Bankruptcy Law's "Mr Big" 2

Bankruptcy Law’s “Mr Big”

Bankruptcy law, as you might expect post-GFC and a few other crises along the way, is big business. And one of the biggest – if not the biggest – attorney handling bankruptcy law is Weil Gotshal partner Harvey Miller.

Mr Miller, 82, died recently after acting for such notable bankrupts as Lehman Brothers Holdings.

“Harvey was responsible for the evolution of the restructuring practice to what it is today — a mainstream practice group in most major law firms,” Stephen Karotkin, a partner in Weil Gotshal’s business finance and restructuring department, said to Bloomberg News.

“He demonstrated that the practice, which had been shunned by the major national firms, not only was respectable and very profitable, but was an appropriate means to restore major distressed companies.”

In a 2007 profile, the New York Times described Miller as “the most prominent bankruptcy lawyer in the nation.” He was best known for representing debtors.

Miller’s top cases both came out of the worst economic contraction since the Great Depression — the $613 billion collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008 and the $49.5 billion General Motors Corp. bailout by the U.S. government in 2009.

Miller also was involved in the bankruptcies of Texaco, Drexel Burnham Lambert Group and Eastern Airlines.

His fees were on the same scale as his cases. In the five years following the 2008 bankruptcy of New York-based Lehman, Miller earned Weil Gotshal almost half a billion dollars, about one quarter of the $2 billion paid by Lehman’s bankrupt estate to advisers and lawyers.

Miller worked at two small law firms before joining Weil Gotshal in 1969 as the 14th partner in a 45-lawyer, two-office practice, according to the statement. He and three other partners managed the firm during its first two decades. Today, Weil Gotshal has about 1,100 lawyers in 20 offices worldwide.

“Life should be an adventure,” he told the NY Times in a story seven years ago. “My practice at Weil was and still is exactly that. By working on reorganizations and restructuring work in so many different businesses — such as energy, retail, manufacturing and even satellites — that’s the glory of the practice and that’s what I love about it. I’ve always said that about restructuring practice. It is probably the last area of the generalist.”

While Mr. Miller was at Greenhill, other law firms had come calling to try to entice him to return to the law. But Mr. Miller said he “had lunch every six months or so with Stephen Dannhauser,” Weil’s chairman. “He’s always posited the question if I was ready to go back. And I would quote Thomas Wolfe that ‘you can’t go home again,’ but he said he had the right of first refusal.”

An opera fan who served as an advisory director at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Miller said he found bankruptcy law thrilling.

“Life should be an adventure,” he said, according to the Times profile. “My practice at Weil was and still is exactly that. By working on reorganizations and restructuring work in so many different businesses – such as energy, retail, manufacturing and even satellites – that’s the glory of the practice and that’s what I love about it.”

Miller was a lecturer at Columbia Law School and was previously an adjunct faculty member at New York University School of Law.
Source: Bloomberg News/Chicago Tribune

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