In a suddenly uncertain lateral market, expect bankruptcy and restructuring practices to stand out.
As a teetering economy once again pushes countercyclical bankruptcy and restructuring practices into the spotlight, a nearly 20-year veteran of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld found a new home at New York’s Stroock & Stroock & Lavan this week.
Allison Miller, who is joining Stroock as a partner in its financial restructuring practice, had spent her entire career at Akin Gump in Washington, D.C., and New York, making partner three years ago. Her resume includes heading up transactional matters in the Sears, Avaya, iHeart Communications, SunEdison, American Tire Distributors and Seadrill restructurings.
Miller said that as an Akin Gump lifer, she had nothing but good things to say about the firm and hadn’t been looking to leave. But when a recruiter approached her about the opportunity in the fall, she liked what she heard.
“Their platform is perfectly suited for my core strengths—liability management, special situations and distressed transactions—in a fully integrated restructuring practice,” she said of Stroock. “It’s a smaller firm than Akin Gump, which was appealing to me because it can move more quickly on certain aspects and be more flexible and less structured than a bigger firm.” She said Stroock’s creditor-side practice was a draw, and so was a client base that is aligned with hers.
Miller’s move comes as bankruptcy and restructuring practice groups are expecting a busy period as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, which has shut down much of the country and mandated most employees work from home.
Many firms had already been working during the past few years to bolster their bankruptcy groups in anticipation of an economic downturn, which had yet to materialize. As law firms now adjust to the sudden onset of a recession, recruiters say lateral hiring will accelerate even more.
Keith Fall, a longtime recruiter at Walker Associates who facilitated Miller’s move to Stroock, noted that the coronavirus affected her transition even though the hire was set in motion before the pandemic took hold.
“There’s always a bit of stress at the end of a deal, which was magnified here with the timing of COVID-19,” Fall said. “But she has the benefit of being in a restructuring practice, which is countercyclical, and both she and Stroock have been extremely busy in the last few years. The space will probably only get busier, making this hire less risky than it otherwise might have been.”
Fall, who depends on lawyer moves for his livelihood, said he expects a resurgence in lateral activity in general as soon as the worst economic effects of the virus are contained.
“There’s a lot of cautious optimism from law firm leadership, who are confident things will go back to normal and then will want to pick [lateral recruiting] back up,” he said.
Fall said there’s a large degree of uncertainty in the market right now, with some law firms putting expansion efforts on pause while others are continuing their lateral hire strategy. But even as some law firms halt partner pay, furlough associates and lay off staff, his clients still have needs to be met, leaving an opening for hires even throughout the economic uncertainty.
“Firms will need to be specific with their needs as opposed to their wants,” he said, adding that while building up an investment practice may be a luxury many can’t afford, bankruptcy and restructuring expertise will be crucial going forward.
“Law firms are still accountable to their clients and need to service clients’ needs,” he said. “You can’t afford to have holes in any practices.”
Samantha Stokes, based in New York, is a staff reporter at American Lawyer covering the business of law. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @stokessamanthaj.
Keith Fall is a partner with the New York-based legal recruiting firm, Walker Associates. He can be reached at Kfall@walkersearch.com
By Samantha Stokes
Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM