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by Travis Whitsitt | March 20, 2024

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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.

The five top-ranked Bankruptcy/Restructuring firms based on Vault’s 2024 Bankruptcy/Restructuring prestige rankings are Kirkland; Weil; Paul, WeissDavis Polk; and Akin. Below are a few relevant highlights about each of these firms.

Kirkland & Ellis

Kirkland sits at #1 in our Bankruptcy/Restructuring prestige rankings, and is also #7 in the overall Vault Law 100. They are also the country's top firm in Private Equity and Products Liability, as well as the most prestigious firm in both Chicago and the Midwest according to our Regional prestige rankings. The firm employs over 3,500 attorneys out of 11 U.S. and seven international offices. Associates describe the culture as upbeat and energizing. The firm has very high billable hours despite the absence of a requirement, but balances this with good flexibility as to when and where work is done. Partnership is realistic and transparent, but quite difficult. Non-partner roles are scarce, but exit opportunities are very strong.

Weil

Landing at #2 in Vault’s 2024 Bankruptcy/Restructuring prestige rankings, #12 in the overall Vault Law 100, and the #30 Best Law Firm to Work For in Compensation, Weil is flush with accolades. The firm employs over 1,000 attorneys out of eight U.S. and seven international offices. Associates describe the culture as warm and comfortable, and there is no billable hour requirement. Partnership is rare and the process is somewhat opaque, but exit opportunities are plentiful and strong.

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP

Ranked at #3 in Vault’s 2024 Bankruptcy/Restructuring prestige rankings, Paul, Weiss is #9 in the overall Vault Law 100 and is also #3 in White Collar Defense & Internal Investigations. They employ over 750 attorneys out of four U.S. and five international offices. Associates describe the culture as extremely collegial and empathetic, and the firm has no billable hour requirement while requesting three in-office work days per week. Partnership is realistic with a difficult path, but exit opportunities here are very strong.

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP

Davis Polk operates three U.S. and seven international offices, and employs over 1,000 attorneys. In addition to being the #4 Bankrputcy/Restructuring firm, Davis Polk is #6 in the overall Vault Law 100, #1 in our Securities & Capital Markets prestige rankings, and is #46 overall in our Best Law Firms to Work For rankings. Associates here describe the culture as professional and collegial, with no billable hour requirement (although hours are reportedly long just the the same) and flexibility as to when and where work is done. Partnership here is reportedly difficult to achieve with a fairly opaque process; however, counsel roles are both realistic and viable, and exit opportunities are top-notch.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

Akin sits at #5 in our Bankruptcy/Restructuring prestige rankings, and is also #30 in the overall Vault Law 100. Apart from their bankruptcy practice, they are the country's #40 Overall Best Law Firm to Work For. Akin employs over 750 attorneys out of 12 U.S. and seven international offices. Associates describe the culture as laid-back and respectful. The firm has a billable hour requirement of 1,950, but the firm is flexible as to when and where work is done. Partnership is not realistic for all associates, but viable long-term counsel roles are.

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Obviously, there is a huge amount of overlap between the country's best Bankruptcy/Restructuring firms and the most prestigious firms overall. If you have both the pedigree to get offers from these firms and an interest in this respected practice area, any one of these five firms should be of significant interest to you.

Best of luck from all of us at Vault Law on your legal job search!

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