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Kirkland Adds First Restructuring Lateral Since 2009 Amid Boom

April 1, 2021, 3:01 PM

Following a lucrative year for its large-company bankruptcy work, Kirkland & Ellis has made the first lateral partner hire to its restructuring practice since 2009 with the addition of former Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom partner Christine Okike.

Okike is based in New York, where she represents debtors, creditors and other parties in restructuring transactions and has served clients in industries including automotive, sports, entertainment, retail, energy, and transportation.

She has practiced at Skadden since earning her J.D. from Columbia University School of Law in 2008, and made partner in 2019.

Okike’s hire follows a record-setting year for Kirkland’s restructuring practice, which earned more than $200 million in pre-filing fees for its work representing more than 40% of the large, public companies that filed for bankruptcy, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis of court records and a UCLA database.

That was more than five times more fees than the next closest law firm, and it was the largest market share for a firm in any single year of the database, which stretches back to 1980.

“Kirkland’s record-setting year for large debtor representations was a huge draw to the practice,” Okike said in a statement. “Kirkland has clearly established itself as the preeminent restructuring practice and I’m excited to apply the skills that I’ve honed over the past 12 years to help them continue to grow the practice.”

Kirkland pioneered an aggressive lateral hiring strategy that piled pressure on Wall Street firms to slowly modify their lock-step compensation systems and paid dividends for its practices including M&A and private equity. But the firm has preferred developing restructuring lawyers internally, promoting between six to nine new income partners from its associate ranks each year since 2017.

Led by New York partner Edward Sassower, Kirkland’s restructuring practice has 204 lawyers dedicated to full-time work in the area. Some of the large companies it represented last year included JCPenney, Nieman Marcus, Pier 1 Imports, and Chesapeake Energy Corp.

The firm said it advised debtors in six of the top 10 and 12 of the top 20 largest bankruptcies of 2020, a year that saw a post-2009 record for large bankruptcy filings.

“Christine is an exceptional young talent, and we’re very excited to welcome her to Kirkland’s world-class restructuring team,” Jon Ballis, chairman of Kirkland’s Executive Committee, said in a statement.

Okike’s move shares some similarities with the last lateral hire Kirkland made in its restructuring practice. That occurred in 2009, amid the last spike in bankruptcy filings, when the firm brought aboard Pat Nash, a former Skadden partner who had practiced law for 13 years when he made the move to Kirkland. He remains a partner in the firm’s Chicago office.

Earlier in 2020, then-74-year-old Jeffrey Gettleman returned to Kirkland’s restructuring practice after retiring in 2018 and intending to pursue his passion as a professional clarinetist. At the time, Gettleman said he’d retired too early, noting he is not “a sit-on-the-rocking-chair-on-the-porch kind of guy.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Roy Strom in Chicago at rstrom@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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