Bankrutpcy law focuses on insolvency related issues (the condition of having more debts (liabilities) than total assets which might be available; the court will then "discharge" (forgive) some or all of the debts), including representation of debtors, debtors-in-possession, creditors, lending institutions, hedge funds, trustees (a person appointed by a bankruptcy court to supervise the affairs of a person or business which is in bankruptcy, determine both assets and debts, gather and manage the assets if necessary, and report to the court), receivers (a neutral person appointed by a judge to take charge of the property and business of one of the parties to a lawsuit and receive his/her rents and profits while the right to the moneys has not been finally decided), and creditors' committees. Unless it is a huge firm, most bankruptcy lawyers do both transactional and litigation work. It is a deal practice, and when the deals break down or assets are being auctioned, litigation skills are important. Any course in drafting agreements and writing would be helpful. A course in accounting is essential. Externships with bankruptcy judges or the U.S.Trustees office are incredibly beneficial. -- Contributed by M. Colette Gibbons, Class of '76, Cleveland Office Partner-in-Charge and Co-Chair of Business Restructuring and Creditors' Rights Practice Group for Schottenstein Zox & Dunn
Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation involves assisting employer clients with legal issues relating to compensation and benefits provided to employees. An employee benefits practice typically includes counseling employers on the administration of qualified and nonqualified retirement plans and welfare benefit plans (such as health plans, insurance plans, cafeteria plans, severance plans and fringe benefit plans) and on the compliance of such plans with ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code. The practice often also includes advising public and private employers on employee benefits issues raised in corporate acquisitions, dispositions and mergers. Employee benefits often overlaps with executive compensation, which is more narrowly focused on the unique compensatory arrangements offered to executives. An executive compensation practice often includes drafting and negotiating employment agreements, severance agreements, change in control agreements and stock option and other equity incentive arrangements. It can also include preparing, reviewing and commenting on securities law and other public disclosures for public company clients regarding their executive and director compensation arrangements. Much of the Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation practice consists of analyzing and interpreting the statutory framework governing employee benefit arrangements, which is constantly changing. Contract drafting and negotiation are also large parts of the practice. Taking statute-based classes, such as tax, as well as contract-related classes would be helpful to prepare for a career in this type of law. -- Contributed by Laura Bigler, Class of '01, Associate with Jones Day, Cleveland
Estate planning is the process of providing for your client and his/her family in the event of retirement, disability or death. Through a properly-crafted estate plan, your legal and financial affairs are put in order so that the assets accumulated during a lifetime will be preserved and transferred to heirs with the least amount of financial and emotional cost. The process includes pre-and post-mortem planning, probate avoidance, estate tax reduction, asset preservation, guardianship avoidance. A strong tax and statutory background is required. A team approach with accountants, tax preparers and financial advisors is often necessary. -- Contributed by Laurie Steiner, Class of '89, Partner with Budish, Solomon, Steiner & Peck
Elder Law involves helping people navigate the legal maze of estate planning, disability planning, and tax planning, especially planning for asset protection and use of governmental benefits. As opposed to Estate Planning, Elder Law includes a major focus on safely divesting assets during a lifetime so that Social Security, Medicaid, Veteran's Benefits and other governmental benefits will be available to pay for long term health care costs. This often involves transfers of assets to other family members and developing methods to protect those assets while in their hands. A strong tax and statutory background is required, and a little social work is not a bad idea. Much patience and the ability to deal with multi-generation family situations are essential. -- Contributed by Laurie Steiner, Class of '89, Partner with Budish, Solomon, Steiner & Peck
Intellectual Property (IP: trademarks, copyrights, patents, trade secrets, etc.) are core business assets that must be properly acquired and protected in the market place. Intellectual property brings together business strategy, international trade, and law enforcement, when you consider the various aspects of how IP is created, commercially exploited and protected in the market place from competitors. Today's global economy makes IP awareness for businesses and their legal counsel critical to success. -- Contributed by Tim Trainer, Class of '87, President of Global Intellectual Property Center in Washington, D.C.
Labor and Employment Law involves the interaction between employers of all kinds (e.g., for-profit, non-profit and public sector), and their employees and labor unions, where applicable. Labor and employment law includes niche practices such as‚ "traditional" labor law (e.g., proceedings before National Labor Relations Board and State Employment Relations Board, grievance arbitrations, collective bargaining negotiations); employment law (e.g., exceptions to at-will employment, wrongful discharge); employment discrimination (e.g., Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Americans with Disabilities Act); workers' compensation; workplace safety (OSHA); wage/hour (FLSA and state law equivalents); and employee benefits (ERISA). The practice is diverse in that an attorney may provide day-to-day advice to employer, labor union or individual employee clients; defend or prosecute employment discrimination and other employment law claims; participate in myriad administrative agency proceedings; and advocate in transactional settings such as collective bargaining negotiations. Labor and employment attorneys often (but not always) restrict their practices to one specific segment of representation - either management (representing employers), labor (representing labor unions), individual employees or former employees, or government/neutral (working on behalf of an administrative agency, or as a mediator or arbitrator). An undergraduate degree in a business discipline and/or experience in human resources, business management or union representation may be helpful, but is certainly not necessary. Clerk and attorney candidates may differentiate themselves from other candidates by showing demonstrable interest in the practice. Such interest may be reflected through, for example, the pursuit of an academic concentration in labor and employment law, or enrollment in the employment law clinic, or other labor and employment courses. -- Contributed by Tom Green, Class of '02, Shareholder with Kastner Westman & Wilkins, LLC.
Public Interest law is for students who want to do something bigger than themselves, providing a true dedication to the underrepresented who need someone who not only understands the law, but also has access to the necessary resources. Positions range from roles in non-profits, both small and large; medical entities; working with children; the political spectrum; and the prosecutor's and public defender's offices, to name just a few. The key for law students interested in public interest law is to get involved while you are in school. Employers will look for examples of your service, be it through a summer fellowship after your first year, an externship during or after your second year, and/or a clinical experience sometime in your second or third year. Volunteer and network with attorneys with similar interests who commit their time to these same causes, including Legal Aid and the ACLU. -- Contributed by Pamela Daiker-Middaugh, Class of '89, Clinical Professor of Law and Pro Bono Coordinator, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law
Tax law is specialized, challenging, creative and rewarding. Sub-specialties within the area of taxation include individual income tax, corporate tax, partnership taxation, international taxation, wealth transfer tax and ERISA to name a few. In addition, tax practice can be at the federal level, or the state and local level. On the large firm level, tax practice tends to be highly specialized with practitioners working exclusively within the subspecialty areas. Most large firms look for JDs with high grade point averages and through continually working in the subspecialty and through specialized training, they learn the subspecialty area and rarely venture outside of that area. Therefore, it would be rare to find an estate planner to also work on the tax aspects of the sale or acquisition of a business. On the other hand, the medium and smaller sized law firms tend to have tax generalists and it may be helpful for the attorney to take an extra year and get an LL.M. in taxation so as to be exposed to multiple areas of taxation. In addition, larger CPA firms and financial planning organizations also hire lawyers to practice in the wealth transfer and tax areas, so the opportunities are broader for this practice area than other areas of law. Tax law changes daily and no one should decide to practice in this area of law if they are not willing to do reading on a weekly basis in order to keep up with current events. Almost every area of law crosses paths with tax law at one time or another so tax lawyers can expect to be involved in a broad array of matters in any law firm. -- Contributed by Gary Zwick, Class of '80, Partner with Walter & Haverfield
(Descriptions of additional practice areas will be added periodically.)