Leonard Rosen, a founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and a renowned bankruptcy attorney who represented the City of New York during its 1975 financial crisis and stood up for lenders in the Chrysler bailout in the early 1980s, died Wednesday at the age of 83.
Rosen launched Wachtell Lipton in the mid 1960s with fellow New York University Law School graduates Martin Lipton, Herbert Wachtell and George Katz. He retired in 1997, but remained of counsel to the firm until his death.
According to the firm, Rosen created and then led the creditors’ rights group, authored numerous articles on bankruptcy law, contributed to the drafting of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and served as an adjunct professor at NYU.
Rosen reached a pinnacle of his career in the mid 1970s, when New York City was on the brink of bankruptcy and the federal government initially declined to help, leading to the famous New York Daily News headline: “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” Ultimately, Rosen and others drafted a complex set of agreements which won the approval of Ford and his treasury secretary, William Simon, and brought the city back to solvency.
At the same time that Rosen was working day and night on the City of New York matter, he was also representing W.T. Grant in the nation’s first billion-dollar Chapter 11 case, the last case in which Wachtell Lipton served as lead counsel for a bankruptcy debtor.
A few years later, when the Chrysler Corp. was in danger of going out of business and the federal government engaged in a highly controversial bailout, Rosen represented lenders, forging an agreement between the car company and its 400-plus lenders that enable the corporation to survive and prosper.
Rosen served as chairman of the National Bankruptcy Conference from 1984 to 1992 and received the American College of Bankruptcy’s Distinguished Service Award in 2003. Outside his practice, he was involved in the Lymphoma Research Foundation and the Children’s Cause for Cancer Advocacy.
“But above all, Leonard was a good man,” the firm said in an obituary posted on its website.
Harvey Miller, a partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges and a eulogist at services on Thursday, first encountered Rosen more than a half century ago, when he was a first year associate at another firm and the two lawyers crossed swords as adversaries. “Needless to say, I was unsuccessful,” Miller recalled. “After I lost, I was packing up and Leonard came over to me to congratulate me. I said, ‘Why are you congratulating me?’ He said, ‘You really did a good job. You were up against terrific odds…and you held your own.’ I was overwhelmed.”
Miller said that was the beginning of a friendship that spanned 54 years. He said Rosen had “a penetrating intellect, an imagination to see a transaction and find the avenue which would resolve the differences among the parties, enormous tolerance and patience. He thought every problem had a solution and, given enough time, his creative insight would come up with something.”
Miller said he never met anyone who didn’t like Rosen. “He was a very unusual person—kind, tolerant,” Miller said. “I never heard anyone say a bad word about Leonard. He seemed to find some redeeming feature in even the worst people, with the exception of some political types.”
Rosen, a native of New York City who graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1951 and NYU Law School in 1954, is survived by his wife Phyllis; three sons, Adam, Steven and David; a daughter, Carol; and nine grandchildren.