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The Enron affair has so far left thousands of people without jobs or retirement benefits, fleeced investors out of millions, and is rapidly bringing Arthur Andersen LLP to its demise. It’s just this sort of occasion that revives the old saw about how lawyers, at least, are the only ones to reap gold out of corporate tragedies. But never before, it seems — not in the impeachment or election crises, not when Microsoft Corp. was set upon by trustbusters and competitors, not when the entire S&L industry plunged en masse off a cliff — has a single event filled so many large firms’ time sheets at once. By our count, 107 firms out of The Am Law 200 — the 200 top-grossing firms based in the United States — are involved in Enron-collapse-related work: bankruptcy, litigation, M&A, criminal defense or the fallout at Andersen. That’s not counting smaller firms that are, naturally, keeping busy representing plaintiffs and the like. It doesn’t count all the government lawyers who have burrowed into the case as well. And it’s not counting all the firms answering the questions of clients that are anxious not to be the next Enron — which is to say, every other corporation in America. It’s 107 firms — so far — that have gotten work as a direct result of Enron Corp.’s collapse. Ken Lay, we owe ya one! The work is varied and far-flung: from white-collar criminal defense to contract disputes to restructuring, handled by firms based in more than two dozen cities. Getting a piece of the work was — and still is — a top priority everywhere. “If I were not involved in material aspects of this case, I’d be doing something wrong,” says Michael Etkin, a bankruptcy partner at Roseland, N.J.’s Lowenstein Sandler. Etkin represents several companies with Enron contracts, including Lucent Technologies Inc. Expect even more firms to join in. “This is just the opening shot,” says Todd Zywicki of George Mason University Law School. Since December 2001, Enron’s lawyers and bankers have tried to sell off assets and come up with a reorganization plan. But this current phase will probably be followed by months of preference litigation involving companies that did business with Enron within 90 days of its bankruptcy filing, says Zywicki. Ka-ching! Firms that already represent clients in the bankruptcy could be conflicted out of that work, and new parties could be named in litigation, making room for fresh troops to take the field. The payout, when it comes, will be huge. Experts predict that total professional fees will soar into the hundreds of millions, including the consultant and financial adviser fees. Most of that money, at least in New York bankruptcies like Enron, usually goes to the lawyers, says Lynn LoPucki, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles Law School. LoPucki has tracked the fees in public companies’ bankruptcies. One of the largest fee awards in a bankruptcy of a U.S. public company was Federated Department Stores Inc.’s estimated $120 million tab. That was a decade ago — and Enron’s will most likely surpass that figure. Just the first two months in the Enron case proves the point: almost $20 million in fees and expenses racked up by lawyers and other professionals, according to Legal Times, our Washington, D.C., sibling publication. Says Zywicki, whose bankruptcy law class doubled in size this semester: “[Even] students know where the money is.” Of course, the bulk of the fees, not to mention publicity, goes to the debtor’s firm. About 50 partners and counsel, and 100 associates, at New York’s Weil, Gotshal & Manges billed almost 15,000 hours in December, or $6.2 million in fees. It helps that it’s generally challenging work that requires interaction with just about every party involved in the bankruptcy. That’s where lawyers get their hands dirty. “Somebody’s got to sort through the garbage,” says G. Ray Warner, a professor at the University of Missouri Kansas City Law School. Weil Gotshal lawyers “are the garbage men of [the Enron matter],” he says — the neatly dressed, $500-an-hour kind, of course. Harvey Miller, head of Weil Gotshal’s restructuring practice, prefers different language: “I’d call us the bandleader.” But it’s not just Weil Gotshal’s show. There’s work to spare for everyone. “The sheer size puts [Enron] in a class by itself,” says D.C.-based bankruptcy partner Mark Ellenberg of New York’s Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, who has shuttled to Houston for months, representing Enron. “I’m spending three days a week down there. And it’s not even our case — it’s Weil’s case.” Ellenberg and his firm, which represented Enron prebankruptcy, advises the company on its trading contract issues. Enron’s contracts with various vendors number in the thousands, and many are subject to complicated safe-harbor provisions. “It’s very tricky,” says Ellenberg, and there’s “very little case law” to guide the lawyers as they resolve contract disputes. He works with two other partners and about 15 associates, billing a total of about $400,000 a month, he says. Ellenberg expects that the Enron fairy will slip even more work under Cadwalader’s pillow: As counsel to the debtor, the firm interacts with thousands of adverse parties. To Cadwalader, those are potential clients that might need the firm’s services to protect themselves when making future deals with companies liable to go bankrupt. Fat fees are earned the old-fashioned way — by grinding out hours. Luc Despins, the Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy partner and counsel to the official committee of unsecured creditors of Enron, is starting to sound grumpy about his good fortune. Despins, along with about 20 Milbank partners, 33 associates and a dozen legal assistants, billed Enron $2.2 million in January alone, in total fees and expenses. His 220 hours a month on Enron, coupled with an additional 30 hours for other clients, have him working nearly around the clock. Plus, although he’s not in the public eye quite the way Weil Gotshal’s Martin Bienenstock or Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom’s Robert Bennett are, Despins still gets lots of media calls. He usually avoids them. Probably because of questions like these: Would you take this case if you had it to do all over again? A pause. Then a sigh. “You can’t turn down a case like Enron. You just … you just can’t,” he says. One hundred seven out of 200 law firms agree. Related charts: Top Billers — So Far The Am Law 100 The Am Law Second Hundred

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