Bankruptcy law governs the obligations and rights of creditors and debtors. It provides for the development of a plan that allows debtors — both individuals and businesses — who are unable to pay their creditors to resolve debts by dividing the debtors' remaining assets among all of the creditors. Certain bankruptcy proceedings allow a debtor to stay in business and use revenue generated to resolve his or her debts. The bankruptcy system also provides overburdened individuals and businesses with an opportunity to resolve and reorder their financial affairs while providing protection for their creditors.
Bankruptcy law is controlled by a complex set of federal statutes known as the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Bankruptcy proceedings are supervised by and litigated in the United States Bankruptcy Courts. States may not regulate bankruptcy, although they may pass laws that govern other aspects of the debtor-creditor relationship. Debtor-creditor law governs situations where one party is unable to pay a monetary debt to another. Non-bankruptcy debtor-creditor law arises mainly from state statutory and common law.
Bankruptcy lawyers frequently work in private firms, both large and small. Large and mid-size firms may have departments that specialize in bankruptcy and debtor-creditors' rights. They may represent individual and corporate debtors, individual and corporate creditors, creditors' committees, and bankruptcy trustees. Bankruptcy lawyers who represent debtors guide their clients through the statutory framework that provides relief from the lenders to whom their clients are financially indebted. Bankruptcy lawyers who represent creditors attempt to protect their clients' interests by securing the maximum recovery possible from a debtor. Bankruptcy lawyers also work in other settings, including for the legal departments of large banks, for credit card companies, for the government, and even in public interest organizations.
Bankruptcy law is a blend of transactional work and litigation, thus bankruptcy lawyers must have both transactional and litigation skills. They must be good negotiators and must have excellent writing skills and strong oral advocacy skills.
These are the entry level courses that — at a minimum — employers expect a student interested in this specialty to have .
Students interested in this practice area should consider including one or more of the following courses as electives.
- Accounting and Law
- Business Organizations I
- Business Organizations II
- Payments Systems
- Trial Advocacy
These courses deepen or broaden the skills and substantive information that a lawyer in this field needs and also provide advanced courses for students interested in a specialty within this area of practice.
- Business Transactions Essentials
- Lawyering Skills: Oral Communications
- Securities Regulation
- Real Estate Transactions
- Tax I
(Note that whether a particular course is scheduled depends on faculty availability and student demand.)
Clinics, Internships, and Externships
Externship at the United States Trustee's Office
The U.S. Trustee Office is a component of the Department of Justice and is a statutory party in all bankruptcy cases. For an excellent overview of the mission and operations of the U.S. Trustee program, see http://www.justice.gov/ust/ Law students can obtain externships for academic credit at the Chicago, Madison or Milwaukee office of the U.S. Trustee during the summer, fall or spring term through the Law Externship course. Contact the Law School's Externship Director, Jane Heymann, for additional information and application instructions.
Judicial Intern Clinical Program
Second and third-year students can obtain academic credit for working in a judge's chambers during the spring, summer or fall terms, through the Judicial Intern clinical program. Placements are available with U.S. Bankruptcy judges.
Consumer Law Clinic
The Consumer Law Clinic represents low- and moderate-income consumers in individual and class action lawsuits in federal and state courts. The Clinic operates year-round and is open to students who have completed their first year of law school. The Consumer Law Clinic trains students in all aspects of civil litigation.
Student Organizations and Related Activities
Business & Tax Law Association (BATLAW)
The University of Wisconsin Business & Tax Law Association promotes and enhances the study and practice of business and tax law. BATLAW also encourages high standards of academic achievement as well as social interaction with other law students, faculty, and the professional community. Several faculty members and some of the largest law firms in Wisconsin are included in BATLAW's membership.
There are three student journals — Wisconsin Law Review, Wisconsin International Law Journal, and Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender & Society — that give students an opportunity to assist with and contribute to the Law School's scholarly publications. These publications provide invaluable training in legal research and writing.
Mock Trial provides real trial experience at a competitive level. Students participate in nationwide competitions that give them opportunities to give opening and closing statements and direct- and cross-examine witnesses. For the student interested in litigation it is an invaluable experience to learn skills you may not get in the classroom.
Moot Court is a mock appellate advocacy program that provides invaluable experience for students in brief writing and oral advocacy.