The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Jessica advises clients in all aspects of distressed and insolvency situations. She has advised debtors, creditors, equity owners, and purchasers on in- and out-of-court restructurings involving companies in various industries, including cryptocurrency, power, oil & gas, renewable energy, manufacturing, hospitality, retail, and telecommunications.
Jessica serves on the Bankruptcy & Corporate Reorganization Committee for the New York City Bar Association and is one of the co-editors of Weil’s Restructuring Review. She also actively lectures on various topics relating to restructuring, including for organizations such as the Practising Law Institute, the American Bar Association, the American Bankruptcy Institute, and the Association of Insolvency and Restructuring Advisors.
Jessica earned her J.D. from Boston College Law School and obtained her B.A. from New York University, where she graduated magna cum laude.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Weil is widely recognized as one of the top restructuring law firms in the world, providing us the opportunity to work on a variety of cutting-edge matters. As a restructuring partner at Weil, I lead company-side and creditor-side restructurings both in and out of court across various industries and geographies. Regardless of economic conditions, there is always a lot of exciting work to do within this practice. At all times, we are focused on providing our clients with the most comprehensive solution that is tailored to their particular situation.
What types of clients do you represent?
My practice covers domestic and international corporate restructurings, bankruptcy and insolvency proceedings, and liability and crisis management. I have represented large, public companies such as PG&E Corporation, Sears, and Claire’s in their bankruptcies, as well as multi-billion-dollar private equity funds as creditors, such as Brookfield and SoftBank, in the bankruptcies of target or portfolio companies. I’ve recently been focused on the cryptocurrency industry, which has been experiencing a tremendous amount of distress. Currently, I represent Digital Currency Group in the bankruptcy of its subsidiary, Genesis Global, a cryptocurrency trading, lending, and custody platform.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I recently worked on the chapter 11 restructuring of PG&E Corporation, which provides electricity and natural gas to 16 million customers and has over 24,000 employees. It was high stakes, given the intense public scrutiny on PG&E’s proposed resolution of claims relating to the 2017 and 2018 California wildfires, the California governor’s involvement in ensuring the restructuring would benefit his constituents, and the close oversight of the state regulator, the CPUC. The judge approved the $59 billion chapter 11 plan, which was a culmination of 18 months of hard work by our whole team. My other recent engagements include representing Talen Energy, an independent power producer, in its chapter 11 restructuring, and Marathon Digital, a large, publicly-traded bitcoin miner, in the restructuring of Compute North, a mining hosting services provider.
How did you choose this practice area?
No one is better equipped than a restructuring lawyer to be the primary architect of a path forward, and restructuring lends itself to being a business lawyer, which I enjoy. Everything in restructuring ultimately comes back to the bankruptcy code, but a good restructuring attorney also understands a client’s business and can coalesce interests around a creative, efficient, and effective reorganization plan. I get to be creative and at the center of important matters, which excited me when choosing a practice area.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Every day is different as a restructuring lawyer; I’m very rarely bored. You are always dealing with something new. Even well into your career, you may encounter an entirely novel issue. There is no part of the law that we do not touch, which is why restructuring lawyers are often said to be “generalists.” We know enough to be dangerous in various areas of law, but we also rely on collaborating with our colleagues who have expertise in their respective fields. For example, I often work closely with my tax colleagues to understand the tax implications of a restructuring transaction or whether tax attributes can be monetized to generate additional value. I work closely with my banking & finance and capital markets colleagues to find ways to access capital for a distressed company. I also work closely with our M&A colleagues on corporate governance matters, and our litigators on assessing fraudulent transfer and preference claims.
Some days, my work is very corporate-heavy, and I will be negotiating an asset purchase agreement or defining the terms of a financing deal. Other days, my work is focused on operational concerns, like helping a company determine how to make payroll or negotiate employment agreements. And other days, I am litigation focused, reviewing a motion or analyzing case law relating to a novel issue, preparing witnesses, and gearing up for trial.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
On-the-job training is the most important way to develop your skills. Taking certain law classes may help someone new to the field learn some of the jargon, but real-world training is the best way to gain experience in restructuring. Weil provides top-notch skill workshops for summer associates, so being engaged and excited to learn are the most important thing to have on day one. Building relationships with informal mentors and watching senior associates is also a great way to develop because you can learn what they actually are doing on a daily basis. When I joined Weil as a summer associate, I gained a lot of knowledge that way.
What do you like best about your practice area?
My work is intellectually and emotionally rewarding. I genuinely feel I am making a positive contribution. For each company-side representation that I’m involved in, a lot of parties are affected. If the Weil team is able to successfully reorganize a company, parties who have a stake in the company’s future are positively impacted; for example, employees who depend on that company for their livelihood continue to have jobs and creditors who have done business with the company by supplying valuable goods and services get to see a recovery on their claims, which may mean the difference between staying in business or not.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
One unfortunate misconception about restructuring is that it is a niche practice area and will limit a person’s career goals. I think young associates are afraid that it will not be a good stepping stone to the next stage of their career, but I’ve seen exactly the opposite. Because we gain experience in so many areas of law, I think restructuring attorneys are very well equipped with a wide skill set to either remain with the practice area or move into an entirely different space.
Many in-house positions require an attorney to deal with various parts of a company, so someone who can do a bit of everything may be better suited to that than someone who is hyper-focused in one area. Weil provides young associates with that kind of broad experience so that they are ready to succeed regardless of where their career takes them.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
Our practice is fast-paced and sophisticated. Junior lawyers who demonstrate they are able and willing to take on significant responsibility early are rewarded with opportunities to do exactly that. Typically, junior lawyers would be expected to research and draft memos, draft procedural and substantive motions dealing with various issues, interface with the client and opposing counsel on calls and in person, and speak in court.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain at this practice area at your firm?
I started my Weil career as a summer associate and haven’t left since. At Weil, you are given a surprising amount of access to attorneys across practices and offices. These people become informal sounding boards and sources of advice. Through observing them, you get a clear picture of how your career could evolve and what partners do day to day.
You also gain practical, substantive experiences while a summer associate at Weil. We want you to do real work and treat you the same as we would a first-year associate. That way, by the time you actually are a first- or second-year associate, you already have the skills and background knowledge that are required to succeed.
Summer associates should also expect Weil to focus heavily on formal mentorship. Mentorship only works if both parties are invested and, at Weil everyone is more than willing to invest their time in building effective mentoring relationships. I found those relationships to be invaluable when I was a summer associate, and I enjoy being on the other side of them now.