Photo by Jay Gunning / Owl Bridge Media.
Skadden partners successfully handle an expansive range of complex deals and cases over the course of any given year. The restructuring practice of Lisa Laukitis is a microcosm of that astonishing mix of matters and clients, touching on a wide variety of businesses and industries – as she explains, from mining chemicals to Twinkie-making. The 1999 University of Dayton School of Law graduate enjoys the consistent state of learning her practice brings, as well as the chance to represent both companies and investors. In the unpredictable world of restructurings, Laukitis says, chances are high that her next multifaceted representation will become her favorite.
Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the mix of work you do within your practice?
Lisa Laukitis: For over 20 years, I’ve represented a mix of companies and private equity and hedge fund investors. When advising a company, I focus on the broad goals of helping the board and management team understand and properly exercise their fiduciary duties and maximizing the value of the company for the benefit of all of its constituents. That role involves educating the client, analyzing multiple potential scenarios, and coordinating the efforts of a multitude of individuals and professionals toward a common purpose. On the other hand, when representing an investor, I have just one party’s goals in mind and am looking to help them strategically to maximize their investment. These two aspects of my practice are very different yet very complementary. Acquiring a depth of experience advising on one side of a restructuring gives me a higher likelihood of success when I am sitting in the opposite role.
LD: What are some aspects about this work that you find professionally satisfying?
LL: Restructuring tends to be a very cutting-edge field, and it provides many opportunities for creativity and the application of game theory. The law is constantly changing and developing. It’s a great practice area for those who are intellectually curious because you must get into the weeds to understand how a business operates, including its regulatory or other requirements; why it has been challenged; and what needs to happen to make it successful in the future. Every deal is unique, each company has different obstacles to overcome, and the identity and perspectives of the parties at the table can greatly change the dynamics and outcome. In recent years, I have worked with companies that mined and processed molybdenum, manufactured fragrances, baked Twinkies, generated power and fished for anchovies, among many others. The work provides countless opportunities for learning something new.
LD: Are there any trends you are seeing in your practice?
LL: It’s becoming increasingly common for non-U.S. companies to try to utilize U.S. bankruptcy laws in connection with restructuring matters.
LD: Would you please describe a recent matter that you’ve handled and some of the challenges involved?
LL: I currently am representing the Chapter 11 trustee for a Peruvian anchovy fishing company. This case (known as China Fishery) presents some unusual challenges. The entities filed Chapter 11 cases in the U.S. despite having no U.S. operations or assets other than funds held in an attorney trust account. After a protracted battle with their lenders, a Chapter 11 trustee was appointed at one of the Singaporean entities, which is the direct and indirect owner of the most valuable business operations in the corporate structure. However, the usual Chapter 11 tools are not available to us due to some jurisdictional challenges — mainly that Peruvian law does not permit Peruvian companies to file insolvency proceedings outside of Peru, and courts there will not implement a plan of reorganization or similar order from a foreign insolvency proceeding. This leaves us unable to compromise debt without creditor consent.
There also are challenges associated with the fact that other entities in the corporate chain that we do not represent or control are listed on the Hong Kong and Singapore exchanges and have their own particular requirements for approval of major transactions (and more routine corporate governance matters) that could come into play during the case. This is a prime example of the jurisdictional and regulatory complications of cross-border restructurings.
LD: What do you think will be the impact of the case?
LL: It should cause companies to do some careful analysis before assuming that a U.S. Chapter 11 is going to solve all their problems.
LD: Why did you first pursue a career in the law?
LL: As an undergrad, I majored in microbiology and planned to become a doctor. However, I graduated from college a year early and made a snap decision to see if law school might be a good fit for me. What I have long since realized is that, while I have a genuine love of science, my analytical and problem-solving skills and love of writing were much better suited to practicing law. I enjoy negotiating and love advocating for my clients in court. I also really value the human aspect of working alongside my client toward a common goal.
LD: Was there an early experience or mentor who really helped shape the course of your professional life?
LL: I have been very lucky to have found many great mentors throughout my career. An early mentor from a firm at which I worked while in law school encouraged me to leave Ohio and accept a corporate restructuring position in New York City. Mentors during my associate years really invested in me, taught me about the practice and challenged me to do top-quality work. They also encouraged me to take a lead role in matters when they thought I was ready. My current mentor has been an incredible sponsor and sounding board for more than a decade and has helped me enhance my business generation and leadership skills.
LD: Is there a matter or client in your career that stands out as a “favorite” for certain reasons?
LL: Often, my favorite case is the one I’m currently working on, because I’m invigorated by each new challenge and thrive when completely entrenched in negotiating an agreement. We build close relationships with our clients and the other professionals on a deal, whom we may speak with several times a day, which adds a personal element to my practice that I find incredibly fulfilling. The value of a company is maximized when it’s able to continue operations, which also means that jobs are saved. While I rarely get to meet more than a few of the employees at the companies I work with, I’m really proud of the impact I have by helping to keep a company’s doors open.
LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer? Or, how do you think others see you?
LL: I think both clients and adversaries would say that I am even-keeled, calm under pressure, collaborative and cooperative. These are qualities I value in colleagues and adversaries and try always to bring to the table myself. In the restructuring practice, you can’t always predict everything that might happen, but remaining calm and collected has allowed me to find solutions in even the most volatile situations.
Remaining nimble throughout a restructuring process is of paramount importance. While some situations call for me to take a harder line and be prepared for tough negotiations or aggressive litigation, my first instinct is typically to try to find a cost-effective, efficient solution that satisfies both parties.
LD: Can you tell us a bit more about your career path and how you arrived at your current position? What do you like about Skadden in terms of culture or other characteristics?
LL: I have worked at other large firms before Skadden, and over the years, I’ve sought to acquire more debtor work, expand my practice and take on leadership roles. I’m thrilled that my path led me to Skadden. The culture of collaboration and creativity is inspiring, the breadth and depth of its talent are unparalleled, and an unwavering commitment to excellence and to putting the clients’ interests above all else is reflected in all the work the firm handles.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
LL: I’m a passionate cook. There is little I enjoy more than planning a meal, spending a Saturday afternoon prepping and cooking, and then enjoying it with a full table of family and friends.
LD: Are you involved in any pro bono or public interest activities? Please tell us what you find meaningful about your time serving them.
LL: I just wrapped up my third term on the board of the Lower East Side Girls Club. Spending nearly a decade working to improve educational and extracurricular opportunities for girls from low-income families in the city I call home has been incredibly rewarding.