The nation’s most prominent corporate bankruptcy venues are increasingly seeing the name Kelli Norfleet at the bottom of legal briefs.
The 36-year-old Haynes and Boone LLP partner frequently represents creditors, and some debtors, in high-stakes Chapter 11 cases.
“When she walks into the courtroom, judges want to know what she has to say,” said Charles Beckham Jr., a senior partner in the firm’s restructuring practice group who mentored Norfleet. Within 10 years, “I think Kelli will be the most respected bankruptcy lawyer in Texas.”
In 2020 alone, Norfleet has represented parties of interest in the cases for J. C. Penney Co., Neiman Marcus Group Ltd. , and McDermott International Inc.
She also served as lead attorney for a subsidiary of Williams Companies as it fought a bid by Southland Royalty Co. to amend a natural gas gathering agreement. The dispute is one of several recent fights over whether midstream oil and gas contracts can be rejected in bankruptcy.
“It’s a really heavy piece of litigation,” she said, but “it’s been fun to work on.”
Based in Houston, Norfleet is particularly familiar with judges in the Lone Star State. She was identified in a 2020 analysis by The Texas Lawbook as one of the state’s busiest bankruptcy lawyers by case assignment.
Norfleet has been at Haynes and Boone since graduating from American University, Washington College of Law in 2009. Bankruptcy law was hot at the time and presented the right opportunities, she said
“I happened into it by chance, but I consider myself very lucky to have ended up here,” she said. “The bankruptcy code was something I found easy to understand.”
Norfleet “jumped into bankruptcy with a passion that distinguished her from any other that we had seen from the past,” Beckham said.
What stands out most is her “incredible patience,” he said, recalling Norfleet’s poise back when she was a second-year attorney repeatedly accepting and incorporating edits in a large project under the watchful eye of a senior partner.
“As a young lawyer, I might have been intimidated,” he said. “Kelli persevered. She never acted like she was frustrated or bothered by the work that was necessary to get the job done right.”
Now a partner, Norfleet exhibits that patience not only with senior attorneys, but with younger lawyers she supervises and with clients, he said.
Norfleet considered it a thrill to step into the partner role and deal more directly with clients. She also relishes the new challenges that arise in complicated Chapter 11 cases.
As an attorney for the senior secured creditor in the 2019 retail energy bankruptcies for Great Eastern Energy Corp. and Agera Energy LLC, Norfleet and her clients faced unique challenges “due to the nature of the industry and attendant regulatory oversight.”
Her team worked with the other constituents in each case to find a path out of bankruptcy, including confirmation of a Chapter 11 liquidation plan for Agera earlier this year.
She was also part of a team that restructured Rosehill Resources Inc., cutting debt through a pre-packaged bankruptcy lasting just over a month. The swift reorganization effort provided the oil and gas driller with $17.5 million of new money to operate on a go-forward basis.
Additionally, Norfleet worked on the international reorganization for BOS Solutions Ltd., representing the oil industry servicer as it sought U.S. recognition of its Canadian restructuring proceedings.
“Anytime I get to work on a cross-border dispute, it’s a lot of fun,” she said.
Looking ahead, Norfleet wants to grow her practice and “give back to the bankruptcy community” by teaching bankruptcy law courses.