Sprayregen’s exit rattles Kirkland

There was upset at Kirkland & Ellis this month when the firm was rocked by the departure of Chicago-based restructuring superstar James Sprayregen.

Sprayregen, who was lead counsel in United Airlines mammoth Chapter 11 restructuring and has been with Kirkland for 16 years, will leave the firm early next month to take up a non-legal position at Goldman Sachs.

As first reported on www.thelawyer .com (7 June), Sprayregen, who is widely considered to be one of the top US bankruptcy and restructuring lawyers, will become managing director in the investment banking division at Goldmans.

As one competitor put it, “the loss is a significant blow” to Kirkland as Sprayregen was “one of the firm’s true rainmakers”.

In an email to his clients, Sprayregen said: “The opportunity to work at Goldman Sachs is a new challenge that I could not resist.”

Kirkland was not quite so diplomatic in its response to the news. Things started well enough, with an initial press statement confirming “head of Kirkland & Ellis’ worldwide restructuring group” Sprayregen’s departure. The release also stated that the firm was pleased that “an investment bank of the calibre of Goldman Sachs would tap our partner for this post”.

But when questioned over the impact of the loss on the restructuring group and Sprayregen’s successor at the helm of the restructuring team, he appeared to be quickly demoted.

A spokesman for the firm claimed that Kirkland in fact “does not have elected practice group heads” and that partner Rick Cieri “runs the group with Jamie”.

Sour grapes or just semantics?