Steven Serajeddini was a fourth-year associate at Kirkland & Ellis LLP when he was put on the front lines of Energy Future Holdings Corp.’s mega bankruptcy, a case engineered to restructure the electric utility’s more than $40 billion of debt and spin off parts of the company.
Calling the experience a “trial by fire,” he said it felt like there was a contested hearing every week as the company navigated through a complex series of deals, starting in 2014.
It was arguably the most talented team the firm had ever assembled to steer a Chapter 11 case, according to Edward Sassower, head of the firm’s restructuring practice.
“Even among all those stars, Steve stood out,” he said. “His talent level is really next level. He’s just blessed with some otherworldly gifts.”
Serajeddini’s role within Kirkland’s restructuring group morphed following the EFH case, as he took the reins in several major Chapter 11 filings after becoming a partner in 2016. He started with Sandridge Energy Inc., helping the oil and gas company reach a consensual reorganization deal and confirm a plan that eliminated $3.7 billion of debt.
He has since helmed high-stakes Chapter 11 cases for several companies, including Bruin E&P Partners LLC, Sheridan Holding Company I & II LLC, Specialty Retail Shops Holding Corp., and Philadelphia Energy Solutions Holdings LLC.
Serajeddini currently leads restructuring efforts for major retailers impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic such as Le Tote Inc. and Ascena Retail Group Inc., as well as satellite services provider Intelsat SA. He’s also working with Sassower on the recently filed Chapter 11 for natural gas producer Gulfport Energy Corp.
Almost a dozen years out of law school, Serajeddini has already accomplished what for many would fill an entire career of leading restructuring cases, Sassower said. “That’s as good as it gets. And he’s only scratching the surface.”
Serajeddini credits his knack for corporate restructuring to his background in computer engineering, comfort with numbers and enthusiasm for business negotiations. Growing up, Monopoly games were always very competitive in his family, he said.
Practicing bankruptcy gives him the opportunity to exercise his problem solving and negotiation skills, he said. “I think of it as an analogy for life in that the best answer is the cooperative, consensual answer.”
A lot of people can develop the aptitude to be a Big Law restructuring practitioner, but the way to excel as a young lawyer comes down to having a passion for the work and never letting age be an impediment, he said.
Serajeddini gained exposure to the practice while at the University of Michigan Law School. After graduating in 2009, he went on to clerk for Judge Stuart M. Bernstein of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.
“By the time I came to practice at Kirkland, I felt like I was ahead of the curve in terms of the legal aspects,” he said.
A decade into practicing bankruptcy, Serajeddini gets the most excitement and challenge from representing companies in high-stakes situations where decisions can be the difference between reorganizing and liquidating.
You never want to tell a court or employees that you have to shut down a company, he said. But “it’s offset by the many other situations where we are able to preserve a business.”