Interested in helping businesses and individuals in financial distress? Learn more about becoming a restructuring and insolvency lawyer – including the work, key skills, salaries and current trends.

What Is Restructuring & Insolvency Law?

Restructuring and Insolvency is a practice area primarily dealing with clients who have run into serious financial difficulties. At a smaller law firm (perhaps a regional firm), these clients will likely be individuals or small, local businesses. At the other end of the spectrum, elite US and Magic Circle firms will be working to resolve financial issues at some of the largest companies and organisations in the world – in matters worth billions of pounds. 

Deciding which type of firm is right for you is therefore particularly important in this practice area, due to the noted difference in the kind of work being done.

This is an area of law which encompasses both contentious and non-contentious work (or both litigious and advisory, to put it another way). In non-contentious work, you could be entering the situation relatively early, being called in to help restructure (essentially renegotiate) a struggling company’s debt repayments in a more lenient way. In contentious work, you are looking more at the repercussions of a company going insolvent – e.g. being sued by debtors for failing to pay on time.

Remember that you may be acting for either the debtor or creditor. In other words, you might find yourself attempting to limit the debts owed by a company one day, then seeking to recuperate as much capital as possible for a creditor the next.

Intersections With Other Practice Areas

As with many areas of law, this practice area rarely stands alone. This is especially true at larger law firms (advising larger businesses with more complex needs), where a number of teams may be pulled together in order to advise on an issue. Here are some possible examples:

  • Tax: Your client is struggling financially and needs to ensure that their outgoings are as limited as possible – becoming more tax-efficient is a sure-fire way to ensure this.
  • Debt Capital Markets: Your client needs to raise funds fast – they might consider selling off bonds in an investment banking-style move.
  • Dispute Resolution: Your client is likely to collapse imminently and arguments are sure to begin over who is owed capital – skilled negotiators will be needed to minimise the impact on what is left of your client.

In short, this is a practice area which is likely to involve a great deal of collaboration across different teams.

Work In Restructuring & Insolvency Law

There are a range of tasks associated with this practice area. You might find yourself renegotiating a debt repayment plan one day, drafting up new contracts the next, or conducting legal research into the rights of your client the day after that. The work tends to be very varied across these spaces, and also depends heavily on which level of seniority you sit at within a firm or chambers.

Firms Specialising In Insolvency Law

There are a number of firms active in this practice area – looking at the Band 1 firms of Chambers’ most recent rankings can provide some guidance.

At the upper levels of large, corporate City work, Magic Circle firms such as Linklaters and Clifford Chance tend to rank highly. Elite US competitors like Akin and Kirkland & Ellis are equally well-respected in this area.

At the other end of the spectrum, most high street solicitors are active in this space on a personal level (alongside other common issues such as divorce or immigration), and should be investigated individually through further research.


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Important Skills For Insolvency Lawyers

There are a number of skills needed to become a restructuring and insolvency lawyer. Most are common of most commercial law practice areas, including excellent writing skills, research abilities and knowledge of basic financial concepts.

Some skills are particularly useful in this specific practice area, however:

  • An excellent work ethic is needed for when tight deadlines are approaching – speed is absolutely critical in this sector (and thus the ability to quickly scan large quantities of documents and make fast, reliable judgements is also needed).
  • Interpersonal skills and client communication are particularly important here, since your clients might potentially be in a very distressed state (especially at a smaller firm dealing with more personal issues). Having a developed sense of empathy and showing support are genuinely vital.
  • Collaborative skills are very useful in a practice area as cross-departmental as this (where you will likely be working with a number of other lawyers in different practice areas).
  • A detailed understanding of debt processes is very useful in this practice area. While most commercial law sectors will involve a basic level of commercial awareness, being able to make rapid decisions (if relatively simple) relating to matters like debt (without needing to always contact a banking team, for example) is important.

Qualifications For Restructuring Law

The normal route to qualification applies if you want to become a lawyer in this practice area. For a solicitor, you will usually complete a degree, the PGDL (if your degree was not a qualifying law degree), the SQE (or LPC – soon to be phased out), and two years of QWE (often but not always through a training contract) – though solicitor apprenticeships are now offering a viable alternative to traditional university study. For a barrister, you will complete a degree, the PGDL (again, if your degree was not a qualifying law degree), then branch off into a bar training course and pupillage.

However, there are some specific points to consider if you are looking at this practice area as a particular interest in advance. First, you could choose particularly relevant modules during law school (for example, banking or finance law). Second, you might apply to firms or chambers particularly specialised in this area of law for your work experience. Third, you might even go as far as to consider further academic study relevant to this practice area – for example a Masters in Banking and Debt Finance, or something similar.

It is worth remembering, however, that most law firms and chambers do not expect their prospective employees to specialise this early, so do not feel pressured to do so, either.

It is also worth noting that there are a range of roles in this area which do not require you to become a fully qualified lawyer. Paralegals are highly in-demand in this practice area, for example, earning excellent salaries and often forming a vital role in complex matters.

Restructuring & Insolvency Lawyer Salaries

Restructuring and insolvency lawyers are often in high demand. In-house roles are much less common, as you might imagine, but within firms these are coveted individuals. 

Early in your career, solicitor salaries are usually tied to the lockstep model adopted by most major law firms, and so you will be paid equally to lawyers in other practice areas (at NQ level, perhaps £150,0000 at an elite US firm, just over £100,000 at a Magic Circle firm, just below £100,000 at a Silver Circle firm, and so on). At Partner level, however, the pay tends to differ more widely between practice areas, and this practice area is one known for drawing in some of the largest salaries.

Work-Life Balance

Restructuring and Insolvency law is notorious for being an extremely time-critical practice area. Fixed deadlines are often in place within legislation to get certain processes completed, and so when it comes down to crunch time it is not unusual to be working late into the night to get certain tasks completed. Expect an intense but rewarding experience in this practice area.

There is, of course, the factor of the firm you work at as well. Top City firms will always have more demanding hours, and also tend to be dealing with larger clients with more complex and thus time-consuming needs (although this is somewhat mitigated by having larger teams). Personal insolvency cases at a more local level are certainly still intense, and may even eat into your personal life more due to the direct human implications visible at this level, but the hours tend to be slightly better.


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