- Corporate bankruptcies have hit rock bottom, with just 143 filings this year as of May.
- But inflation, rising rates, and the “crypto winter” are creating a financial strain.
- Here are 16 lawyers who may benefit as more companies negotiate with lenders and restructure their debt.
Lawyers who specialize in bankruptcies and debt restructurings have not seen many new cases in court for more than a year — but some are betting that’ll soon change.
Bankruptcy filings, which have been on a downward spiral since last year, continue to slump. As of May, there were just 143 corporate bankruptcy filings, putting bankruptcies on pace for a record low. In 2021, there were just 410 filings, down from 640 in 2020, according to an S&P Global Market Intelligence report in June.
But there are pockets of activity, and more than a dozen top restructuring practitioners told Insider they expected more out-of-court workouts and new Chapter 11-protection filings over the next year. Conference-room negotiations between companies and their lenders, which tend to precede filings, are picking up speed, the lawyers said.
Supply-chain problems, the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and a decline in consumer confidence are likely to lead to distress, top restructuring attorneys said. These revenue pressures come at a time when lenders are less inclined to grant extensions for repayment or impose more conditions on such requests, top restructuring experts said.
“No one really sees any stopping of supply-chain shortages. COVID is going to hang around for a while, and, obviously, the war in Ukraine continues to create all kinds of issues,” Kris Hansen, who cochairs the financial-restructuring group at Paul Hastings, said. “I think you’ll see more restructurings in Europe. I think you’ll see more restructurings here in the US, and as a result, you’ll see a lot more cross-border work as well.”
In the meantime, mass tort cases (where large numbers of plaintiffs are seeking damages from makers of products like opioids and talcum baby powder); the strains on the traditional retail, service, and hospitality industries; and the so-called crypto winter are driving the bulk of the bankruptcy litigation and restructuring work.
And major debtor companies are showing up to court with top restructuring firms in tow. Kirkland & Ellis is representing the crypto lender Celsius and the crypto brokerage Voyager Digital, while Revlon filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June under Paul, Weiss’ representation.
Top firms like Latham & Watkins are also advising in the mass-tort-bankruptcy space — where companies spin off injury claims into a separate entity and put it into bankruptcy to deal with injury claimants as if they’re creditors.
The work is highly lucrative for firms playing major roles in large bankruptcies, as many retail cases during the pandemic have shown. For just the roughly four-month window when Neiman Marcus filed for bankruptcy in 2020 and emerged with an exit plan, Kirkland secured more than $10 million in fees for its work representing the luxury-apparel retailer, according to filings in the case. When Weil, Gotshal & Manges represented J.Crew, the law firm sought about $13.6 million in fees for its work during a similar four-month period the same year.
Here are 16 top restructuring attorneys — representing companies, lenders, landlords, creditors, buyers, and other important stakeholders — who are expected to help their firms rake in tens of millions in fees as bankruptcies rise.
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