Lehman filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy early Monday, declaring $639 billion in assets and $613 billion in debts. Weil, Gotshal & Manges scored the job of debtors counsel, with Harvey Miller leading the team. Miller handled the bankruptcy of Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. in 1990, the last major investment bank to go under.
The job comes at a time when attention had focused on whether Weil’s famed bankruptcy practice was losing its edge. The firm has seen a series of bankruptcy partner departures in recent years. Man of the hour Harvey Miller himself left in 2002 for investment bank Greenhill & Co., Inc., only to return last year.
Miller joined Weil in 1969 and brought the firm a bankruptcy practice at a time when most Wall Street firms weren’t touching it. “Bankruptcy was distinctly out of vogue at big firms at the time, but Weil, Gotshal’s partnership agreed that the firm would commit to a reorganization department,” Alison Frankel wrote in an 1992 profile of the firm in The American Lawyer. “By 1975… Miller had established himself and his department so solidly that he joined the management committee,” according to that article. Work on the bankruptcies of Continental Airlines Inc., Texaco, Inc., and Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. solidified Weil’s reputation as a powerhouse in the field.
But the firm Miller rejoined last year is not the same Weil Gotshal. Firms such as Kirkland & Ellis and Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft have recruited away several Weil partners. Just in November, Dewey & LeBoeuf recruited Weil restructuring cohead Martin Bienenstock. Today, the firm’s Web site lists 45 lawyers in the business finance and restructuring practice.
Conflicts with firm clients also kept Weil sidelined out of recent debtor counsel assignments, lawyers at the firm said last year. Still, upon returning, Miller told The American Lawyer that he was confident Weil’s bankruptcy work would pick back up. “I left at a time when they were running at full capacity,” he says. “The business cycle has changed, but it will come back.”
Apparently he was right, to Wall Street’s regret. So far, along with Miller, four other Weil lawyers are listed in court documents: partners Richard Krasnow, Lori Fife, Shai Waisman, and Jacqueline Marcus. A spokesman for Weil did not immediately return a call or e-mail seeking comment.