The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
William Curtin & Genevieve G. Weiner, Partners—Restructuring (2023)
Bill Curtin’s practice focuses on corporate reorganization, bankruptcy, bankruptcy litigation, and other insolvency-related matters. Bill represents debtors, official committees, secured and unsecured creditors, distressed investors, and private equity funds and other institutions with controlling positions in financially distressed companies. He provides strategic and practical advice to management teams and boards of directors facing financially distressed situations. He leverages his extensive and unique experience as a bankruptcy regulator and litigator with the Department of Justice to provide clients with practical solutions in a broad range of complex and high-profile restructuring matters. Bill maintains an active pro bono practice focused on representing veterans.
Genevieve Weiner is a partner in Sidley’s Restructuring group and focuses her practice on representing debtors and lenders in various bankruptcy matters, general assignments, receiverships and out-of-court restructurings, and workouts. She has represented clients across multiple industries, including healthcare, retail, hospitality, and real estate. Genevieve has also advised financial and strategic purchasers on acquisitions of distressed companies and discrete assets through section 363 and foreclosure proceedings. In 2022, the American Bankruptcy Institute named Genevieve as one of its “40 under 40” honorees. She also maintains an active pro bono practice.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Bill: My practice focuses on corporate reorganization, bankruptcy, bankruptcy litigation, and other insolvency-related matters. Although I represent clients in many industries, including telecom, transportation, financial services, insurance, and hospitality, my practice is currently particularly focused on healthcare and life sciences.
Genevieve: I advise various constituents in high-stakes bankruptcy cases. This sometimes means that I am representing the debtor (the company filing for bankruptcy), but my practice also encompasses representing lenders, unsecured creditor committees, and purchasers of distressed assets. As a restructuring lawyer, I have experience in a wide range of industries, including hospitality, healthcare, and real estate.
What types of clients do you represent?
Bill: I primarily represent distressed public and private companies, but also organized creditor groups in bankruptcy cases, secured and significant unsecured creditors, distressed investors, private equity funds, and others with controlling positions in financially distressed companies.
Genevieve: I serve a very wide range of clients, from public companies to VC-type startups. Given that I also represent creditor committees—sometimes comprised of trade creditors or even individual claimants—and purchasers of distressed assets, I encounter all sorts of people in my client relationships. That is certainly part of what makes it fun!
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Bill: Most of my cases involve representing various constituents in chapter 11 bankruptcy cases in jurisdictions throughout the United States, as well as out-of-court restructurings. For example, I’m currently representing clients in bankruptcy cases pending in New York, Delaware, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Genevieve: I work on large chapter 11 cases in jurisdictions across the country. Right now, I am involved in chapter 11 cases pending in Florida, California, Delaware, and New York and ranging from food and beverage cases to luxury real estate.
How did you choose this practice area?
Bill: I started my career in the Army JAG Corps and spent the majority of my four years in the Army as a criminal defense attorney. I tried a murder case with an Army reservist whose civilian job was with the Department of Justice. After I got out of the Army, he hired me at DOJ to work on bankruptcy matters. Although I initially viewed bankruptcy and restructuring as a brief stop in my career, I enjoyed the practice area so much that I stuck with it first at DOJ and later in private practice.
Genevieve: I took a chapter 11 reorganization class in law school and really enjoyed it. While I started in the general corporate practice, market timing had some influence on the course of my career. I started at the end of 2007 when the market was headed into a counter-cycle with the 2008 financial crisis looming. I proactively reached out to the restructuring group and not only really liked the work, but the people too. I’ve stuck with it ever since!
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Bill: The best part about restructuring is the variety. I regularly appear in court, counsel management teams and boards of directors facing financially distressed situations, draft motions and other pleadings, and supervise teams of associates and others.
Genevieve: Every day is a bit different, which is part of what I like about my practice. Some days I will be in court on bankruptcy motion practice or drafting court pleadings. Other days I will be negotiating and drafting purchase and sale agreements or similar transactional documents. Of course, there are plenty of client calls sprinkled throughout the day as well as strategy meetings with my team.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Bill: Any classes in business and corporate law will be important to building a solid base of knowledge for a restructuring practice. I think it is more important, however, to seek out roles that develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The ability to develop and execute creative strategies to complex problems is the most important skill a restructuring lawyer can have.
Genevieve: If you are interested in practicing restructuring law at a large law firm, I would strongly suggest taking a chapter 11 course in law school as well as a course on secured transactions. Having some background in the debtor and creditor concepts will give you a significant advantage when you start your legal career.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
Bill: The most challenging, but also the most exhilarating, aspect of restructuring is the speed with which matters develop. It is the rare case where we will have months to prepare and execute a strategy for a distressed client. We are often called upon to offer comprehensive advice in a matter of days or even hours.
Genevieve: The practice can be fast paced and often deals with unique or developing areas of the law. There isn’t always a roadmap for how to do things, which means that as a restructuring lawyer, you will need to be creative.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Bill: I enjoy how the strategy in a restructuring matter is constantly evolving and requires lawyers to anticipate developments to the extent possible and react to unanticipated developments when necessary. Also, clients turn to us in what is often the darkest hour for their business and rely on us for effective and timely solutions, so we develop powerful connections with our clients.
Genevieve: Two big things come to mind. First, I like that my practice involves both aspects of litigation and transactional work. One day I might be in court and the next I might be reviewing an asset purchase agreement. Second, as restructuring lawyers, we are often tasked with bringing various stakeholders together to find a compromise that works for everyone.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
Bill: The biggest misconception is that when our group is involved with a client, that client is certainly going to file a bankruptcy case. This is the furthest thing from the truth. Our goal is always to resolve matters out of court, and we are often successful in avoiding a bankruptcy filing while still getting the client relief from its distress.
Genevieve: I think the biggest misconception may be that when we file a company for bankruptcy, the company is shutting down or ceasing operations. That is often not the case. Instead, a chapter 11 practice is focused on helping companies reorganize and right-size their capital structure so that they can keep people employed and maintain operations.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
Bill: We strive to involve junior lawyers in as many aspects of our practice as possible. Junior lawyers regularly do research, draft pleadings and client memoranda, and prepare outlines for court appearances. Junior lawyers also often participate in calls with clients, negotiations with opposing counsel, and court hearings.
Genevieve: Junior lawyers are fully integrated members of the team on my cases. I might ask junior lawyers to help conduct research on legal issues or take the pen on a first draft of a motion. I will often also ask junior lawyers to join calls with the client and engage in team strategy meetings.