Representing clients in bankruptcy and insolvency situations not only requires specialized knowledge of bankruptcy law, but also requires expertise in litigation and corporate law. Bankruptcy lawyers routinely address questions involving debt finance, securities, transactional, and tax law to assist clients in understanding their respective rights in a restructuring. At the same time, because a court process underlies the bankruptcy system, a bankruptcy lawyer must be skilled as a litigator and as a negotiator. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, a bankruptcy lawyer’s advice is fundamentally commercial. Thus, a bankruptcy lawyer must be sensitive to and understand the nuances of each distressed business, including its unique financial and operational aspects.
While some bankruptcy lawyers represent insolvent individuals, many corporate bankruptcy lawyers represent debtors, creditors, and groups of creditors in bankruptcy cases. When representing debtors, the bankruptcy lawyer’s involvement typically starts long before a company actually commences a bankruptcy case by counseling the debtor concerning strategic options. These options run the spectrum, from gaining the protections afforded by commencing a reorganization case under chapter 11 (to implement an asset sale, a consensual plan of reorganization, or perhaps a contested “cramdown” plan), to negotiating an out-of-court workout. Creditor representations similarly require strategic analysis and skilled advocacy. The challenge facing creditors’ counsel is not merely competing with the debtor and its shareholders, but also competing against other creditor constituencies with differing agendas. After all, the restructuring objectives of a trade creditor, a bond holder, a labor union, a government agency, or a creditor that may be junior or senior in the capital structure likely will vary, potentially to a substantial degree, depending on the circumstances.
In today’s dynamic financial restructuring landscape, bankruptcy lawyers also must tackle a host of ancillary issues. For example, cross-border insolvencies continue to grow in number and intricacy as businesses expand globally into legal jurisdictions around the world. Likewise, the advent and growth of structured financial products and derivatives adds additional layers of complexity to the already complex mix of legal and business issues that bankruptcy lawyers routinely confront. In addition, the bankruptcy process continues to serve as a springboard for M&A opportunities presenting distressed investors with opportunities to acquire assets at attractive valuations in the marketplace.
Bankruptcy law provides ample, important restructuring opportunities to financially troubled businesses and has made bankruptcy an effective business tool, as evidenced by the number of large business enterprises increasingly seeking the protections and benefits that bankruptcy affords.
Mark R. Somerstein, Partner