The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Aparna Yenamandra, Partner—Restructuring
Aparna Yenamandra is a restructuring partner in the New York office of Kirkland & Ellis. (She was also a summer associate and associate at Kirkland.) She advises companies and creditors with investments in distressed companies across a host of industries, including oil and gas, retail, and software. From a company perspective, she advises companies in connection with Chapter 11 filings and out-of-court deleveraging solutions. She also advises creditors in connection with distressed investments and sale transactions. Aparna received her B.A. in Economics and Political Science from New York University and her J.D. from Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Restructuring is a dynamic practice that has both transactional elements and litigation elements. Among others, we represent companies, creditors of distressed companies, and funds looking to potentially invest in the distressed space. Our practice is primarily focused on deal-making and contingency planning to allow companies to either avoid a Chapter 11 altogether or to ensure their stay in Chapter 11 is as expeditious and successful as possible. Our ultimate goal is to advise the client on a restructuring strategy that is most likely to ensure its stability and long-term success.
What types of clients do you represent?
In the U.S., our practice is approximately 75-80 percent company side and 20-25 percent creditor/investor side. In London, Munich, and Hong Kong, it is the reverse, although our offices in the U.S. and internationally are fully integrated. We represent the largest and most complex clients and are industry agnostic. For example, in recent years, oil and gas has been the focus of the restructuring community, then retail, and now telecom and health care have come into focus. Among other large clients, we have represented Chesapeake Energy, Intelsat, Frontier Communications, J.C. Penney, Energy Future Holdings, iHeart, and Toys ‘R Us. Our representations of Seadrill and Intelsat, in particular, reflected the cross-integration of our domestic and international offices.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
As a group, we largely prepare companies for an expeditious stay in Chapter 11. We work hard to negotiate consensus with as many creditor constituencies as possible, but we are prepared to litigate where necessary. In addition, we advise companies on out-of-court deleveraging transactions (e.g., a debt-for-equity swap, an amendment and extension of debt facilities and/or sale transactions). For my first several years at Kirkland, I spent the majority of my time on Energy Future Holdings, which was the third-largest operational filing in history. Since then, I have worked on a number of high-profile retail matters, including J.C. Penney, Forever 21, and Tailored Brands (the parent company for Men’s Wearhouse and Jos A. Bank).
How did you choose this practice area?
I chose restructuring because I liked (and still like!) that it has a mix of both litigation and corporate elements. It affords me an opportunity to both sit at the negotiating table and present arguments in court, providing a very comprehensive experience to any young lawyer. I also liked that the restructuring practice puts you in a position to help companies during what is typically a high-stress time for them. Helping to reorganize a company, stabilize its operations, save jobs, and “keep the lights on” is hugely satisfying.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
A typical day changes dramatically the longer you are here. I have been in Kirkland’s Restructuring group for eight-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 (regarding issues or strategy), mentoring younger associates to develop pleadings and deal documents, and working on various client presentations. I also coordinate with my senior partners to make sure the communication lines are constantly open and that we are working together as cohesively as possible.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
While in law school, 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.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
I think many people outside of the legal industry think of the restructuring practice as a proxy for Chapter 7 liquidations—that is simply not true; we rarely pivot to a Chapter 7 liquidation. Our focus is always on restoring operations and getting back to normal as quickly as possible following a Chapter 11 filing and consummating a deleveraging deal that results in a leaner, more stable post-emergence company. In addition, sometimes people think of restructuring as a niche practice, when, in fact, restructuring lawyers are true “generalist” lawyers. We advise businesses through a complex and stressful process, and that advice often touches upon every type of legal practice.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Kirkland’s Restructuring practice is truly unique. We are a young, highly energized group that is growing quickly, yet retains a small-group feel. Leadership is laser focused on maximizing the group’s diversity, ensuring that young lawyers have opportunities as early as possible, and encouraging a healthy work-life balance. Our cases are generally staffed fairly leanly, which means that there are not a number of layers between the senior partners and most junior associates. This not only gives junior associates an opportunity to take on more substantive work, but it also helps bridge relationships among the deal teams. We are also office agnostic—all of our cases are cross-staffed between our primary New York and Chicago teams, which gives every team a chance to get to work with as broad of a group as possible.
What do you like best about your practice area?
There are a number of things that I really like about the restructuring practice. First, we work with virtually every practice group in the firm (tax, litigation, debt finance, capital markets, M&A, etc.), which allows me to develop relationships and get a snapshot of the work that others do. Second, every day is completely unpredictable and different from the previous day, which keeps things dynamic and interesting. Third, as distressed industries change, we get to become subject matter experts in the industry—that means we are always learning about new industries and new companies (often high-profile ones), which I really enjoy.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
A junior lawyer in this practice area will have the opportunity to perform a variety of different tasks. For example, in the early stages of a Chapter 11 case (when we are preparing the company for a filing), a junior lawyer will be very involved in the prep. This will mean talking to the client and other advisors to make sure our “first day” pleadings (which request relief from the bankruptcy court to continue to operate in the normal course post-filing) are thorough and accurate. Additionally, a junior lawyer may work with the debt finance team to prepare the company’s request for financing. After the filing, a junior lawyer will work closely with the client to ensure that they are operating within the guidelines of Chapter 11, and will work with senior attorneys and other advisors to document a plan for reorganization that will allow the company to emerge from Chapter 11.