Bankruptcy and restructuring lawyers represent debtors, creditors, equity interest holders, and other entities that may be interested in a business (such as a prospective acquirer) that is confronting financial difficulties. The practice can involve out-of-court negotiations to restructure a company’s financial affairs without the intervention of a court or bankruptcy reorganization litigation; there are practitioners who focus on either one of these aspects and others whose practices encompass both. Likewise, there are firms that specialize in representing creditors, others that focus on the representation of debtors, and broad practices that do both. Lawyers are often drawn to restructuring work to straddle the business and litigation sides. Bankruptcy involves an arcane set of rules that can take a long time to master. There are limited in-house positions for bankruptcy attorneys, so much of the practice is in a law firm setting. The practice is counter-cyclical—bankruptcy lawyers are most in demand in down markets. A clerkship at a federal bankruptcy court can be helpful, especially for those more interested in the litigation side rather than restructuring transactions. Some bankruptcy practitioners also earn an LL.M. in bankruptcy at some point in their careers.
In our guide, Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas, attorneys from law firms with top-ranked Bankruptcy & Restructuring practices share insights about their practice, including what types of cases & deals they work on and what kind of training they recommend to excel at their field of law. Keep reading for their insights!
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Naomi Moss, Partner—Akin: I work on a mix of in- and out-of-court restructurings. Depending on the representation, our involvement may commence with pre-bankruptcy planning or negotiations and continue through post-commencement of chapter 11 cases. All my matters involve restructurings of corporations across different sectors, and differ depending on whether the company is seeking to effectuate an operational or financial restructuring.
Lauren A. Moskowitz, Partner—Cravath: Some examples of recent bankruptcy matters include representing Seadrill Limited as conflicts counsel in its chapter 11 proceedings, Stanley Black & Decker in a lawsuit against Sears related to the administrative consent program in its chapter 11 proceedings, as well as Dutch retailer HEMA B.V. in a U.S. chapter 15 proceeding related to its comprehensive debt restructuring and recapitalization transaction—a matter in which we were able to obtain chapter 15 recognition of the scheme by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.
Dennis Dunne, Partner—Milbank: Our practice consists of the most complex, cutting-edge restructuring work in the country. Whether it is structuring and negotiating packaged plans of reorganization, navigating
the political currents in large cases such as Puerto Rico or PG&E, or leading large-scale distressed M&A transactions, our team is typically engaged in primary roles in virtually every large restructuring. We represent debtors, creditors, official creditor committees, private equity sponsors, and purchasers of distressed assets in chapter 11 cases and out-of-court workouts in the U.S. and internationally. Our engagements have also ranged across an array of industries.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Naomi Moss: Doing an internship for a federal bankruptcy judge was a tremendous experience for me. It helped me to understand the “big picture” perspective of each matter. Financial restructuring is a unique practice in that a broad range of skill sets are utilized, allowing attorneys to develop their own practice styles. Thus, most of the necessary skill sets will be developed on the job itself.
Lauren A. Moskowitz: I do not think there is any class that anyone needs to take in law school to be a great lawyer in any practice area. For students considering the litigation route, I would strongly recommend moot court. It is what made me fall in love with law school, and I consider it the most impactful part of my legal education, personally. There is no better substitute to getting out there and competing against other talented teams, and learning firsthand what that experience is actually like.
The best training is what you can get at Cravath. This is pretty standard advice that I benefited from when I was a law student and a young associate: be active in your training. Try to squeeze every drop out of every lesson out of every experience, and don’t be a tourist. Ask yourself how and why you did things the way you do, or why the partner did things the way they did. Critically think about why someone chose those steps. Make everything an opportunity to learn. You can get a lot out of the early moments if you put yourself in those shoes and actively listen and ask questions.
Dennis Dunne: Explore all areas of law in law school. A basic understanding of a wide variety of legal concepts will be very helpful. Although not crucial to being successful in the practice, any courses on bankruptcy, secured transactions, or anything that teaches you how to negotiate contracts would be helpful.
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