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The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.

Alexa Kranzley is a partner in the firm’s Finance and Restructuring Group. Ms. Kranzley represents companies and creditors in chapter 11 proceedings and out-of-court corporate and financial restructurings, and private equity and hedge funds in connection with distressed transactions and special situation investments. Ms. Kranzley also has experience handling adversary proceedings, contested matters, and both debtor and creditor representations in bankruptcy proceedings. Ms. Kranzley’s practice is international, and she has worked in collaboration with the firm’s other offices on substantive matters involving restructurings in other jurisdictions. Ms. Kranzley has been recognized by Chambers USA for her work in bankruptcy and restructuring and by The Best Lawyers in America for her work in Bankruptcy and Creditor Debtor Rights/Insolvency and Reorganization Law. She was also recognized as a 2022 “Rising Star” in Bankruptcy by Law360, and named a 2021 “Outstanding Young Restructuring Lawyer” by Turnarounds & Workouts. She was named to the 2018 Class of the American Bankruptcy Institute’s 40 Under 40 Program and nominated and inducted in 2017 into the International Insolvency Institute’s NextGen Leadership Program. Both programs recognize “Rising Stars” in the insolvency area. She is recognized by IFLR1000 as a “Rising Star.”

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Sullivan & Cromwell’s Finance & Restructuring practice is well known for helping domestic and multinational corporations navigate their most complex issues. We take on strategic corporate and financial restructuring transactions, in and out of court, as well as related litigation, financings, and M&A transactions. In addition to representing debtors and creditors in chapter 11 and chapter 15 cases and out-of-court restructurings, lawyers in our Finance & Restructuring Group also represent private equity and hedge funds in connection with distressed transactions and special situation investments. Our practice combines elite transactional and litigation attorneys with a deep knowledge of restructuring and insolvency laws and significant experience working on a diverse mix of international and domestic distressed situations. The Finance & Restructuring practice imports the expertise of S&C’s “generalist” and top-rated litigation, corporate governance, tax, M&A, and finance lawyers to deliver multidisciplinary advice.

What types of clients do you represent?

I represent a diverse range of corporate clients across a variety of industries, primarily representing companies in distress and strategic creditors facing distressed counterparties. I have represented, among many others, FTX Trading, Kidde-Fenwal, Garrett Motion, California Resources Corporation, LSC Communications, White Star Petroleum, and Eastman Kodak Company, in each case in connection with their in- and out-of-court restructuring proceedings, Major League Baseball in its pending dispute with Diamond Sports Group in its pending chapter 11 proceedings, and other suppliers and financial institutions facing distressed counterparties.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

I primarily work on company-side restructurings, assisting companies, management, and their boards in finding solutions to their most prominent issues (whether financial or operational), as quickly and with as little business disruption as possible. At S&C, being involved in numerous high-profile, highly complex cases at a time is customary. In the last year, while handling various matters in FTX’s bankruptcy proceedings, I was also advising Major League Baseball in its battle with Diamond Sports Group, and Kidde-Fenwal in a landmark bankruptcy in connection with PFAS liabilities. The exposure to a variety of legal areas and industries allows our team to acquire a broad skillset and cultivate an expansive international restructuring practice.

How did you choose this practice area?

I graduated from law school in 2008 and started my career at Shearman & Sterling the week after Lehman Brothers filed for chapter 11. I naturally fell into the restructuring practice as it was the busiest practice area at that time. In law school, restructuring had been described to me as a hybrid of litigation and corporate. While law school primarily teaches you litigation, I was more interested in transactional work. Restructuring felt like a good balance of the two practices and a good place to start. Because there’s really a little bit of everything within restructuring, I’ve learned so much over the years and have had such diverse experiences that I never wanted to change practices.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

There are three different kinds of common days. A typical day in the office consists of a number of meetings, both internally and with external advisors such as company or financial advisors, where we discuss strategy and next steps. In addition to participating in these meetings, I work with associates in reviewing and preparing motions, orders, pleadings, and declarations for court filings. I also review transactional documents such as purchase agreements, financing documents, vendor agreements, and the like.

Because I primarily focus on company-side restructurings, there are several days each month where our team is in court. A typical day in court is not quite argument—there’s no jury or trial—but I appear and represent companies in front of the judge and other constituents. Occasionally, when the judge has a difficult schedule and we cannot be in person, our team takes the hearing from S&C’s internal Moot Courtroom, which is a newly developed space in our building that can be arranged to approximate different types of courtroom venues. In fact, our Moot Courtroom looks so much like court rooms that counsel have asked how we are before the judge when the hearing is virtual.

Representing these companies also means that our cases have numerous interested parties: creditors, lenders, people who want to buy the assets. So, lastly, I have a lot of meetings with these counterparties to negotiate and try to reach resolutions. More often than not, this practice is not as adversarial as people think; it is most beneficial when we have consensus.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

I took introductory bankruptcy and business reorganization classes that I found helpful, though these types of courses are certainly not required. Because of our frequent appearances in court, understanding civil procedures in a court setting is also important. Additionally, bankruptcies typically occur when financing goes wrong, so it is also helpful if you understand how financings work. That said, the on-the-job training that you will receive once you start work is likely to be the most valuable.

What do you like best about your practice area?

Working with a company to restructure means getting to do a bit of everything—financing, operations, communications, public relations, tax—you name it. It also means that I have to fully understand the company and learn everything about the business before I can help them restructure, which I really enjoy. S&C is unique in that we do not focus on particular industries or types of companies, which means that one year, I may be learning about an oil and gas company, and the next year, I am learning about crypto. I also like that my practice has an element of helping people. For most people who work at a company, the term “bankruptcy” has a negative connotation, and I enjoy getting to know them and helping them improve their business and make it more viable. It is rewarding when the company restructures and ends up doing very well.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

I think there are two misconceptions, the first being that bankruptcy is always bad. In the corporate world, bankruptcy is viewed as corporate reorganization, meaning that it is actually a tool that companies can use to fix and restructure themselves and not have to liquidate. In the United States, bankruptcy does not mean liquidation. Big names like Sears, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines are all companies that have used chapter 11, which is a provision of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code that allows companies to reorganize and restructure their debts and obligations. 

The second misconception is that bankruptcy is very narrow. In my practice, I get to do a bit of everything, including going to court regularly, negotiating M&A and other interesting transactions, and conducting auctions. For companies that are looking to sell assets, one of the ways to do so is using chapter 11. In this context, companies will host auctions to allow for the highest bids for their assets.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

I think 2023 probably speaks the most to the uniqueness of S&C’s restructuring practice. We are a very small practice with primarily one litigation and four corporate partners in bankruptcy, and a small group of core restructuring associates. Yet with such a small team, we have three large, high-profile cases this year—FTX trading, Silicon Valley Bank, and Kidde-Fenwal, a subsidiary of Carrier Corporation. The firms that take on matters of this scale typically have groups that are three or four times the size of ours, but because S&C lawyers are generalists—a unique aspect of our approach to practice more broadly—we have the capabilities to work on all aspects of a case, our size notwithstanding.

For example, we rely on a large investigations team to help with cases that go to trial, and we have brought on M&A teams to help with sales in other cases.

One of the biggest benefits to associates in this kind of practice is that you’re exposed to a wide range of substantive work early on. Junior associates get hands-on training from day one, like preparing first drafts of motions and documents and observing client calls.

What advice do you have for navigating the multidisciplinary nature of bankruptcy practice?

Take advantage of the opportunities that you get! One of the first cases I worked on at S&C was Kodak, and within that case, I worked on a number of different things, like selling a billboard in Times Square and a power plant they used to own. This area really embodies our generalist approach and provides a great platform for learning about how all of the different areas fit together and which ones you enjoy. It’s never boring!