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Andrew DeNatale

Andrew DeNatale, Partner and Head of the Special Situations Lending Group at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP shares what it is like to be a financial restructuring attorney.

 

Years in Practice: 35

Education: J.D., Fordham University School of Law, 1975, B.S., University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School of Business, 1972.

Place of Current Employment: Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP

Prior Experience: Former Co-Head of White & Case's Financial Restructuring & Insolvency Group.

Recent Professional Publications/Presentations: Speaker, “International Issues Arising out of the Subprime Crisis – Bankruptcy and Insurance,” “The Global Subprime Crisis: Issues You Need to Know,” Practicing Law Institute, June 18, 2008; Co-author, Insolvency Risks Associated with Credit Default Swaps, White & Case, New York, 2008.

What is it like to be a financial restructuring attorney? Is there a typical day you can describe?

I am still amazed, after 35 years of practice, by the variety of the subject matter and the legal issues I deal with in my practice. A good financial restructuring attorney needs to understand the relevant tax, ERISA, IP, corporate and other matters that are integral to the deal. One also needs to understand the client’s business in order to work with the client to develop the right legal strategy for that business. Lately, most of my work has been out-of-court, but when I find myself before a bankruptcy judge, I ponder how much I enjoy all aspects of my practice now, even though I never imagined as a junior attorney that I would find going to court satisfying, rather than nerve-racking.

What challenges do you experience in your practice?

One of the biggest challenges is dealing with the time-sensitive nature of this practice. There is constant pressure to meet client demands, and our clients often need immediate and pressing relief of one sort or another.

What aspects of your practice make it interesting and rewarding to you?

I find that because things move fairly quickly in my practice, it keeps me on my toes and forces me to get to the heart of the matter. I much prefer getting the deal done and addressing a problem or an issue that has a practical impact on my client than being involved in endless litigation.

What educational or vocational background and skills are helpful in excelling in this practice area?

I had a Business major in undergrad, which I find very useful in my practice. In this practice area, one has to be comfortable with reading and understanding balance sheets and many financial concepts. Whether one gets there through prior training or educates oneself on the job is not as important. What is crucial, however, is not to be intimidated by financial data. I would also add that it is equally important to feel comfortable thinking on your feet in court. This is something that may require a good deal of training and personal effort for many people, for others it comes naturally. Either way, our clients expect us to carry the flag through all stages of their representation and we should not be intimidated to go to court, if necessary.

What does it take to become successful in this practice area?

Raw intelligence, flexibility and genuine curiosity in each aspect of the law one comes across when working on a case. Don’t view yourself as “just a bankruptcy attorney” who does not need or want to understand the applicable tax, ERISA, real estate or other issues pertinent to your client and your case - instead, make an effort to learn as much as necessary about those areas to provide competent and integrated legal advice, working, of course, with your colleagues and other professionals who are experts in those areas. Great bankruptcy attorneys master, to some degree, each area of the law that is important to their client and the deal they are working on.

Could you share the three most important things you have learned over the years being a financial restructuring attorney?

  • Do not get too complacent: set goals for yourself (short-term and long-term) and assess your progress and professional development every six months. Ask yourself: what have I learned? Have I become a better attorney? What experience and legal skills would I like to work on in the next six months? Get out of your “comfort zone” and expand your horizons. With today’s high billing rates, it might not be as easy for junior and mid-level associates to “shadow” the partners and get exposure and experience to other aspects of the practice, which means that young attorneys need to be more pro-active, visible and verbal in expressing their interest to grow and learn professionally.
  • Lay a foundation for your audience: whether you are speaking to a judge, another lawyer or your client, do not assume that they are as immersed in, or familiar with, the subject matter or a particular issue in a dispute as you are. Take a few minutes to get the context into place, give the groundwork before you jump into your arguments or conclusions.
  • Make your clients happy: never forget that we are in the client-service industry and keeping your clients happy should be one of your top priorities. Develop a sincere interest to serve your client’s needs and have a sense of humility: no matter how bright you think you are or what law school you graduated from, your career development will be a direct result of your ability to develop and nurture genuine client relationships.

Did you have mentors who helped you define and shape your career and its direction? How did you form these relationships?

Yes, I was fortunate to have several mentors along my career path. I can name Jack Gross (a real deal-maker), Sheldon Lowe (an expert in all legal bankruptcy issues), Judge Prudence Beatty and Lewis Kruger.

What are your interests/hobbies/pursuits outside of your practice area? How do you make time for them?

I am a very family-oriented man and also love sailing. It is not always easy to make time for my family and my hobby (which my wife and my two sons also share!), but I make a real effort. I believe one still has to make vacation and weekend plans, realizing that sometimes clients’ needs may disrupt those plans. I have been fortunate to work with colleagues who respect that, and I also try to be respectful of other people’s needs and interests outside of work.

What practical advice can you give to law students and young lawyers considering this practice area?

Have intellectual curiosity, anticipate what the business person is thinking, what needs he or she has and how you can service those needs.

Could you recommend any reading materials about your practice area?

Keep a copy of the Bankruptcy Code by your bedside and read a section each night.

Interview conducted by Irina Gomelskaya, associate in the financial restructuring practice group at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and Member of the Career Advancement and Management Committee, April 2010.