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GRR Awards 2019 – law firms that impressed

Kyriaki Karadelis

21 May 2019

GRR Awards 2019 – law firms that impressed

Barcelona at dusk (Credit:

The penultimate shortlists for the GRR Awards 2019 are out now – for the “Large law firm” and “Small or regional law firm” that impressed.

The GRR Awards 2019 are being held in the beautiful El Palace Hotel in Barcelona on 15 June, one night before the opening reception for the International Insolvency Institute’s 19th Annual Conference.

Starting from 7pm, the evening will begin with a networking reception followed by dinner. Trophies will then be awarded in 11 categories, celebrating the people, places and matters that made an impact in the cross-border restructuring and insolvency sector over the past year.

In addition to the 11 awards categories, we will be revealing the top 30 firms in the GRR 100 2019 – our annual guide to approved cross-border insolvency and restructuring law firms – which will be presented to the wider public on the morning of Monday 17 June.

We have already revealed the shortlists in the categories for “Noteworthy Spanish restructuring matter”, “Most important cross-border recognition decision”, “Innovation in cross-border insolvency”, “Cross-border cooperation in a specific restructuring or insolvency matter”, “Jurisdiction of the year”, “Most significant restructuring or insolvency-related litigation” and “Diversity in restructuring”.

Now we are excited to reveal the nominees for the law firms that impressed GRR’s editorial team over the past year.

The final shortlist, for “Non-law advisory firm that impressed” will be revealed in the coming days. In due course we will also be unveiling the recipient of our annual Lifetime achievement award.

For full details about the GRR Awards 2019, as well as photos from last year and to book a place, please visit our event website.

All profits from the GRR Awards go to the Swawou Layout Community Primary School for Girls in Sierra Leone, which was established in 2008 by GRR’s parent company, Law Business Research, to offer free primary education to girls from disadvantaged homes in Kenema town, eastern Sierra Leone.


Large law firm that impressed - nominees

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld – Akin Gump in the past year advised the ad hoc group of creditors in Asian commodities trader Noble Group’s restructuring, which was completed in December 2018 via a COMI shift to the UK; parallel schemes in England and Bermuda; and finally a Bermudian provisional liquidator implementing a pre-packaged sale of the operating group to a new entity owned by creditors.

The firm also represented noteholders of London-based satellite operator Avanti Communications, which restructured in 2018 by way of an English scheme and Chapter 15 recognition in the US. It further acted for private placement noteholders of UK public contractors Carillion and Interserve, and for an ad hoc group of noteholders of the Greek ship fuel supplier Aegean Marine Petroleum in Chapter 11 proceedings.

In February 2019, Akin Gump replaced Kirkland & Ellis as counsel to discount shoe retailer Payless when the company made its second Chapter 11 filing in two years. US fund manager EnTrustPermal Management, a secured lender to Greek shipper Danaos, also hired the firm for advice in the shipper’s US$2.2 billion out-of-court restructuring, as did a special committee of the board of directors of Canadian gold miner Banro, which is in CCAA proceedings in Ontario following violent unrest at its mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In Asia, Akin Gump is advising Singapore-based engineering company CW Group in a multijurisdictional restructuring taking in proceedings in Singapore, Hong Kong and the Cayman Islands.

Allen & Overy – Allen & Overy represented regular client ING Bank in the Noble Group restructuring and in 2018 won a new instruction as international counsel to the Cayman parent of UAE private equity group Abraaj Holdings and its provisional liquidators in Cayman, London and Dubai, alongside Milbank. The firm was also international co-counsel to the coordinating committee of telecoms company Ojer Telekomünikasyon in the largest restructuring in Turkish history.

In the retail sector, the firm was tapped by Frankfurt-listed fashion retailer Gerry Weber for its German self-administration proceedings, and French retailer IKKS for a standstill agreement in June 2018, as well as by bank lenders to UK high street fashion chain New Look to advise on its US$1.3 billion debt-for-equity-swap. Again on the lenders’ side, the firm helped a group led by Standard Chartered Bank as global facility and security agent in the consensual restructuring of Drydocks World, one of the largest shipyards in the Middle East – the fifth time Allen & Overy has acted for creditors in the restructuring of an entity belonging to the government-owned Dubai World group.

On the litigation front, the firm succeeded in getting a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) proposed by collapsed broker MF Global terminated on behalf of a dissenting creditor.

Dentons – Dentons received a major instruction in late 2017 advising the Maduro government in Venezuela on the country’s sovereign debt crisis. Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA has also instructed it to advise on the reorganisation of its Bermudian subsidiary, PDV Insurance.

In North America, Canadian gaming company Blurberi is using Dentons as counsel in its Companies Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) proceedings, as is the United Mine Workers of America 1974 pension plan in the CCAA case of coal miner Walter Energy. A court-appointed Israeli functionary of housing developer Urbancorp has also tapped the firm in CCAA proceedings for the developer’s parent.

In Europe, Dentons is advising German airline Germania in insolvency proceedings in Berlin, while in Ukraine the firm advised lenders to the Switzerland-based iron ore company Ferrexpo on UKrainian and English law in connection with a pre-export finance facility. Dentons’ London partner Neil Griffiths is co-counsel to the UK’s Official Receiver and to PwC as court-appointed special managers in the Carillion liquidation.

Finally, in Asia, Singapore’s Dentons Rodyk & Davidson has been advising noteholders in the restructuring of Indonesian coal mining group Berau and the trustee of perpetual securities holders in the restructuring of water treatment company Hyflux.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer – Like Dentons, Freshfields is acting for the UK’s Official Receiver in Carillion’s liquidation and also Germania in its Berlin insolvency proceedings. Separately, Freshfields is advising pension funds in the restructuring of Carillion’s public contractor rival Interserve. It has also picked up some major mandates on the UK high street recently, acting for department store House of Fraser when it was bought out of administration and for Debenhams in its sale to creditors and CVAs.

Before the English High Court, Freshfields has been advising Deutsche Bank on an €126 million indemnity claim against MF Global’s UK subsidiary – the claim that gave rise to dissent from a creditor, which caused its CVA to collapse. In the Gerry Weber restructuring it is working for financiers. The European Central Bank appointed Freshfields partner Rafaele Lener as one of three administrators to Italy’s Banca Carige.

Kirkland & Ellis – US firm Kirkland & Ellis acted as counsel to Norwegian-Bermudian oil company Seadrill and more than 80 of its subsidiaries in their multibillion-dollar cross-border Chapter 11 restructuring, as well as parallel Bermudian schemes of arrangement, provisional liquidation proceedings and a Chapter 15, and the out-of-court restructurings of four minority-owned sub-corporate groups.

The firm was also international counsel to retailer Toys “R” Us in its mammoth restructuring-turned liquidation in some parts of the world, and to the extraordinary commissioner of Croatian food conglomerate Agrokor, which successfully restructured using an emergency law passed in its home country for systemically important companies.

Two Austrian subsidiaries of South African retail conglomerate Steinhoff International also used Kirkland for advice as they shifted their COMIs to the UK and proposed a pair of CVAs. Noble Group, which also shifted its COMI from Hong Kong to England to restructure through English and Bermudian schemes and a Chapter 15, also relied on Kirkland as its international counsel.

Secured senior noteholders of India’s Reliance Communications hired the firm to represent them in negotiations over its US$5 billion debt loan, as did noteholders of Debenhams and House of Fraser. Home improvement chain Homebase and UK stationer Paperchase also hired the firm to act on innovative CVAs for them in recent months. On the debtor side, the Greek ship fuel supplier Aegean Marine, US clothing retailer Nine West, and US-Canadian tyre distributor ATD Corporation also used the firm in speedy Chapter 11 proceedings over the last year.

Speaking of speedy proceedings, Kirkland & Ellis completed the fastest-ever pre-packaged Chapter 11 process for plus-size clothing retailer FullBeauty in February, then shaved a couple of hours off its own record with a pre-packaged process for disaster relief company Sungard in April.

Latham & Watkins – Latham & Watkins advised the ad hoc committee of noteholders in the €12 billion Steinhoff Europe restructuring, as well as the backstop group of DIP lenders to Steinhoff subsidiary Mattress Firm in Chapter 11 proceedings. The firm also represented a subsidiary of Liverpool oil and gas services company Bibby Offshore on a Chapter 15 application for recognition of its UK scheme, and advised Savannah Petroleum, another UK oil and gas company, on its bid for assets belonging to Nigeria’s Seven Energy, which is in administration in England and Scotland.

In Asia, it has been advising lenders in Bumi Resources’ Indonesian suspension of payments proceedings (PKPU), while Hong Kong partners at the firm advised perpetual bondholders of Noble Group. Latham & Watkins has been on something of a recruitment drive over the last year, hiring a partner from O’Melveny, and three from Sidley Austin in 2018.

Linklaters – As counsel to the joint administrators of Lehman Brothers International Europe, Linklaters was finally able to get a scheme of arrangement sanctioned for the European entity, which was recognised in Chapter 15 proceedings in New York, leading to the closure of its client money estate. The firm also picked up a new instruction as debtors’ counsel to New Look in the UK. Also in England, it acted (albeit unsuccessfully) for Russian creditor Sberbank in the first ever challenge to a cross-border recognition application in the UK, and helped Steinhoff’s Delaware subsidiary, Mattress Firm parent Stripes US Holdings, complete a scheme of arrangement. Linklaters later helped Stripes obtain Chapter 15 recognition of the scheme too.

In Hong Kong, the firm successfully helped HSBC oppose the recognition of Chapter 11 proceedings related to the restructuring of China Fishery Group on public policy grounds.

Slaughter and May – Slaughter and May was UK corporate counsel to Seadrill, helping it negotiate and implement a restructuring of its bank and bond debt. Separately, it also helped Seadrill with the refinancing of its Brazilian Seabras joint venture with Malaysia’s Sapura Energy.

Like Dentons and Freshfields, it is counsel to the UK’s Official Receiver and PwC as special managers in the Carillion liquidation, and has been helping a Canadian firm on aspects of Carillion’s CCAA process too. The firm later also teamed up with Ashurst to act as counsel to Interserve. It advised UK infant products retailer Mothercare on the amendment and extension of its debt facilities and new loans from shareholders, and advised its board on their duties too. New instructions for the firm in the last year include one from payday lender Wonga and its administrators Grant Thornton.

Small or regional law firm that impressed

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas – India’s Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas has a 30-strong insolvency team, including 11 partners who have been at the forefront of the emerging jurisprudence on India’s new insolvency law. The firm acted for ICICI Bank in the first referral to a corporate insolvency resolution under the 2016 Indian Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), Innoventive Industries Limited, and has been involved in 11 out of the 12 “dirty dozen” insolvency cases that the Reserve Bank of India asked certain banks to initiate in June 2017. The firm also represented the respondent banks and financial institutions in the matter of Swiss Ribbons v Union of India, in which the Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional validity of the IBC.

Outside the IBC, it advised the National Company Law Tribunal-appointed board of directors of Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services and its group companies on their resolution processes, and it is advising the lenders (led by the State Bank of India) to Jet Airways in the restructuring of that company.

De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek – This Dutch firm advised a banking syndicate led by Nordea and BNB Bank in the Seadrill matter. It was also co-counsel to the Central Bank of Curaçao and St Maarten in the emergency restructuring of ENNIA Caribe Holding, the largest insurer in the Netherlands Antilles, which De Brauw helped obtain Chapter 15 recognition in the US.

In the US$20 billion judicial reorganisation of Brazilian telecoms company Oi, De Brauw worked for Portugal Telecom International Finance, a financial vehicle of the Brazilian group. Another Brazil-related case, the Dutch bankruptcy of a special purpose finance vehicle belonging to OSX saw the firm acting for Bahamian entity Credit Suisse Brazil as a partially secured creditor.

The Dutch firm even provided counsel to UAE airline Etihad Airways, the parent of Germany’s bankrupt Air Berlin and largest creditor of its Dutch financing vehicle. 

But its most column-inch-generating instruction in recent years has been as counsel to David Godfrey, the former finance director of Russian oil company Yukos and its Dutch subsidiary Yukos Finance. After years of meandering in Dutch courts for control of Yukos’ international assets, the Dutch Supreme Court finally refused to recognised Yukos’ Russian bankruptcy.

Fangda Partners – China’s Fangda is counsel to the ad hoc bondholders’ committee of Huachen Energy, a Chinese power company that issued New York law-governed notes, in a US$4.7 billion restructuring. It is also counsel to US asset manager Four Rivers Equity Investment management in the reorganisation of Chongqing Iron & Steel.

Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries appointed the firm to advise it as a creditor of Chinese renewables company LDK Solar, as did the Japanese building material manufacturer Lixil as creditor in the reorganisation of Chinese companies in the sanitation group Joyou.

Garrigues – Spanish firm Garrigues recently helped the stationary supplier Adveo restructure €200 million worth of bank debt through a scheme of arrangement, securing an important court judgment on whether it was possible to scheme borrowers who had their registered office outside Spain, and whether the courts could bind a dissident lender to take part in a banking syndicate. The firm is also counsel to the insolvency administrators of certain subsidiaries of the Isolux Corsán Group, which entered insolvency proceedings in 2017 following the collapse of an international restructuring in Spanish, Dutch and US courts.

Other recent mandates include working for the Dutch-Spanish property investor Marme Group and its parent companies in liquidation in Madrid, and for lingerie retailer Agent Provocateur Spain.

Gleiss Lutz – From Germany, Gleiss Lutz has been acting as counsel to steel manufacturer SKW Stahl-Metallurgie on a four-year restructuring effort. The company has subsidiaries in the US, France, Brazil, Bhutan and India all financed by its German parent.

The firm is also advising a Swiss family-owned private equity investor, Porterhouse, on buying an insolvent German-Swiss clinical group: a deal based on five coordinated German insolvency plans and an additional asset deal. Partner Andreas Spahlinger is advising the insolvency administrator of German kitchen manufacturer ALNO and its subsidiaries in Germany and in a Chapter 15 in Delaware.

For Steinhoff, Gleiss Lutz has provided advice on contingency plans and securing new financing, and on the sale of an Austrian subsidiary. It has also been acting for tourism company Tui and its German leisure airline in the Air Berlin bankruptcy, and the insolvency proceedings of its Austria-registered subsidiary Niki. Other ongoing mandates for the firm include the restructuring of German shipping group Rickmers.

Oon & Bazul – While barely a year old, Oon & Bazul’s restructuring group in Singapore has already acted on some precedent-setting cases, including for the US Trustee of insolvent luxury jet operator Zetta Jet, where it persuaded a Singapore court to recognise Zetta Jet’s Chapter 7 proceedings. The case was the first time a Singapore court considered the public policy exception in Singapore’s recently-adopted embodiment of the UNCITRAL Model Law.

In April 2019, the firm also secured the first-ever super priority order under Singapore’s new restructuring regime, for travel platform Elsewhere, it obtained recognition in Singapore for the joint and several liquidations of Hong Kong company Zhong Jun Resources. It is also currently acting for the liquidators of a forex trading model offered by a BVI fintech group that collapsed in 2017, and for the proposed investor in the Singaporean judicial management proceedings of listed company China Sky Chemical Fibre.

Osler Hoskin & Harcourt – Osler Hoskin & Harcourt has a role in most major cross-border insolvencies that touch Canada: it is currently counsel to retailer Sears Canada as it liquidates its inventory and stores, and to the Canadian subsidiary of US discount shoe retailer Payless in its second bankruptcy in as many years.

In the steel sector, it is counsel to the debtor-in-possession (DIP) lenders of Essar Steel Algoma, and is acting for Brookfield as replacement DIP lender to US Steel Canada in that company’s CCAA proceedings. Osler has a role in the Toys “R” Us bankruptcy acting for an ad hoc group of creditors and as Canadian counsel for the administrative and collateral agent under a DIP credit agreement. Soap seller Crabtree & Evelyn; KPMG as proposal trustee of kids’ clothing retailer Gymboree; and pension claimants of multinational coal miner Walter Energy have also recently used the firm.

But its most prominent recent instruction was probably acting for secured debtholders of the Canadian pharma group Concordia International in its Canada Business Corporations Act (CBCA) proceedings. The Concordia case has received a nomination in the “innovation” category for the GRR Awards 2019.

Walkers – In May 2018, a Walkers team in the Cayman Islands celebrated a partial victory for clients Grant Thornton as liquidators of Saad Investments in the longest, and most complex, litigation to ever take place on the Islands. The Cayman court dismissed multibillion-dollar fraud claims against Saad, finding that the plaintiff – Saudi conglomerate AHAB – had known of and authorised what the court described as potentially one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history.

Also in Cayman, the firm was counsel to PwC as joint provisional liquidators of Mongolian coal producer Mongolian Mining Corporation as it pursued a local scheme, as well as one in Hong Kong and recognition in the US. In the British Virgin Islands, the offshore firm has been acting for Chinese investor Jinpeng Group as it seeks to recover US$35 million loaned to luxury resort owner Peak Hotels, and for entities of Brazil’s Banco Bradesco, which obtained the first ever appointment of soft-touch provisional liquidators in the BVI. Walkers has also been advising Bermuda-incorporated Hong Kong-listed construction group Hsin Chong in provisional liquidation, as well as Bermuda-registered, Hong Kong-incorporated coal miner UP Energy. The board of Portuguese bank BANIF also hired Walkers to assist it in winding up and restructuring its offshore entities after its assets were split between “good” and “bad” banks and the good bank was sold to Santander.

William Fry – Irish firm William Fry is co-counsel with Davis Polk & Wardwell to reinsurer Ballantyne Re on a scheme of arrangement in Dublin, through which it plans to restructure notes governed by New York law. Last year, the firm also provided counsel to women’s formal clothing chain Karen Millen in its purchase of the Irish subsidiary of a similar retailer, Coast, out of administration. In June 2018, William Fry represented French company Naval Energies as it successfully petitioned for the appointment of provisional liquidators over its subsidiaries in the tidal power group OpenHydro.