Most Highly Regarded Firms: Illinois 2006 - Banking

Illinois is home to a significant pool of regional and local banking institutions, supplying the city’s mid-sized and large law firms with the full range of regional and international transactions. In 2004, JPMorgan Chase acquired Bank One, the largest financial institution headquartered in Chicago and the sixth largest in the US, leading to fears that the newly formed mega-bank would relocate to New York, creating a vacuum in the local market for investment and small business lending. Yet Bank One Chase remained faithful to its Chicago roots, to some extent allaying concerns about overconsolidation in the industry.

Our research identifies a top tier of five firms competing for the larger transactions. The 2001 merger between New York-based Brown & Wood and Chicago stalwart Sidley & Austin created a corporate powerhouse with an international footprint. Sidley Austin LLP dominates in terms of the number of its banking attorneys nominated to these pages; with over 1,600 lawyers operating in 15 offices in North America, Europe and Asia, the firm certainly a formidable presence in the international banking market. 

Respondents spoke admiringly of Bruce Bernstein’s “national profile” and “immense reputation” representing asset-based lenders and handling secured transactions for clients in the commercial banking sector. He has also been admitted to serve on the first, sixth and seventh circuits of appeal, and is a member of the International Trade Association for the asset-based lending and factoring industries. Partner and past chair of the acquisition financing subcommittee of the Commercial Financial Services Committee of the American Bar Association, James Clark is the co-author of a book on legal developments in secured financing. Researchers were told of his fine reputation for managing large complex transactions. The “superb” James Looman devotes much of his practice to representing agents, bank groups and corporate borrowers in lending transactions as well as general corporate work and bank conduit financing; recent clients have included Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and GE Capital. Gary Stern and Michael Gold were also mentioned favourably by competitors, many of whom reserved high praise for the firm, commenting variously on its “depth of talent”, the “quality of its lawyers” and “the extremely high regard” in which its banking team is held. 

Next to Sidley Austin, Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw LLP’s four nominees came highly recommended. Robert Baptista is “an authority” in the field. Partner and Chicago office practice leader Doug Doetsch is well regarded for his work in debt restructuring. Paul Forrester, who is qualified to practise in both Illinois and New South Wales, Australia, and Jason Kravitt (described as “the founder of the securitisation method”), who splits his time between the New York and Chicago offices, complete the group of banking and finance specialists from Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw. 

Still in this lead formation, three firms are represented by three attorneys each in our banking chapter. From Goldberg Kohn Bell Black Rosenbloom & Moritz Ltd, David Mason attracted widespread support among competitors. Mason worked on the US$220 million senior credit facility (provided by Merill Lynch Capital) refinancing of World Kitchen LLC, a manufacturer and marketer of branded kitchenware and cooking utensils. Another recent practice highlight was the financing of the Harlem Globetrotters. Cofounder of the firm and practice chair Richard Kohn is “technically proficient”, with an “enviable practice” representing lenders in international transactions. He currently serves on an advisory panel to UNCITRAL, as part of their efforts to help countries modernise their secured transaction laws. David Dranoff’s practice includes representation of lenders in assetbased secured loans, as well as cash flow and mezzanine lending; more recently, he has also handled an increasing number of ‘term loan B’ lending transactions involving hedge funds. 

Winston & Strawn LLP can call on the services of Charles Boehrer, who brings a background in mergers, acquisitions and securities transactions, and as such offers “a thorough understanding of financing structures”. Gregory Murray represents senior lenders in large syndicated secured and unsecured loans; his clients include JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America. Partner Ronald Jacobson is another “great resource” in the banking and finance practice: although his area of particular expertise is leveraged finance, he frequently represents asset managers, banks, financial institutions and investors in the full range of senior, middle-market, hybrid and mezzanine financings. Representative clients include ABN AMRO-LaSalle Bank, Madison Capital Funding, Wells Fargo Retail Finance and Citibank. With such a distinguished client roster, Winston & Strawn clearly deserves its reputation as one of the premier commercial banking practices in the city. 

Ten years after expansion brought it into the Chicago market, Latham & Watkins LLP has underlined its strong market position with an impressive performance in our research. Three attorneys fly the flag for the banking and finance practice: global co-chair of the firm’s banking practice David Crumbaugh, and partners James Doran and Donald Schwartz. Crumbaugh focuses on secured lending transactions on behalf of banks and commercial finance companies. Recent practice highlights include the US$825m debt refinancing from the acquisition of United Agriproducts. Since 2001, he has served as chairman of the governing board of the Commercial Finance Association Education Foundation. 

Doran was recommended to researchers for his “truly excellent” record representing lead lenders and agents in structuring syndicated loan transactions. Before joining Latham & Watkins in 1988, Schwartz held a senior role in the banking practice at Sidley Austin. He represents borrowers and lessees as well as foreign and domestic banks and commercial finance companies. 

Chapman & Cutler LLP was seen as “a very fine banking practice … with a solid track record in national deals”. Partner Marc Franson’s main clients are domestic credit agencies and banks, whom he counsels on a variety of secured and unsecured credit programmes (before joining the firm, he acted as general counsel for credit card services at Household International). The “outstanding” Ronald Rokosz raises the profile of the practice by representing foreign banks within the domestic market and in cross-border lending. He frequently represents major banks and financial institutions in multibillion dollar secured lending and syndicated credit facilities. 

At Katten Muchin & Rosenman LLP, Stuart Shulruff was complemented on his “very broad client listing and stellar reputation”. Much of his practice is taken up by senior financing, mezzanine financing and equity co-investments for institutional and entrepreneurial finance clients. He can count the following names among his long list of clients: Merrill Lynch Capital, General Electric Capital Corporation and LaSalle Bank NA. He is joined by partner Michael Jacobson, who enjoys recognition for the “impressive scope” of his practice and experience representing borrowers, investors and lenders such as Antares Capital Corporation and Cambridge Capital Partners. 

Two attorneys from Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP also received notable commendations: Lynn Mcgovern represents borrowers, financial institutions and investors such as Brera Capital Partners and Bank One in a range of domestic and international transactions; and Randall Rademaker provides “firstrate counsel” in large secured syndicated financings and other transactions for clients such as Sara Lee Corporation and Texas Pacific Group. Both lawyers are “very skilled professionals – an asset to the banking group at Skadden” and “thoroughly deserving of [their] nomination”.

This publication recognises several attorneys that are the sole representatives of their respective firms in the following pages. Recently recruited to Bell Boyd & Lloyd LLP from Faegre & Benson LLP, Peter Gaines brings 30 years of experience in syndicated lending, acquisition finance, leveraged buy-outs and credit facilities (to name but a few). Researchers were told of his “considerable stature”, having built practices in London and Chicago during his career. “I’ve no doubt he will make an outstanding contribution to the team at Bell Boyd,” said one source. 

Vedder Price Kaufman & Kamholz PC appears in this section largely thanks to “firstrate lawyer” and “expert in leveraged finance” John Mcenroe. Competitors mentioned a very positive relationship between McEnroe and his clients, whom he also advises in secured and unsecured, asset-based, cash flow and project finance credit facilities. 

Kirkland & Ellis LLP Partner Andrew Kaufman also features thanks to glowing praise from peers and clients. He was part of the large multidisciplinary task force that steered Conseco through its highly publicised bankruptcy and workout back in 2003, and he continues to enjoy a reputation as “an intelligent and resourceful banking lawyer”. 

Schiff Hardin LLP’s Scott Pickens is “undeniably of the highest quality”, and made easy progress through the research with an impressive level of support. He leads the firm’s finance group and specialises in representing creditors. Researchers were informed of his stature within the practice area, as a senior figure and authority in traditional banking work. 

Robert McMenamin of McDermott Will & Emery LLP is another “tremendous lawyer” who coasted onto our list; with over 30 years of experience concentrating on syndicated loans, leveraged acquisitions and mezzanine financing, he is “a wellrespected, well-recognised attorney”, who takes his place among an elite group of Chicago banking lawyers, selected purely on the strength of peer recognition and endorsement by local in-house counsel.

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Nominees have been selected based upon comprehensive, independent survey work with both general counsel and private practice lawyers worldwide. Only specialists who have met independent international research criteria are listed.

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