the TSL interview
“So it was an experience where you felt that you were doing
something worthwhile. You were helping people. You were
preserving jobs. I wouldn’t say it was an instant gratification,
but it was much more gratifying than other areas of the law. ”
When you first became involved in bankruptcy law back in the 1960s, bankruptcy
was an arcane backwater of the legal profession. It has certainly come a long way
since then, but what about bankruptcy appealed to you and made it the place you’ve
hung your hat for 50 years?
Well, in those days, young lawyers did
not have a choice of what practice areas
they would be engaged in and it just
happened that the firm I went with was involved in a major bankruptcy case and just
by an odd chance I got assigned to it. It was
a very large case for the period involving a
nationwide retail chain and the attraction
to it was that, unlike other aspects of the
practice which I had been engaged in, you
were involved in something that had a
beginning, a middle and an end within a
relatively short time.
And it dealt with real people. It was different than doing a registration statement
or probating a will or doing an estate tax
return. One of the big advantages was that
you got immediate client contact and also
you were given responsibility and, once I
got involved and was successful in some
particular aspect, the gratification was
So it was an experience where you felt
that you were doing something worthwhile. You were helping people. You were
preserving jobs. I wouldn’t say it was an
instant gratification, but it was much more
gratifying than other areas of the law.
Also, it was, from my perspective, the
beginning of an expansion of reorganiza-
tion and bankruptcy because in the ‘60s
the going-public mania was taking hold.
The economy was beginning to expand.
Financial markets were expanding and
Wall Street was encouraging companies
to go public as a way of obtaining capital
to expand. And so there was a feeling that
we were going into an era of prosperity
and prosperity brings with it risk-taking
and risk-taking naturally leads to distress
because we don’t know how to control our
appetite for risk.
In 2002, you had left Weil Gotshal to
join the investment bank, Greenhill &
Company. You returned to your old law
firm five years later. What brought you
back to the practice?
Well, there’s a big difference between
investment banking and the practice of
law. Investment banking is dedicated to
transactions and, without in any way denigrating it, it’s a very fee-oriented business
and you are basically selling transactions,
sometimes to people who really don’t
want to do them.
And it is a business that is very, I guess
the right word is, “fragmented,” in the
context that investment bankers have
specialties. One is an expert in consumer
products. One is an expert in heavy industry. One is an expert in transportation and
so on. And it’s very much oriented to you
eat what you kill. So there is less congeniality, I think less collegiality. People are very
busy pursuing their own objectives.
When I first went to Greenhill, it was
about the size of Weil Gotshal when I first
joined Weil Gotshal in 1970. It was small,
everybody knew everybody and then it
started growing and expanding, which I
guess every business should do. But as it
does, it takes on a different atmosphere.
I was being solicited by a number of law
firms about whether I would be interested
in returning to the law. I had left Weil Got-
shal because I had reached an age where
I thought it was important to turn over
the practice to younger people and, when
I left in 2002, the firm was doing very well,
particularly in the bankruptcy area, with
cases like Enron, Global Crossing, World-
Com, Bethlehem Steel. And, I always said,
the time to go out is when you’re on top.
Through your affiliation with the
National Bankruptcy Conference, you
were involved in shaping the Bankrupt-
cy Reform Act of 1978.
Yes, at that time in history, the National
Bankruptcy Conference was the preeminent bankruptcy think tank organization.