The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Bruce Bennett, Global Practice Leader—Business Restructuring and Reorganization
Bruce Bennett has represented debtors, creditors, and business acquirers in many of the United States’ largest corporate reorganizations in the retail, gaming, media, telecommunications, heavy industry, aviation, manufacturing, real estate, insurance, energy, banking, and computer technology sectors. Bruce is a member of the American College of Bankruptcy and the Financial Lawyers Conference.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
My work includes representation of 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. This may involve out-of-court negotiations to restructure a company’s financial affairs without the intervention of a court or bankruptcy reorganization cases.
What types of clients do you represent?
More than half of my practice involves representation of institutional investors who hold distressed debt or equity interests. Many of these clients are investment funds that specialize in investing in distressed instruments. Prominent examples include Oaktree Capital, Centerbridge Capital, and Appaloosa. I also periodically represent debtors (e.g., businesses or municipalities that are experiencing financial challenges). Examples include City of Detroit, Michigan; Orange County, California; and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
What types of deals and/or cases do you work on?
Virtually all of my cases involve some kind of debt restructuring. Some involve litigation concerning the rights of holders of debt instruments and the obligations of the issuers and guarantors of such instruments. Specific cases are listed in the biography above.
How did you choose this practice area?
Very few people go to law school planning to be a business restructuring and bankruptcy lawyer. I am not an exception. I took a law school class called “Business Reorganization,” not realizing that this really meant “Chapter 11 bankruptcy law.” Through taking that class, I was introduced to a bankruptcy boutique in Los Angeles. It sounded interesting. I spent the summer there and liked it and Los Angeles. The rest is history.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
One of the best things about the business reorganization and restructuring practice, generally, and at Jones Day, in particular, is that the practice involves a combination of negotiating and deal making as well as litigation. Accordingly, I get to do everything lawyers can do.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone hoping to enter your practice area?
All lawyers should take secured transactions—this course is also the foundation of many parts of bankruptcy law. Courses on corporation law (both basic and advanced—many of the most significant cases covered in these courses are bankruptcy cases) and accounting are also essential. Courses in bankruptcy law, particularly business bankruptcy, are also important, but our lawyers really learn about this when they start practicing. Courses covering Articles 3, 4, and 8 of the Uniform Commercial Code; securities law; and corporate taxation are also helpful.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
Bankruptcy cases are more often than not about distributing losses. Thus the negotiations can be particularly intense and the litigation highly contentious. It is important not to let this bleed into the rest of one’s life. I think I have been pretty successful in this area. My personal friends are always surprised when they hear opposing counsel talk about how difficult I can be in negotiations or in court.
What do you like best about your practice area?
I was initially attracted to the practice because it involved a mix of finance and law, and that remains one of the things I like best about the practice area.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
One misconception is that a bankruptcy practice mainly involves liquidations of failed businesses—a kind of matter that is not often very interesting. There are some firms where this is true; however, the Jones Day practice is focused on very large reorganization cases. We are sometimes involved in liquidations, but this kind of case is relatively rare for us, and when we are involved in a liquidation, it is a relatively large and complex case. Another misconception is that joining a business restructuring practice involves too much specialization. That is not true at all. First, because restructuring cases involve negotiation and litigation, one can acquire more skills working in this area than in other practices that involve only one discipline. Second, bankruptcy cases sit at the intersection of the law of corporations, taxation, secured transactions, contracts, and bankruptcy. This practice will broaden your experience, not narrow it.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Jones Day, unlike almost every other firm that practices in this area, is pretty evenly balanced between representation of debtors and creditors. Most firms focus on one or the other side of the practice. We firmly believe that the best creditors lawyers provide at least some experience representing debtors and that the best debtors lawyers offer experience representing creditors. Lawyers at Jones Day have many opportunities to work on both kinds of cases.