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by Vault Law Editors | March 10, 2009

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Fortunately, bankruptcy affords opportunities outside of private practice, most notably working for the government -- primarily for the executive branch, with the Office of the United States Trustee, or for the judicial branch, as a bankruptcy judge clerk. These offer great opportunities to get up close and personal with the bankruptcy world without many of the business and client pressures unique to private practice.

Office of the U.S. Trustee

Attention, those of you who hate being wrong; one the best things about working as an attorney at the Office of the United States Trustee is that "your client is always right," says Leonora Long, attorney at the U.S. Trustee's Office of the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis. The U.S. Trustee's Office is a sub-division of the United States Department of Justice, and is charged with ensuring that "the law is attended to and adhered to and respected in each bankruptcy case," according to Long.

Each federal circuit has its own U.S. Trustee, who sets policy and oversees several regional offices. Each of these offices employs a staff of financial analysts, administrative personnel and, most important to you, attorneys.

Attorneys with the U.S. Trustee office are involved in every bankruptcy case, weighing in on issues such as the employment of debtor and committee professionals, fee applications, and the plan of reorganization; prosecuting dismissals of bankruptcy cases and conversions from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7; and supervising the selection of Chapter 7 Trustees and making sure they are doing their jobs. In addition, U.S. Trustee attorneys enforce Code provisions barring bankruptcy petitions filed in "bad faith," as well as those requiring truthful and accurate schedules. In short, U.S. Trustee attorneys are enforcers of the Code. And appropriately, U.S. Trustee attorneys are 100% litigators, in court all the time.

U.S. Trustee attorneys cite a great many reasons why they enjoy their jobs. Long notes the satisfaction of having a single, consistent client, with concrete positions and goals arising from the Code; a supportive work environment without many of the politics of large firms; and the fact that you are "a lawyer from day one," in court nearly every day, from the beginning of your career. In addition, U.S. Trustee attorneys enjoy a relatively high quality of life, with most work weeks averaging 45 to 50 hours, a substantial allotment of vacation days, and the stability of government employment.

On the flip side, U.S. Trustee attorneys do not make as much as they might in private practice, with salaries maxing out at approximately $115,000.00 to $120,000.00 a year, and aren't guaranteed the same resources -- word processing departments are not exactly standard issue here. But for most of these attorneys, the upsides make this practice satisfying enough to outweigh any drawbacks.

Clerkships

Clerking for a bankruptcy judge offers a unique opportunity to be in the vortex of the bankruptcy world. These are strictly behind-the-scenes jobs, as clerks function as the judges' silent partners. A clerk spends most of his or her day in the legal library, researching legal issues and working on drafts of opinions, and in court, observing the judge in action. Clerks do not argue in court, do not negotiate transactions, do not counsel clients; instead, they assist the judge in the performance of her duties.

Clerking is a plum opportunity for an academic-minded attorney who relishes the research and writing aspects of the legal life. In addition, clerks often enjoy the tight-knit family of the judge's chambers and the balanced hours of the position. Most notably, many clerks enjoy the absence of many of the more stressful aspects of being an advocate -- no worrying about building a "book" of business, no client management, no firm bureaucracy.

While some clerks are "permanent" or at least long-term, more often clerks only remain in chambers for two or three years. For these temporary clerks, the judicial experience can be a valuable education in substantive bankruptcy law, the judicial process, and courtroom practice. And as will be discussed later in the guide, a clerkship can provide valuable legal connections and enhance the clerk's value in the legal marketplace later on down the road.

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