidates must complete a four-course sequence (all delivered online), with each course lasting 4 weeks:
- Real estate
- Bankruptcy law
- Foreclosure law
- Debtor/creditor law
For example, the course in bankruptcy law provides an overview of the entire spectrum of bankruptcy law, from Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 petitions to the complexities involved with Chapter 11 business bankruptcies. This course provides students with a complete analysis of bankruptcy theory and practice based on the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
Some of the topics discussed in this class include:
- Analysis and preparation of statements and schedules
- Filing of bankruptcy petitions
- Motion practice in bankruptcy
- Reorganization cases
- Role and powers of the bankruptcy trustee
- The dischargeability of debts
Although bankruptcy law is covered in any ABA-approved paralegal program, a number of institutions also offer paralegal certificate programs in bankruptcy law, which allow paralegals to gain advanced knowledge and competencies in this area of law.