Bankruptcy filings during the one-year period ending this past June 30 are down 13 percent when compared to the previous year, according to data compiled by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, marking the lowest total for bankruptcy filings in any 12-month period since the one ending December 31, 2008.

And while much has been made about the wave of recession-driven bankruptcies receding in recent years, the drop, at least in part, could be offset by a potential increase in municipal bankruptcy work. In the interim, several Am Law 100 firms have been busy lately grabbing lead roles on a handful of noteworthy Chapter 11 cases. As usual, hourly billing rates are in parentheses, when available.

American Roads LLC

A week after the Motor City began its record-setting municipal bankruptcy proceedings, American Roads, operator of the mile-long Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, filed for Chapter 11 in Manhattan on July 25. The Detroit-based debtor, spun off in 2006 by Australian investment bank Macquarie Group, lists more than $100 million in assets against $830 million in debts related to swaps and bonds.

American Roads didn’t blame Detroit’s bankruptcy filing for its own financial problems, but noted in a court filing that the city’s economic troubles and decrease in population had hurt its own bottom line. Sean O’Neal, a restructuring partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, has taken the lead driving American Roads through its bankruptcy case.

Cleary partners are billing between $825 and $1,130 per hour, counsel between $760 and $1,130, senior attorneys between $745 and $870, associates $430 to $735, and international lawyers at $385 per hour. The firm holds a $500,000 retainer for its services and over the past year has been paid nearly $1.8 million in fees and expenses for its work on behalf of American Roads, according to court records.

Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle is serving as conflict counsel to the debtor via restructuring and insolvency cochair Steven Reisman. Bankruptcy court filings show that Curtis has received a $50,000 retainer for its services, with partners billing between $740 and $860 per hour, of counsel $635 per hour, and associates $305 to $600.

Monoline insurer Syncora Guarantee, a unit of Bermuda-based Syncora Holdings that also has a role in the Detroit case, is poised to take control of American Roads as part of a prepackaged reorganization plan agreed to by the debtor. Hunton & Williams bankruptcy partners Peter Partee Sr. and Michael Richman (the latter joined the firm last year from Patton Boggs) are advising Syncora in American Roads’s Chapter 11 proceedings.

Cleary has previously handled work for New York–based infrastructure investment firm Alinda Capital Partners, which will cede ownership of American Roads to Syncora in bankruptcy court. The firm has been representing Alinda in litigation with Syncora filed in state court in Manhattan over the viability of toll road facilities operated by American Roads, according to industry publication Toll Roads News. Alinda's general counsel is Joseph Kelleher.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is advising Macquarie in that litigation, which has been covered by legal newswire Law360, while Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan is representing Syncora. Bryan Cave partner Stephanie Wickouski is representing collateral agent The Bank of New York Mellon in American Roads’s bankruptcy case.

Cengage Learning

Once known as Thomson Learning, Stamford, Connecticut–based textbook publisher Cengage Learning filed for bankruptcy in Brooklyn on July 2, seeking to trim about $4 billion from a $5.8 billion debt load. Bloomberg reports that the company, which lists more than $1 billion in assets, is the second-largest publisher of college course material in the United States.

Kirkland & Ellis restructuring partners Jonathan Henes ($1,025 per hour), Ross Kwasteniet ($840), Christopher Marcus ($895), and James Sprayregen are serving as bankruptcy counsel to Cengage, which is owned by private equity firms Apax Partners and OMERS Capital Partners. An hourly rate for Sprayregen, who rejoined Kirkland in late 2008 after a stint at Goldman Sachs, was not readily available. (Apax is a part owner of ALM Media, parent company and publisher of The Am Law Daily.)

After Thomson Corporation announced its $17.5 billion megamerger with Reuters Group in May 2007, Thomson sought to finance that deal by unloading its educational business to Apax and OMERS for $7.8 billion, yielding roles for Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Shearman & Sterling, and Canadian firms Goodman & Carr, Stikeman Elliott, and Torys, according to a report at the time by sibling publication New York Law Journal. Simpson bankruptcy head Peter Pantaleo, bankruptcy partner Elisha Graff, and litigation partner William Russell Jr. are currently advising Apax in Cengage’s Chapter 11 case.

Kirkland partners are billing Cengage between $655 and $1,150 per hour, of counsel between $450 and $1,150, and associates at rates ranging from $430 to $790. Kirkland has also received nearly $4 million in retainer payments since being hired in March by Cengage—all of which are listed in a declaration by Henes—and the firm currently holds a “classic retainer” in the amount of $500,000, according to court records.

Willkie Farr & Gallagher business reorganization and restructuring cochair Marc Abrams and partner Shaunna Jones are serving as special investigation counsel to Cengage’s board of directors. Court records show that the firm was retained in May for a probe into Apax’s acquisition of company debt. Willkie lawyers are billing between $310 and $1,130 an hour and the firm has so far received $658,876 for it services, of which it holds $375,606 in an unapplied retainer.

Andrew Silfen, chair of the bankruptcy and financial restructuring group at Arent Fox in New York, and partner Robert Hirsh are representing an official committee of unsecured creditors in Cengage’s Chapter 11 case. Kenneth Carson serves as general counsel for Cengage, while Luke Brussel is the company’s chief compliance officer and assistant general counsel.

Maxcom Telecomunicaciones S.A.B.

Mexican telecommunications company Maxcom Telecomunicaciones filed for bankruptcy in Delaware on July 23 under a prepackaged plan to cede control to an investor group led by private equity firm Ventura Capital. The debtor lists $11.1 billion in assets against $402.3 million in debt. Bank of America owns 40 percent of the Mexico City–based carrier, which has struggled to compete with billionaire Carlos Slim Helu’s America Movil, according to Bloomberg.

Kirkland restructuring partners Marc Kieselstein ($1,025) and Adam Paul ($895) are advising Maxcom in its Chapter 11 case. A declaration by Kieselstein shows that Kirkland currently holds a $300,000 retainer after being paid more than $1.2 million by the debtor since May. Partners from the firm are billing between $655 and $1,150 per hour, of counsel between $450 and $1,150, and associates at rates ranging from $430 to $790.

Laura Davis Jones ($975), a name partner at national bankruptcy boutique Pachulski Stang Ziehl & Jones and managing partner of the firm’s Wilmington office, is serving as cocounsel to Maxcom. Pachulski Stang has received $93,195 from the debtor in the year prior to its bankruptcy case, according to court records.

Fernando del Castillo ($390), a litigation partner with Santamarina y Steta, is serving as Mexican legal counsel to Maxcom. Partners at the Mexico City–based firm, which received $50,130 from the debtor in the 90 days prior to its bankruptcy case, are billing at $390 per hour and associates at rates ranging from $189 to $241.

Gonzalo Alarcon Iturbide serves as in-house legal counsel to Maxcom, whose new owner, Ventura Capital, is being advised by Delaware’s Morris Nichols Arsht & Tunnell and Paul Hastings global restructuring chair Luc Despins, who joined his firm nearly five years ago in a high-profile lateral move from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway

Saddled with escalating cleanup costs and a spate of suits stemming from an explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people last month, 149-year-old train operator Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway filed for bankruptcy in Bangor, Maine, on August 7.

The Hermon, Maine–based company has also filed a petition for protection under Canada’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act in Quebec Superior Court, setting up a potential cross-border litigation and bankruptcy battle between the company and lawyers representing victims of one of the deadliest rail crashes in North America.

MMA, a subsidiary of privately owned Rosemont, Illinois–based Rail World Holdings, is currently the subject of a criminal investigation by Canadian prosecutors looking into the circumstances surrounding the derailment of a train of oil tankers that subsequently detonated, tearing through downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on July 6.

One of Maine’s oldest firms, Verrill Dana, is advising MMA in its Chapter 11 case through restructuring partner Roger Clement Jr. Verrill Dana, which has previously handled litigation work for MMA, has not yet filed billing statements with the bankruptcy court. (The National Law Journal, a sibling publication, reported this week on Verrill Dana’s recent merger with 12-lawyer Portland shop Friedman Gaythwaite Wolf.)

According to a list of MMA’s 20 largest unsecured creditors, the debtor has two separate claims against it from Canadian firm Gowling Lafleur Henderson totaling $165,060. Benjamin Marcus, managing director of Maine firm Drummond Woodsum, and litigation partner Jeffrey Piampiano are advising MMA’s liability insurer XL in the debtors’ Chapter 11 case.

MMA’s chairman Edward Burkhardt told the CBC last week that his company could have done more to prevent the disaster, blaming insurance companies like XL for being slow to fund cleanup operations in Lac-Mégantic, which is also seeking money from oil companies whose merchandise exploded on MMA’s trains.

Burkhardt, a once well-regarded rail industry executive, said Wednesday that it was obvious that the company's assets in the U.S. and Canada paled in comparison to its mounting obligations from the Lac-Mégantic blast. MMA has since let go of at least 24 workers from its Quebec operations in a cost-cutting measure.

Last month Dimitri Lascaris, an ex–card shark and former associate at Sullivan & Cromwell who is now one of the top plaintiffs class action lawyers in Canada at London, Ontario–based Siskinds, said publicly that he was looking to represent Lac-Mégantic victims in court.

Rural/Metro Corp.

Scottsdale, Arizona–based nationwide ambulance operator Rural/Metro filed for bankruptcy in Delaware on August 4, listing assets and liabilities in excess of $500 million. Rural/Metro, which is owned by private equity firm Warburg Pincus, is seeking to slash its debt and obtain a $135 million equity infusion after talks with bondholders.

Willkie, a longtime legal adviser to New York–based Warburg, has taken the lead advising Rural/Metro through business reorganization and restructuring cochair Matthew Feldman and partner Rachel Strickland. (Feldman rejoined Willkie in late 2009 after spending five months as chief legal adviser for the Obama administration’s auto industry task force.)

Court records show that Willkie lawyers are billing between $310 and $1,130 per hour. The firm has received invoices totaling $1.5 million since being retained by Rural/Metro in June. Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor is also holding an additional $45,000 on behalf of Willkie.

The Delaware firm is serving as bankruptcy cocounsel to the debtor through partners Edmon Morton ($595) and Matthew Lunn ($530). Young Conaway has received retainer payments totaling $207,484 since late June to cover outstanding balances and prepetition fees and expenses, according to court records.

According to a list of Rural/Metro’s 50 largest unsecured creditors, the company owes $498,505 to DLA Piper, $446,378 to Baker & Hostetler, $425,260 to Squire Sanders, $309,675 to Cleary, $273,863 to Snell & Wilmer, $111,554 to Lewis and Roca, and $56,083 to the Scottsdale-based Law Office of Robert E. Melton. Christopher Kevane serves as general counsel for Rural/Metro.