David Seligman of Kirkland & Ellis LLP guided Trans World Airlines Inc. and United Air Lines Inc. to steady landings in each of their bankruptcies and has since provided winning restructuring counsel to a slew of big-name domestic and international clients, earning him a spot on Law360's list of five bankruptcy lawyers under 40 to watch.
Seligman, 39, who works in the firm's Chicago office representing debtor companies in large restructurings, has earned a "stellar" reputation in the bankruptcy community, according to James Sprayregen, a senior partner at the firm who has worked with Seligman for more than a decade.
"I'd say, universally, when people see that David's involved in a matter, they think it will be handled well," Sprayregen said.
In 2001 Seligman worked on TWA's third bankruptcy and helped cinch a deal to sell the troubled airline's assets to American Airlines Inc. parent company AMR Corp.
"That was exciting because it happened very quickly," Seligman said. "When we filed the case, TWA was days away from running out of money and having to shut down."
To succeed with the deal, Seligman and his colleagues had to triumph over a barrage of protests from industry competitors and investors who "would be better served if TWA just failed," Seligman said.
"There were a lot of intellectual issues, but the most satisfying fact was that we were able to keep that thing together and get TWA sold to American, despite a lot of objections," Seligman said.
Seligman dove into the world of airline bankruptcies again when he worked as one of Kirkland's lead attorneys on the United restructuring process, which Seligman said began more than a year before the company actually filed for Chapter 11 protection in December 2002.
After counseling United on a slew of complex reorganization issues — including its legacy liabilities, aircraft financings, and relations with unions, retirees and governmental agencies — Seligman helped the airline to emerge from bankruptcy in 2006.
Those back-to-back airline cases informed each other, Seligman said, and even offered him the chance to help shape the way the law could be applied to his future work.
"In a lot of these large restructurings, because they're vested company types of issues, we'll litigate and make new law on a lot of issues," Seligman said. "It's satisfying when you are a part of creating new law and using that legal result in the next case."
That domestic airline experience has paid off in Seligman's current work as the international restructuring counsel to Japan Airlines Corp. in its Chapter 15 proceeding, he said. In November, the Tokyo District Court approved a plan of rehabilitation that provides for the company to receive $4.26 billion in public funds and a $6.32 billion debt waiver from its major lenders.
JAL is one of a handful of international clients — including Canada's Mega Brands Inc. and Australia's Riviera Marine Int. Pty Ltd. — Seligman has represented that present special challenges to maintaining operations with minimal disruptions during the restructuring process, he said.
"The insolvency laws in the U.S. are very established and mature, but in other countries around the world they're less so, with not as much predictability and less emphasis on ability of company to restructure," Seligman said.
Seligman has a solid resume of work outside the airline industry as well.
In the energy world, he helped Calpine Corp. shed about $7.2 billion in debt during its two year bankruptcy, from which it emerged in 2008, and Seligman is now representing oil and gas company North American Petroleum Corp. USA in the Chapter 11 case it launched in May.
Seligman has worked with gaming industry players as well, representing Tropicana Entertainment LLC in the Chapter 11 proceeding it filed in 2008, and in the financial services world is currently one of the lead Kirkland attorneys representing Corus Bankshares Inc. in the bankruptcy it filed in June.
Beyond his impressive work for clients, Seligman has been a great mentor to more junior attorneys at Kirkland, Sprayregen said.
The rising star said he would advise young lawyers to build up expertise in their specific fields, maintain a ferocious work ethic and keep their solutions innovative.
"It's all the extra stuff that you do, as opposed to just writing briefs or sending e-mails,"
Seligman said. "It's about working with your client, being creative, thinking outside the box and understanding what it really takes to get something done beyond just sitting at your desk."
That drive for quality results is a trademark of Seligman's own work, Sprayregen said.
"David's got the complete package — smarts, judgment, practicality, work ethic,"
Sprayregen said. "He's a good guy and everybody gets along with him, and he knows how to get things done."
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