Masters of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and experts in wearing many different hats, bankruptcy lawyers are a nimble bunch who work across disciplines. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, bankruptcy/restructuring has become busier than ever, making it an attractive practice for many developing lawyers—and even for experienced lawyers who want to explore another area. But what does a bankruptcy lawyer’s day to day look like?
In Vault’s newly released guide Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas, lawyers from top-ranked Bankruptcy/Restructuring practices shared their experiences working in this area of law. Read on for their insights on what it is like to practice bankruptcy law and what law students and burgeoning lawyers can do to prepare to work in this field.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Ronit J. Berkovich, Partner—Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP: There is no typical day. Because restructuring is such a hybrid practice, I could do any or all of the following on a single day:
- Negotiating a debtor-in-possession loan or a restructuring support agreement.
- Arguing in court.
- Advising a board of directors.
- Participating in team meetings where we discuss creative strategies for solving our client’s problems.
- Reviewing a memorandum by an associate analyzing a particular legal issue and discussing the issue with the associate.
- Analyzing loan documents or indentures.
- Meeting with the company, its financial advisors, and its investment bankers to discuss strategy and options.
- Editing a motion or brief.
- Reading pleadings that have been filed by other parties in my cases.
- Negotiating and marking up an asset purchase agreement.
- Analyzing a proposed restructuring plan.
Sometimes I wake up knowing exactly what my day will entail, and other times, I show up and have to do some quick calendar-shifting to accommodate this fast-paced practice.
Stephen L. Iacovo, Associate—Kirkland & Ellis LLP: The best part about being a restructuring lawyer is that there is no typical day. Some days, I’ll be at a client’s offices, working with the client and its other advisers to formulate a restructuring strategy and prepare the company for a Chapter 11 filing. The next week, I might be in court seeking confirmation of a Chapter 11 plan. The days in between are spent on conference calls and in meetings trying to broker agreements to piece together a global deal and drafting various court-related documents, such as first day motions, plans of reorganization, claim objections, sale motions, and orders. I’ve even drafted bankruptcy appellate briefs. On any given week, I can find myself at a client’s headquarters anywhere in the world, at a meeting with key lender groups in New York, or in court anywhere in the U.S.
Rachael Ringer, Partner—Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP: It would be difficult to describe a “typical” day in this field because, more often than not, the day shapes itself around time-sensitive issues pertaining to various active matters. That being said, my days are usually filled with client calls, internal and external meetings (including with fellow professionals on a given case, both on the same side and across the aisle), the drafting of pleadings or agreements, negotiations with adversaries, and frequent trips to court for those matters actively in bankruptcy. The culture at Kramer Levin, however, is extremely collegial, and I have close friendships with many of my col- leagues. So while days and nights are filled with extensive and substantive work, many days also involve some sort of camaraderie within our department—be it birthdays, other celebrations, or the occasional “pizza Friday.”
Aparna Yenamandra, Partner—Kirkland & Ellis LLP: A typical day changes dramatically the longer you are here. I have been at Kirkland in the restructuring group for six-and-a-half years. A typical day for me at this stage is a mix of fielding inbound questions from senior members of the management team and board members as to either issues that have arisen or broader restructuring strategy questions; working with younger associates to develop pleadings, deal documents, and various client presentations; and coordinating with my senior partners to make sure the communication lines are constantly open and that we are working together as cohesively as possible.
Maja Zerjal, Partner—Proskauer Rose LLP: No day is the same, and the variety in this practice area is what I like the best. A typical day can include the review or drafting of briefs or other pleadings, an analysis of a credit agreement or capital structure of a company, calls or meetings with restructuring financial advisors (who are involved in almost every case), and internal meetings. This is a practice area that rewards creative, out-of-the box thinking, and it is standard practice in our group to discuss issues with other colleagues to ensure we get to the best solution.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Ronit J . Berkovich: There is no class that is an absolute prerequisite for bankruptcy—not even a bankruptcy class. You will learn what you need to know on the job. Nevertheless, I think the following are the most helpful classes: bankruptcy/reorganization, secured transactions, corporate finance, and any class that teaches you to analyze/negotiate contracts.
Rachael Ringer: A career in the restructuring field requires a significant amount of negotiation, court appearances, and brief-writing, and it is one of the rare practice areas that truly straddles the transactional and litigation fields. Facilitating success on both sides, thus, requires confidence and oral argument skills (moot court or mock trial are good options for law students, and deposition training programs are great for young lawyers), as well as significant attention to detail and an ability to craft clear, concise, and innovative arguments in a persuasive manner. On this latter point, writing workshops are always valuable, as are those programs that emphasize meticulousness, like law review or school journals.
Aparna Yenamandra: I would recommend taking a broad base of classes, including those touching on business organizations, evidence, federal tax, accounting, trial advocacy, and legal writing. A secured transactions class may also be helpful to understand bankruptcy basics. Much of what we do involves working with investment bankers, so any business-related classes would be helpful. In addition, if there is an opportunity to clerk with a bankruptcy judge, that could be helpful to understanding restructuring from the bench’s perspective. All that being said, Kirkland offers a wealth of training sessions on key topics, and nothing beats on-the-job training.
Maja Zerjal: A background in finance or accounting is a plus. Taking bankruptcy or related classes in law school helps, although it has not been a prerequisite for our group, since we consider teaching and mentoring part of our daily routine. Given the various areas our practice expands to, any class on corporations and corporate governance helps, as do classes on law and economics and game theory, which help further one’s understanding of negotiation strategies and outcomes in restructuring cases. In terms of skills, the ability to multitask or complete tasks efficiently helps because we often work under tight deadlines.
Click here to read more insights from these lawyers about their bankruptcy/restructuring practices as well as Q&As from more than 100 lawyers across 24 other practice areas. (If you are a law student, you may have free access to the Practice Perspectives guide through your law school—check with your career services office for your login.)
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