Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft global financial restructuring practice cochairs John Rapisardi and George Davis are leaving the firm with bankruptcy partner Peter Friedman to join O’Melveny & Myers, the latter firm announced Tuesday.
Davis and Rapisardi—both of whom joined Cadwalader six years ago in a high-profile lateral move from Weil, Gotshal & Manges—will become coheads of O’Melveny’s global restructuring group and work out of their new firm’s New York office. Suzzanne Uhland, a San Francisco–based partner who has served as head of O’Melveny’s restructuring practice, will now lead the firm’s U.S. practice group.
O’Melveny’s announcement came a day after Cadwalader said partners Gregory Petrick and Mark Ellenberg would assume leadership of the firm’s financial restructuring department. Petrick serves as managing partner of Cadwalader’s London office, while Ellenberg is based in Washington, D.C. At the same time, Cadwalader also announced the hires in London of Latham & Watkins partner Holly Neavill and Richards Kibbe & Orbe partner Louisa Watt, as the firm seeks to reorient its restructuring practice towards potential opportunities in Europe.
News of Davis and Rapisardi’s move was first reported Tuesday morning by Reuters. O’Melveny subsequently issued a press release confirming that it had hired the pair and Friedman from Cadwalader.
In a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon, Davis and Rapisardi praised Petrick and Ellenberg as consummate professionals and wished their former colleagues well. The duo also had plenty of good things to say about their new firm’s collegial culture, as well its roster of prominent attorneys that includes corporate partner and former firm chair Arthur Culvahouse Jr., appellate practice head Walter Dellinger III, and late senior partner Warren Christopher.
Rapisardi, 55, says that while he and Davis have been approached by several firms over the past few years, the decision to jump to O’Melveny was driven at least in part by a relationship he has with current firm chair Bradley Butwin that grew out of their shared experience working on the mid-nineties bankruptcy of commercial real estate company Olympia & York.
"I’d been at Cadwalader for six years and you don’t take a move like this lightly," says Rapisardi, noting that he worked to get Davis excited about a move to O’Melveny. "I’m at the stage of my career where I want to have fun and not worry about short-term metrics based on billable hours or origination credits. It’s not about money or glory."
O’Melveny’s Butwin, who was elected to replace Culvahouse as head of the firm in 2011, jokes that the former Cadwalader partners had 50 meetings with partners at his firm to determine if the fit was right. In the end, all parties involved found they shared some key banking and private equity clients, with Davis and Rapisardi’s predominantly East Coast–centric practice dovetailing nicely with O’Melveny’s restructuring strengths in Asia, Europe, and the West Coast.
Davis and Rapisardi are comfortable handling either debtor’s side work—the two handled the mammoth bankruptcy of chemical company LyondellBasell—or representing lenders, in particular large banks rather than "fringe creditors who aren’t in the money," Davis says.
He cites O’Melveny’s hire last year of Shearman & Sterling’s Americas capital markets chair Michael Schiavone, as well as a team of lawyers from now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf led by former New York office managing partner Junaid Chida and corporate cochair Richard Shutran, as key factors in his decision to leave Cadwalader. Davis, 47, further praises O’Melveny for its "cohesion and camaraderie," as well as its "qualitative" and "holistic" approach to training associates so they "can approach their maximum potential."
The American Lawyer reported in a 2011 feature story on Butwin’s efforts to rebuild O’Melveny on the heels of several financially challenging years. Last year, according to our previous reports, the firm saw its gross revenue rise 5.1 percent to $818.5 million and profits per partner surge 19.4 percent to a record $2.06 million.
Cadwalader, which made a big lateral hire of its own earlier this year when it brought on former Cravath, Swaine & Moore corporate partner and ex–JPMorgan Chase North American M&A cohead James Woolery, saw its gross revenue rise 4 percent in 2012 to $466.5 million and it profits per partner jump 11.6 percent to $2.65 million.
New York–based legal recruiter Corrao Miller Wiesenthal brokered the Cadwalader trio’s move to O’Melveny. Friedman, who works out of Washington, D.C., previously practiced at Weil with Davis and Rapisardi. The three attorneys, along with former Weil restructuring partners Deryck Palmer and Andrew Troop, all joined Cadwalader in early 2007, according to sibling publication the New York Law Journal.
Cadwalader’s restructuring group was chaired at the time by former Weil partner Bruce Zirinsky, who joined Cadwalader in 2001 and left the firm in early 2009 for Greenberg Traurig. (Zirinsky was joined at Greenberg in 2011 by former Cadwalader senior partner Dennis Block.) Palmer and Rapisardi were named cochairs of Cadwalader’s restructuring group after Zirinsky’s departure, but Palmer left the firm with Troop early last year for Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, according to our previous reports.
Davis, Rapisardi, and Friedman are on the move at a time when U.S. bankruptcy filings continue to drop in comparison to previous years in the face of a push by lenders to negotiate out-of-court restructurings instead of pursuing debtors in prolonged Chapter 11 cases.
Rapisardi, who counseled the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Obama administration’s U.S. auto industry task force on the federal government-backed bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors in 2009, is currently advising Baltimore-based advertising and marketing firm Vertis Holdings in its Chapter 11 proceedings, according to our previous reports. Rapisardi is also representing JPMorgan Chase, which is acting as administrative agent and lead debt arranger in the recent bankruptcy filing by Revel, a brand new hotel and casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Davis, meanwhile, has been busy counseling the trustee for Houston-based electric utility Dynegy, which emerged from Chapter 11 protection into the arms of its unsecured creditors last year after concluding sometimes tortured bankruptcy proceedings.
Cadwalader suffered another defection from its restructuring group on Tuesday as special counsel Douglas Mintz left the firm’s D.C. office to join Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, where he is now of counsel.