Kirkland: two heads better than one?

Kon Asimacopoulos

Kirkland & Ellis is bouncing back from the October 2009 departure of London-based ­European restructuring head ­Lyndon Norley.

The US firm’s City office has won significant roles for two new clients, which are facing the largest restructurings currently around – Japan Airlines (JAL) and ­European Directories.

London-based partners Kon Asimacopoulos and Partha Kar, who took over as co-heads of the office following Norley’s departure, are leading the team on the JAL work, along with Munich partner Leo Plank and Hong Kong partner Helena Huang.

Asimacopoulos and Kar are also teaming up to lead on the Europe-only European Directories advice.

The pair claim the ­London office is very busy. Although the ­comment is a fair reflection of the level of restructuring work in the ­market and the proportion that Kirkland is ­winning, it also shows the brave face being put on the departure of Norley, who left to join the London office of ­Greenberg ­Traurig.

The JAL restructuring began on 19 January, when Asia’s largest ­airline filed for bankruptcy protection at the Tokyo District Court.

The three-year restructuring plan is likely to result in the loss of around 16,000 jobs and a ­significant downsizing of JAL’s assets, including its fleet of 37 ­Boeing 747-400 jets. The airline says that, because of the filing and the ­government-backed financing it has secured, it will now be able to maintain uninterrupted business operations and meet its debt ­obligations going forward.

Last week’s events demonstrate the health of Kirkland’s restructuring practice, both in London and further abroad. Asimacopoulos and Kar say that winning instructions on both deals ­underlines the breadth of the ­practice, which is often pigeonholed as being focused primarily on the creditor side.

“We’ve also always carried a number of debtor-side mandates in Europe and our clients know that,” says Asimacopoulos. “This restructuring demonstrates Kirkland’s ability to manage some of the world’s largest and most ­critical company-side engagements in a globally coordinated manner.”

Partha Kar

The matter also underlines Kirkland’s cross-border restructuring capabilities. Although the airline is using local firms for the Japanese work, Kirkland is ­overseeing legal advice throughout other jurisdictions, including Europe, the US and Australasia, with partners Jamie Sprayregen, David Seligman and Ryan ­Bennett handling the matter in the US and the Americas.

“We have seven partners and a similar number of associates in London and Munich who only do restructuring work,” says ­Asimacopoulos. “If you add that to our corporate, finance and ­litigation teams, many of which have been working on restructuring matters over the past few years, you can see that we have ­substantial committed resource in this area.”

Winning the European ­Directories mandate in particular reflects the ­market’s recognition of Kirkland’s restructuring ­capabilities outside its US home.

Netherlands-based European Directories is a Europe-only organisation with no US ­operations.

The company is in the early stages of a potential restructuring, with the various creditors – ­including some 200 senior lenders – jockeying for position.

Other advisers already lined up include Linklaters partner ­Rebecca Jarvis, who is taking the lead for the senior lender coordinating committee, and Bingham McCutchen London partner James Roome, who is advising the mezzanine lenders.

If a restructuring goes ahead it would be the largest in Europe at present, with some e2.1bn (£1.29bn) in debt relating to the Macquarie Bank majority-owned ­business.

As for Kirkland, the successful completion of the mandate would go a long way to proving that there is life after Norley.