US firms clamour for role in Conseco Chapter 11 filing

US law firms have swooped on the $6.5bn (£4bn) bankruptcy of US financial services company Conseco, the third largest Chapter 11 ever to be filed, after Enron and WorldCom.

Kirkland & Ellis has taken the lead role as counsel to Conseco, with high-profile Chicago bankruptcy expert James Sprayregen leading the team.

Davis Polk & Wardwell, acting for the lead unsecured creditor Bank of America, and Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson, acting for the creditors' committee, should receive the second largest portion of the work. Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw has also been retained by the creditors' committee as Chicago counsel.

Buchanan Ingersoll, Chapman and Cutler, Faegre & Benson, Jenner & Block, Katten Muchin Zavis Rosenman, Latham & Watkins, Saul Ewing and Willkie Farr & Gallagher have also been retained by various bondholders, debtors and securitisation trustees.

The bankruptcy court of Chicago, where Conseco filed for Chapter 11, has not yet set a timetable for the proceedings aside from arranging the first creditors' meeting for late February. But the court is expected to ask law firms to apply for their fees 120 days after the filing, which, in Conseco's case, happened on 17 December 2002.

Enron, the largest US bankruptcy to date, has so far earned lawyers and other professional advisers close to $300m (£186m).

Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, acting for Enron's creditors' committee, has so far billed the Enron estate more than $10m (£6.2m) for its work.

Don Bernstein, the Davis Polk partner acting for Bank of America, which is owed $2bn (£1.2bn) by Conseco, said the fees on this bankruptcy would be nothing like the Enron bonanza. “A lot of the restructuring work was done before Conseco went into Chapter 11. We expect most issues to be resolved quickly,” he said.

US class action firm Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach has also launched a class action against Conseco, claiming that the company misled investors over its liquidity problems prior to entering bankruptcy.