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June 30, 2011 5:30 PM

Overseas Assignments Keep Am Law 200 Restructuring Practices Busy

Posted by Brian Baxter

While bankruptcy work in the United States may be drying up for large law firms, members of The Am Law 200 are winning assignments on corporate restructurings in Europe and the Middle East--and laying the foundation to land future restructuring work overseas.

In April, for instance, Jones Day made headlines when it announced that it was sending bankruptcy attorney Corinne Ball to London to head the firm's restructuring and distressed M&A efforts in Europe.

At the time Ball told The Am Law Daily that she expected more U.S.-based funds to invest in distressed assets in Europe thanks, in part, to a shifting regulatory landscape, the impact of new capital rules and ratios, and the escalating sovereign debt crisis. Put it all together and the region appears ripe for restructuring attorneys.

Some Am Law 200 firms have already scooped up notable retentions. One example: Bank of Ireland's recent effort to launch a debt-for-equity swap led to business for Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy and White & Case, according to U.K. publication Legal Week.

Allen & Overy is advising Bank of Ireland on the debt-for-equity plan, while White & Case global restructuring and insolvency chair Thomas Lauria is advising a committee of bondholders that includes Appaloosa Management, Varde Partners, QVT Financial, and Marathon Asset Management, Legal Week reports. (Lauria made headlines in the United States this week for his work representing Major League Baseball in the Los Angeles Dodgers bankruptcy.)

Carrying more than $1 billion in financial institution debt, the bondholder group is fighting Irish government efforts to cut its stakes in Bank of Ireland and another ailing Irish lender, Allied Irish Banks. (Allen & Overy had advised the Irish government, which owns more than a third of Bank of Ireland, on its own $88 billion bailout by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.)

Brown Rudnick has also landed a Bank of Ireland–related assignment. The firm is representing 73-year-old Glasgow resident Albert Kempster in a test case on behalf of more than 2,000 retirees in the United Kingdom who object to Bank of Ireland's restructuring plan on the grounds that it will wipe out their savings. Kempster and his fellow pensioners hold permanent interest-bearing shares in the Bristol & West Building Society, which Bank of Ireland bought in 1997.

Elsewhere in the Emerald Isle, Ropes & Gray is representing a group of subordinated lenders to ailing Dublin-based telecommunications giant Eircom. The group recently formed an ad hoc bondholder committee to work with Eircom on the company's restructuring efforts, according to The Irish Times.

Another corporate insolvency creating work on foreign shores--in this case for Magic Circle firm Linklaters and Anglo-French firm Salans--involves furniture retailer Habitat. The company, which was placed into administration (the U.K. and European equivalent of bankruptcy), has sold its U.K. brand and three London stores to the Home Retail Group, Bloomberg reports. Linklaters is advising Home Retail on the acquisition, according to Legal Week; Salans is representing Habitat's administrators at Zolfo Cooper.

DLA Piper is advising Zolfo Cooper in another administration, this one involving women's fashion chain Jane Norman, according to Legal Week. The retailer closed its doors in the U.K. last weekend after failing to find a buyer. DLA previously advised a syndicate of lending banks on Jane Norman's failed restructuring. Scottish firm Maclay Murray & Spens is advising Edinburgh Woollen Mill, a Scottish retailer, which has agreed to buy a number of Jane Norman stores under a prepackaged administration sale, the BBC reports.

A bit further afield, in Saudi Arabia, Latham & Watkins and Baker & McKenzie recently advised on the corporate debt restructuring of Al-Ittefaq Steel Products Company, the first-ever such transaction by a Saudi company, according to Latham. Al-Ittefaq, a unit of Saudi steelmaker Al Tuwairqi Group, is restructuring roughly $2 billion in debt.

Latham's Riyadh office managing partner Mohammed Al-Sheikh and finance partner Christopher Langdon led a team from the firm representing a group of Saudi and international banks on the matter. Ian Siddell, head of banking and finance practice in the Gulf region at Baker & McKenzie, led a team advising Al-Ittefaq on its restructuring efforts.

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