A group of debt finance and restructuring experts with longstanding ties has reunited at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, with four partners coming aboard from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Hartford and London.
The move gives Akin Gump a new office in Connecticut’s capital. But more importantly, it gives the firm the ability to represent institutional investors from the “cradle to the grave,” according to incoming partner Renée Dailey, who was co-head of Morgan Lewis’ restructuring and bankruptcy practice.
Dailey said she and the rest of the team from Morgan Lewis—Hartford colleagues Christopher Lawrence and Chester Fisher and London office transactional finance practice group leader Thomas O’Connor—advise clients on “new money” finance transactions, including when those investments falter. They handle waivers and amendments, navigate full-blown out-of-court restructuring, and also step in in the event a matter goes into bankruptcy.
While they had the front-end covered in the U.S. and the U.K., the restructuring side in the U.K. was lacking.
“We view the move as putting the team back together,” Dailey said. “We have all parts of the continuum covered on both sides of the pond.”
That team has its origins at Hartford’s insurance-focused Hebb & Gitlin, which merged with now-defunct Bingham McCutchen in 1999. Fisher was already there when Barry Russell joined in 1991. Russell, who shifted his practice to London in 1996, moved to Akin Gump with 24 other Bingham McCutchen partners in 2014. Meanwhile, Fisher, O’Connor and Lawrence joined the bulk of the Bingham team in moving to Morgan Lewis. Dailey ultimately did the same, with an interim stop at Bracewell.
“We’ve been going about reclaiming all of the pieces we originally had,” Fisher said.
The move makes sense not just because of the strong personal relationships that Russell maintained with his former colleagues, but also from a client perspective. He and his Akin Gump colleagues were handling European financing and restructuring work for clients while seeing some of the U.S. restructuring work going to the Morgan Lewis team. These clients were also sending new money financing work to O’Connor in London.
“The relationship, the business model that dated back to 1973 was severed,” he said, identifying the date Hebb & Gitlin was founded.
Danny Golden, the partner-in-charge of Akin Gump’s New York office, added he noticed the firm kept getting nosed out by Dailey in competition to land large institutional creditors for work involving Chapter 11 creditors’ committees and the ad hoc committees formed in advance of bankruptcy filings.
“I think we’re pretty good. Why do why keep getting beat?” he would say to himself. “When we had the opportunity to have Renée join the team, we literally jumped at the chance,”
Golden added that Akin Gump did not have Hartford on its radar for expansion, but it made sense to open an office there to bring the trio on board.
“We wish them well as they join their former colleagues from Bingham,” Morgan Lewis managing partner Steve Wall said.
While restructuring work has been in a lull lately, with low interest rates and corporate default rates, the newly reunited team at Akin Gump is anticipating an uptick in activity. Fisher said that will also allow them to capitalize on the original model going back to Hebb & Gitlin, where an integrated team deals with both new financing deals and restructurings. The deal lawyers also handle documentations in the midst of restructurings, while the restructuring lawyers offer insight into deals.
“It improves the expertise of both sets of the lawyers,” Golden said.