"Cut from a different cloth," the firm differs from most corporate Chicago firms in its dominant focus on private equity advice. The group has long been the top name in town for highly leveraged acquisitions and major debt financings. Although overshadowed by the private equity practice, the firm's capacity for big-ticket M&A work on behalf of publicly quoted companies is also beyond dispute.
Interviewees frequently describe the in-house style as "combative and uncompromising." The team has acquired the reputation of being "ruthless on transactions," and it has been said that "there's more blood on the floor when you negotiate with them."
The firm's status is felt to owe much to the pioneering efforts of the "father of the practice" Jack Levin, reckoned to be the "undisputed king of the venture capital lawyers." With a background in tax and corporate work, many consider him "renaissance man of corporate transactions." According to some, he "invented private equity practice," and has built up a core of loyal public company and private equity house clients, including Willis Stein & Partners. While the lecture circuit has increasingly removed him from day to day transactions, he is still considered to "practice from a high altitude," disseminating his "vast experience" throughout the firm.
The group has experienced a growth in its fund formation practice, raising as many as 20 funds over the last year for investment banks and equity houses. "Tough but fair," Kevin Evanich has been particularly active in this field, advising GTCR on the creation of a $2 billion fund. As primary counsel to Code, Hennessy & Simmons, he has advised on negotiations with sellers, banks and buyers, and is recommended for his "intuition about what type of approach works best in the negotiating room."
Bill Kirsch has earned a considerable reputation both for his "booming practice," representing prestigious national and international private equity funds, and his "take no prisoners" attitude. A "tireless worker," he is the firm's relationship partner for Madison Dearborn Partners, whom he advised on the formation of its $4 billion fund and $3 billion acquisition of Packaging Corporation of America from Tenneco Packaging.
The "incisive" Jeffrey Hammes is sometimes described as "the other bookend to Kirsch." Known for "figuring out a way to create value for the client," he is applauded for his "deep understanding of business principles." He represented Bain Capital on its acquisition of ChipPac from Hyundai Electronics Industries, following its $550 million recapitalization.
Carter Emerson's practice is a mix of private equity and public company corporate work, which includes advising on SEC compliance and working with venture capital groups on high-tech financing. Said to be "an exception to the firm's aggressive norm," he is considered to be a "measured diplomat, always willing to listen." He advised Ohio utility company DPL on the $425 million sale of its gas business.
Clients: General Motors; DPL; Exide Corporation; Leo Burnett Company; Madison Dearborn Partners; CIVC Partners; First Chicago Venture Corporation; ABN Amro; Willis Stein & Partners; GTCR Golder Rauner; Thoma Cressey Equity Partners; Code, Hennessy & Simmons; River Road Partner; William Blair & Company.
Reprinted with permission from Chamber's Global: The World's Leading Lawyers 2001-2002.