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Few people are more aware of the high demand for bankruptcy lawyers than Bruce R. Zirinsky. Since the start of the year, the head of the financial restructuring practice at New York’s Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft has seen five partners in his group leave for other firms and hired one himself. That level of activity at one firm is unusual, but it reflects the considerable flux in the bankruptcy bar this year. Workout lawyers have not seen a year like this in at least a decade. Through July 12, 131 public companies with assets of almost $120 billion have filed for bankruptcy, a 52 percent increase over the number of bankruptcies filed in the same period last year. That dramatic increase has left many firms scrambling for lawyers to do the work. Like many lateral moves in the tight-knit bankruptcy bar, Cadwalader’s hire came though a personal connection. In 1998, the 53-year-old Zirinsky moved to Cadwalader from Weil, Gotshal & Manges and invited fellow partner Adam C. Rogoff to join him. Rogoff admitted he finally succumbed to Zirinsky’s entreaties this summer. “It was an opportunity to have more of an active role in developing a practice,” Rogoff said. “Cadwalader’s department is smaller than Weil’s.” Cadwalader has seven bankruptcy partners; Weil has 23. Weil’s depth has made the firm an attractive target for firms looking to strengthen their bankruptcy practices at a time when such business is being fueled by the dot-com debacle. In February, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York lured Jan Banker from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which had lured him from Weil’s Houston office to run the Gibson bankruptcy practice in 1999. Baker was the most recent in a string of lateral hires Skadden has used to build its practice in the area. “As a firm, we’ve tended to know the people we’ve hired. Basically, we do this on a rifle-shot basis,” J. Gregory Milmoe, the co-head of Skadden’s corporate restructuring group, said. The practice has about 25 partners. Milmoe met Baker when the two worked on a bankruptcy several years ago. He was surprised when Baker left Weil and courted him aggressively: “I am guilty of pursuing the bejesus out of him,” Milmoe admitted. Weil lost another senior partner in May when Corinne Ball went to the New York office of Cleveland-based Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue. “There are very few places that have the commitment to the practice and the platform that Weil Gotshal has,” Ball said. She added that she joined Jones Day in hopes of building an international bankruptcy practice, a segment of ever-increasing importance. Milmoe says that half the matters he works on have a substantial international component, a considerable increase from boom in bankruptcies between 1989 and 1991. The desire for a more global practice helps account for two of the recent departures from Cadwalader. In May, Ken Coleman and David Frauman moved to the New York office of London’s Allen & Overy, one of the leading restructuring firms in Europe. “It was a pretty easy decision for me,” said Coleman. “[Allen & Overy's] U.K.-based insolvency practice has been known for quite a while as the best in the country. At our former firm, we could sell a transatlantic practice, but it was nothing like what Allen & Overy can offer.” Cadwalader has 15 bankruptcy lawyers in London, Zirinsky said. Allen & Overy has five partners and 22 other lawyers in London, according to a firm press official. Other firms’ ambitions have been more modest. Dewey Ballantine lured Michael Sage from Cadwalader in February. Sage specializes in representing creditors, he said, which was not an area on which Dewey had previously focused. Like most bankruptcy lawyers, Sage said: “I was receiving calls fairly regularly” from headhunters, one of whom called him about the Dewey job. Firms with even smaller practices are trying to bulk up. Atlanta-based King & Spalding had only nine bankruptcy lawyers before it hired Lawrence A. Larose and Mitchell I. Sonkin from Cadwalader this month. Earlier this year, Jeffrey Q. Smith, who had been co-chairman of Cadwalader’s litigation department, moved to King & Spalding, and Sonkin said that Smith’s move helped motivate his own. “The people who are here from my former firm are people I’m pretty close to,” Sonkin said, adding that he had considered going to other firms. “There were a number of opportunities that sought me out. This was one I thought was too compelling to say no to.” Zirinsky was nonplussed about the moves: “Here, on the partner level, the people who weren’t happy and/or thought the grass was greener some place else are gone.” He said he’s lured 10 associates and counsel from other firms who were in part attracted by the opportunities created by the recent departures. So great is the demand for bankruptcy lawyers that the hunted quickly become hunters upon changing firms. Andrew Goldman moved from Schulte, Roth & Zabel to Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in March and quickly discovered how hard it is to hire people. “There was one person I interviewed and when I called him two days later for a second round, he had already accepted an offer some place else,” Goldman said. “That’s how hot the market is.” Copyright (c)2001 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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