Jefferson City,
12:58 PM

Hon. Cynthia Norton reflects on a career in bankruptcy law

Judge Cynthia Norton said she “woke up one day and said, ‘I’m going to be a lawyer.’” 

A bankruptcy judge for the Western District of Missouri since 2013, Norton practiced bankruptcy law for many years before being appointed to the bench.  

When asked why she loves the field of bankruptcy law, Norton said, “The correct question is: What is there not to love?” 

Although she “fell into” the world of bankruptcy law when she began clerking for a bankruptcy judge after law school, the challenges and rewards of the profession caused her to fall permanently in love with the field. 

“Bankruptcy lawyers are the last of the true renaissance lawyers in the sense that not only are you familiar with federal bankruptcy law, federal jurisdiction, rules, evidence, but every company or person filing bankruptcy brings whatever underlying state law problem or issue they have,” Norton said. 

The multifaceted nature of the field, she said, offers an opportunity to be creative and develop skills across areas of law.  

“One day you’re in the office meeting with clients and the next you’re in court. So, you’re both a courtroom lawyer as well as a business lawyer,” Norton said. 

A great example is the rapid rise of cryptocurrency and its newfound relevance to bankruptcy law.  

“The fact that we’re tied to the economy and structural and changes in the economy means you really have to keep up to be effective,” she said. “Bankruptcy is a complicated area of law that requires a lawyer to keep up with changes in case law, changes in bankruptcy related statues, changes in rules, and requires lots of practical knowledge.” 

Maintaining that practical knowledge has always been a priority for Norton, who is a fellow in the American College of Bankruptcy and a regular speaker and attendee at The Missouri Bar’s Annual Bankruptcy Institute, where she said the case law update programs were especially helpful in keeping her up to date. 

But one of the most valuable aspects of a career in bankruptcy law has been the relationships she shares with colleagues. 

“We’re a small bar. It tends to be that everyone knows each other,” Norton said. “One day you may be representing a debtor, the other day you might be representing a creditor. By the time you get into bankruptcy court, everyone has lost money.”  

Norton said the most effective lawyers and judges focus on maintaining civility in the courtroom to resolve issues.  

“That’s part of what I’ve always loved about it,” she said. “You can fight really hard in court, but at the end of the day you’ll still have a professional relationship with that person.” 

Norton said bankruptcy judges and lawyers in Missouri both consistently seek to do a great job for their clients. 

“There’s nothing more gratifying than for me to help people solve their problems,” she said.  

In 2012, Norton received the Robert Gernon Award in recognition of her outstanding contributions to continuing legal education. She also received the Michael R. Roser Excellence in Bankruptcy Practice award in 2002. 

Norton graduated from the University of Kansas summa cum laude and was admitted to The Missouri Bar in 1989.