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Rising Star: Kirkland & Ellis' Adam Paul

Kirkland & Ellis LLP's Adam Paul has established a name for himself as a tireless and skilled bankruptcy practitioner whose work on complex reorganizations, like representing W.R. Grace & Co. in its asbestos-related Chapter 11 case, has earned him a spot on Law360's list of the top five bankruptcy attorneys under 40.

Paul, a 39-year-old partner in Kirkland's Chicago office, can seemingly do it all. In his relatively young career, he has already served as counsel for debtors and creditors, brokered myriad bankruptcy sales and acquisitions, advised directors and executives on matters of fiduciary duty and restructuring strategies, and guided troubled companies through out-of-court transactions, according to the firm.

Paul relishes the heavy workload and appreciates that it means he regularly has to go to court or otherwise get out of the office.

"I've never been a behind-the-desk kind of person," he said. "I like the challenges associated with practicing law and like being able to take on as many challenges as possible."

Paul first acquired a taste for bankruptcy law after graduating from Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law in 1997, when he joined a boutique firm in the Washington area. Starting at a small firm meant that Paul was immediately thrown in the deep end on bankruptcy cases, taking on the type of responsibility usually reserved for more experienced attorneys.

"I was in court twice a week," Paul said. "I was in court a lot more often than your typical second- or third-year attorney."

In 1999, Paul joined K&L Gates LLP, where he worked on the Combustion Engineering Inc.'s prepackaged Chapter 11 case. He represented the debtor while attorneys from Kirkland represented its Swiss parent, ABB.

"That was a heavily litigated prepackaged case. ABB had the most to lose, so Kirkland really drove the case, but I worked very closely with the bankruptcy folks over there," Paul said. "About a year later, they said, 'We'd love to have you on board.'"

Paul agreed and joined Kirkland in 2004 and continued to tackle bankruptcy matters by the fistful. He found that the firm was a good fit, in part, because of its policy to give young attorneys plenty of responsibility.

"We're all about giving people here at Kirkland as much responsibility as we think they can handle," said James H.M. Sprayregen, a partner in Kirkland's restructuring practice.

While at Kirkland, Paul has served as lead bankruptcy counsel for W.R. Grace & Co., a $3.3 billion-revenue company, and its affiliates in their Chapter 11 cases seeking to resolve significant asbestos-related liabilities. In January, U.S. District Judge Ronald Buchwalter denied a number of appeals of the approval a Delaware bankruptcy court had granted the company's reorganization plan in 2010.

Last year, Paul counseled Advised Flying J Inc., an oil company with more than $1.3 billion in funded debt and 2007 consolidated sales of more than $16 billion, in its bankruptcy case. The company exited Chapter 11 last year.

Paul also advised Oaktree Capital in its debt for equity swap in the Almatis BV bankruptcy case. The deal paved the way for Almatis to win approval for its restructuring plan in 2010.

Paul said he appreciates the fast-paced nature of bankruptcy work and that it combines litigation and corporate law. He said he likes helping to fix ailing companies.

"In bankruptcy, you don't have the luxury of time because your client is stressed. It's normally petering on the edge of collapse when you start," Paul said. "It's almost like you're a doctor, and at the beginning of the case, you're trying to triage the patient, and later in the case, you're like a surgeon trying to carve out the problem."