- Business bankruptcies have bottomed out, with just 143 filings this year in May.
- But inflation, rising rates and “crypto winter” are creating financial pressure.
- Here are 16 lawyers who could benefit from more companies negotiating with lenders and restructuring their debt.
Bankruptcy and debt restructuring lawyers haven’t seen many new cases in court for more than a year – but some are betting that will soon change.
Bankruptcy filings, which have been on a downward spiral since last year, continue to plummet. In May, there were just 143 corporate bankruptcy filings, putting bankruptcies at a record high. In 2021, there were just 410 filings, down from 640 in 2020, according to a report by S&P Global Market Intelligence in June.
But there are pockets of activity, and more than a dozen top restructuring practitioners told Insider they expect more out-of-court workouts and new protective filings in under Chapter 11 within the next year. Boardroom negotiations between companies and their lenders, which tend to precede filings, are gaining momentum, the lawyers said.
Supply chain issues, uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation and a drop in consumer confidence are likely to lead to distress, top restructuring lawyers said. These revenue pressures come at a time when lenders are less willing to grant repayment extensions or place more conditions on such requests, top restructuring experts have said.
“Nobody really sees the end of supply chain shortages. COVID is going to drag on for a while and obviously the war in Ukraine continues to create all kinds of problems,” Kris Hansen, co-chairman of the restructuring group financial to Paul Hastings, said. “I think you’ll see more restructuring in Europe. I think you’ll see more restructuring here in the United States, and therefore you’ll see a lot more cross-border work as well.”
Meanwhile, mass tort cases (where a large number of plaintiffs are seeking damages from the makers of products like opioids and baby powder); pressures on traditional retail, service and hospitality sectors; and the so-called crypto winter are driving the bulk of bankruptcy litigation and restructuring work.
And big corporate debtors come to court with the best restructuring firms. Kirkland & Ellis represents crypto lender Celsius and crypto brokerage Voyager Digital, while Revlon filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June under the representation of Paul, Weiss.
Leading companies like Latham & Watkins also advise in the area of mass bankruptcies – where companies spin injury claims into a separate entity and bankrupt it to treat claimants as if they were creditors.
The job is very lucrative for companies playing a major role in major bankruptcies, as numerous 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 earned more than $10 million in fees for his work representing the luxury apparel retailer, according to the documents filed in the case. When Weil, Gotshal & Manges represented J.Crew, the law firm sought approximately $13.6 million in fees for its work during a similar four-month period that same year.
Here are 16 top restructuring lawyers — representing businesses, lenders, owners, creditors, buyers and other important stakeholders — who stand to help their businesses reap tens of millions in fees as bankruptcies rise.