John Kirkland's corporate practice, which is focused on finding financing for companies in the still-struggling economy, is interesting in its own right. But Lawdragon was admittedly more intrigued by tales of Kirkland's thirst for globetrotting adventure, which has led to fights with crocodiles on African safaris and a world-record killing of a seven-foot black bear in Canada.
Sometimes his passions overlap. He has worked with the Russian government on its first-ever insulin manufacturing facility and of course was invited to go wild boar hunting with President Medvedev's nephew. It's hard to say if the recent birth of his first son, Hunter, will mellow Kirkland, who is a partner in Luce Forward's Los Angeles office.
Kirkland has another unusual claim to fame as the author of Love Letters of Great Men. The character of Carrie Bradshaw had referenced a book of that title in the popular TV show and movie "Sex in the City." When Kirkland searched for it and discovered there was no such book, he wrote it himself.
Lawdragon: Can you describe your practice to our readers?
John Kirkland: My practice focuses on small-cap public companies, particularly in emerging growth areas like technology, life sciences and alternate energy. Clients like GetFugu, which is trying to change the way you use your cell phone, or a Chinese company that patented a way to grow biofuel in sealed tubes anywhere.
There are a lot of overseas companies, particularly in China and the rest of Asia, who want to access the U.S. capital markets.
LD: Can you talk about your recent work helping companies affected by the downturn get financing? What are some of the challenges involved in this work, and can you share a recent success in this area?
JK: If you're a public company with a good business model, a decent public float, and reasonable liquidity, I will find you money. I guarantee it.
I work with clients like Hutton International Investments, Ltd. and Socius Capital Group, LLC, to create innovative financing structures for companies that have tremendous growth and profitability potential, but don't necessarily fit the mold for traditional funding.
Companies with disruptive technologies that could truly change the world can't find financing, so I guess I'm trying to do my part. We've had companies on the verge of going under, but then signed deals within hours and funded them within days. Makes for some late nights.
They're nothing like cookie cutter deals, so you really need a pretty deep understanding of both the economics and the legal framework to make the pieces come together correctly. I spent the first couple years of my practice doing nine-figure securitization deals for major banks. Basically just changing names and numbers on the same 300-page document over and over again. Not for me.
LD: Please describe your work on the Russian insulin manufacturing facility. How did you come to get this project and whom are you representing?
JK: The week my son Hunter was born two months early, I was scheduled to attend the 2009 MAC Air Show in Moscow with the Russian delegation, so I had to cancel. But they invited me back to go fly-fishing for Taimon salmon and hunting for Russian wild boar with President Medvedev's nephew. The $100M insulin plant grows out of charitable work by Prime Minister Putin's wife. So apparently I'm becoming some kind of family lawyer.
LD: When did you start going on your travel adventures?
JK: In high school I just did sports, and silly things like getting into trouble with my buddy Ed (now a Marine sniper). I got pulled over by a Nebraska State Trooper for driving 180 mph on I-80, but he let me go when he saw that my grandmother, who I was taking to the doctor, was asleep in the back seat. Told me to keep it under a hundred for the rest of the way. But you have to realize, Nebraska is very flat. And empty. And flat.
In college I did more traditional things like skydiving, scuba diving, bungee jumping. My mom actually rode up in the basket with me; said she didn't know what she'd tell her friends if I ended up going splat.
The kinds of things I do now are pretty high end. Not everyone can afford a 24-hour flight to Namibia, or to take a week out of their lives on a few days notice when the opportunity comes up.
LD: Was there a trip early on that led you to get hooked on this type of vacation?
JK: When we were kids my family was hiking on the edge of the Colorado Rockies. My older sister slipped, slid down a loose gravel slope, and was hanging over the edge of a cliff grasping what could only be called a very small tree or a pretty big weed. I climbed down, hung over, and pulled her up. I guess "hooked" made me think of that.
LD: What are a few of your favorite trips?
JK: I like trips that are dichotomies. Cocktails by the pool at the Four Seasons Maui at sunset, then knife-hunting for wild boar on the south side of Haleakala the next morning.
Ultimately simpler is better. Best lobster I ever had was in a shack next to the ocean in Maine. The guy threw it up out of the boat, and we tossed it in some boiling water for a few minutes. Better than the fugu I was fed by a Giesha in Tokyo, though admittedly not as entertaining.
I have an antique rug from just outside the Forbidden City (went with clients after defeating a hostile takeover attempt), an oil painting I picked up below San Juan Hill (fly fishing for Tarpon), and a gorgeous pair of tusks in front of my fireplace.
LD: Have you ever been close to dying on any of your adventures or done anything you regret as too risky?
JK: In Swahili, the phrase "kati ya simba," literally translated "standing between the lions," is slang for being in great danger. On safari in Tanzania, my guide Prince Ishi Bakaka and I followed a lion into the bush. Turned out his whole pride was in there, and we quickly found ourselves surrounded. As I was trying to get a bead on the lead male, I heard him saying under his breath, "kati kati ya simba." He and I looked at each other, at which point he thought about what he was saying, and realized we really were standing between the lions.
Assuming you don't count that, on that trip I was almost killed by a cape buffalo charging our Land Rover, a Nile crocodile I turned out to be standing on top of for 20 minutes in a swamp before shooting it from about 6 inches away as it jumped up and tried to bite me (tastes like chicken), and chasing a group of poachers from their camp. I later learned they killed a group of tourists with automatic weapons; wish we had caught them.
LD: Can you set the scene and describe how you were able to kill a seven-foot black bear?
JK: That's actually a record book bear. Got it in a clearing of an old growth rain forest on Vancouver Island. On my last day a few minutes before sunset. Hiked back in, skinned, quartered and packed out the meat the next morning, before catching a seaplane back to the mainland.
Last time I hunted in Canada was when I took a polar bear 20 miles out onto the pac ice, about 300 miles inside the Arctic Circle. Chased it by dog sled for miles, until he decided it was silly for the largest carnivore in the world to be running, and turned around. Shot him in the chest at about 10 yards. Took three bullets directly in the head before he dropped, which was a good thing since the gun only held three rounds, and it was at that moment that my Inuit guide realized that (for the first time in 30 years) he had forgotten his gun back at camp.
LD: Do these trips, either directly or indirectly, make you a better lawyer, or do you see a connection to your practice at all?
JK: I often compare these trips to how an attorney should practice. They involve aggressive and creative thinking outside the box, which is what it takes to accomplish most of what I do as an attorney.
I certainly don't consider my adventures a marketing pitch for my clients, but it does help build and maintain relationships. My clients enjoy hearing these stories, which make them great conversation starters. I've also been on trips with clients that have turned into memorable bonding experiences.
LD: What's it like having your first kid? Will this "settle you down" now and result in fewer adventures?
JK: Somehow I get the feeling it may just give me someone new to run around and get into trouble with. But who knows, maybe he'll be into stamp collecting, and we'll get into that together.
LD: Can you describe to our readers how you came up with the idea for the Sex in the City book? Whose work is featured and how long did it take you to finish?
JK: I was intrigued by the book that Sarah Jessica Parker's character Carrie Bradshaw reads in bed, called Love Letters of Great Men ... only to find out after searching that it didn't actually exist. So I decided to write it.
It has people from Ovid to George Washington. Sir Walter Raleigh, Voltaire, Mark Twain, Mozart, Admiral Peary, Henry VIII, Lewis Carroll, Pierre Curie. It would make for an interesting dinner party. My criteria for whose letters to include were first, the writer had to be famous enough that just about everyone would have heard of them, and second, the letter had to be very romantic. Was dying to include something from Michelangelo, but it read like a shopping list.
I also wanted a lot of different kinds of people, not just poets and writers, so it includes scientists, adventurers, kings, presidents.
Sounds cliche, but the book wrote itself. Only took a couple months. Hardest part was stopping. At some point I just needed to say "done" and get it out, or I would still be writing it. A second book is in the works, which (if the estate clears it) will include a phenomenal letter from Ronald Reagan to Nancy that he wrote on board Air Force One. I expect it to be published next year.
LD: Have you gotten a lot of feedback from readers? What has the response been?
JK: Some unfortunate photos from middle aged women. Kidding.
The book is actually now in four languages. I love getting notes or emails from people who have enjoyed it, or are getting a copy for someone in their life they really care about. Really feels nice to make a difference in someone's life, even a little one.
LD: Do you or your wife have a favorite letter?
JK: My wife Ann says she likes mine the best, but then again she has to. The letters from Beethoven to his "immortal beloved" are incredibly romantic, but the ones from Napoleon are the most powerful, and the one from Van Gogh the most heartfelt.