Attorney Richard Levin wrote the U.S. bankruptcy laws. As counsel to a…

Attorney Richard Levin wrote the U.S. bankruptcy laws. As counsel to a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee from 1975 to 1978, he was one of the principal authors of the Bankruptcy Code and the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978. That’s in his Skadden Arps bio. Now he’s changed firms – and launching another illustrious legal practice into restructuring law for the first time – Cravath Swaine no less.

For Richard Levin, the commute to his new law firm from the Upper West Side required only a slight adjustment: simply get off the subway one stop earlier.

For his new firm, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, the change was more extensive.

While other Manhattan firms are building up their bankruptcy departments, Cravath Swaine is just getting into the practice. For the first time in its history (parts of the firm date back to 1819), Cravath is forming a restructuring practice. And it has broken tradition to do so, by hiring a partner from outside the firm.

Mr. Levin, who started at Cravath on July 1, came from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, where he had been a partner for a decade. Mr. Levin played a crucial role in drafting the 1978 federal bankruptcy code.

Cravath’s move, in the words of one bankruptcy lawyer in New York, was “a continental shift,” a recognition by an old-line firm, however belatedly, that bankruptcy had moved beyond the days when it was the purview of collection lawyers chasing debtors to the courthouse. Ten or 15 years ago, said Ann Israel, who heads a legal recruiting firm in New York, firms like Cravath would have never looked at a bankruptcy group.

“This is a big, serious practice now,” Ms. Israel said. “This isn’t an embarrassment any longer.”

Also, “this is a big, big moneymaker,” she said, since many large companies — Enron, Delta, Northwest and Delphi — have reorganized in the last six years.

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