A graduate of New York University School of Law and a senior partner in Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Richard (Ricky) Mason is the chair of the firm’s restructuring and finance department. He has represented many parties in high-profile domestic and cross-border restructurings and distressed transactions. Ricky is active in numerous non-profit organisations. Currently, he is the vice chair of the National Bankruptcy Conference, which advises the United States Congress on bankruptcy law.
What do you enjoy most about cross-border restructuring work?
I enjoy trying to reconcile US domestic bankruptcy law with the insolvency regimes of other countries. Sometimes, they match quite well, particularly as more countries adopt laws similar to our Chapter 11. But other times, there are fairly severe mismatches, which present opportunities as well as challenges. I also enjoy the chance to see how clients and other professionals across the globe think about all of the issues related to distressed situations.
What are the main concerns for clients currently?
That depends on the type of client. For example, our hedge fund and other investor clients focus on how to deploy capital in the global low-interest environment in a way that maximises opportunities but does not expose their investment to undue risk. Our corporate clients who might be distressed, view it from the opposite perspective; they ask whether they can borrow funds or otherwise manage their capital structures so that, where possible and appropriate, they might “kick the can down the road”. All of our clients have an eye on the current pandemic and vaccine issues, and whether the US government stimulus will allow our economy to continue its recovery while not triggering inflation and higher interest rates.
As restructurings become increasingly global in nature, what qualities must lawyers practising in the area possess?
I think the lawyers who will excel in global restructurings must be able to explain our laws, and our approach to distressed situations, in a way that is clear to an audience that might be wholly unfamiliar with both. They must appreciate legal and cultural differences, be good listeners and be able to work well with clients, other professionals, and even adversaries halfway around the world. It will also help to be a good traveller, although of course during the current pandemic, international travel is difficult and in some cases impossible.
How would you describe the intersection between mass torts and bankruptcies?
This has been one of the most active areas recently. Broadly speaking, mass tort litigation is about requiring companies to compensate plaintiffs for the harm allegedly done to them. Bankruptcy, on the other hand, is about trying to resolve issues and pay claims, but also, where possible, to preserve the company as a going concern. The intersection of the two, which occurs when a mass tort defendant files for Chapter 11, can often feel like more of a collision. Claimants and their attorneys want to be paid, and the debtor, with limited resources, wants to stay alive. But ultimately, bankruptcy is about creditor democracy. If enough claimants support an appropriately structured deal, it will stand a good chance of being approved by the court.
How do you see the restructuring market developing in 2021?
Most of the restructuring work in 2021 will likely involve working off the effects of 2020. The commercial real estate industry, for example, saw challenges last year that seem likely to persist and perhaps even intensify in certain segments. Similarly, some travel names are still in Chapter 11 and working their way out. And there are always the somewhat idiosyncratic circumstances, such as the recent Texas utility crisis. As for the restructuring market overall, the question might be which will win the race to reach the population: the virus or the vaccines. If the latter, which is of course the goal of all of our governments, then the economic shocks of 2020 should continue to recede.
2020 saw several industries severely impacted by covid-19. Which industries do you see bouncing back in 2021?
The US energy industry, which saw a wave of 2020 bankruptcies, seems to be on the mend, as oil prices have recently risen to above $60 per barrel. With the arrival of vaccines, the market has also become more optimistic about travel businesses. For example, the cruise lines have been able to issue stock and debt while awaiting clearance to recommence sailing, and the bond prices for many airlines have shown significant recovery.
To what extent do you think globalisation will play a part in resolving issues created for businesses by covid-19?
One of the many covid-19 challenges that companies face is how to maintain their global supply chains and customer relationships, in the face of national restrictions intended to combat the virus. And as these restrictions relax, the question becomes whether the movement toward tariffs and other barriers to trade will relax as well, or whether it will continue to intensify. The answers to these and related questions will have an effect on companies that restructuring professionals represent or with which they otherwise engage.
What is the most memorable case you have worked on in your career so far?
The sale of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team in the 1990s. My favourite team when I was a kid, the Orioles were successful and not in bankruptcy, but the principal owner was a Chapter 11 debtor. As counsel to his lenders, we negotiated with Major League Baseball to sell the team in a bankruptcy auction. The entire drama allowed me to regale my father, a retired sports broadcaster, with many stories.
Richard Mason is singled out by respondents as a go-to in the US market for large and complex bankruptcies and restructurings.
Richard G Mason has been a partner in the restructuring and finance department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz for over 20 years.
Mr Mason has had leading roles in many of the largest and most complex bankruptcies and out-of-court restructurings during that time, including Energy Future Holdings, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Hawker Beechcraft, Kerzner International, FairPoint Communications, Masonite, Spectrum Brands and Delphi Corporation. He represents bank and bondholder groups, acquirers, distressed investors, boards of directors, private equity sponsors and other significant creditors and shareholders in domestic and international matters.
Mr Mason is a co-author of Collier’s Bankruptcy Practice Guide. He speaks on insolvency subjects at prominent institutions around the world. These include the American Bankruptcy Institute/New York University School of Law bankruptcy and business reorganisation workshop, Columbia University Business School, the Canadian Institute, LUISS Guido Carli, the Israeli Ministry of Justice and the Hawkamah Institute for Corporate Governance (Dubai). Previously, he was a co-chair of the secured transactions and insolvency committee of the ABA section of international law.
Mr Mason is a fellow of the American College of Bankruptcy. Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers identifies him as one of the leading restructuring lawyers in the United States. K&A Restructuring Register lists him as one of America’s top restructuring advisers.
Mr Mason graduated magna cum laude from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1983 with a BS in Economics. He was inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi honor fraternity while at VCU. Mr Mason received a JD cum laude from New York University in 1987. At NYU, he became a member of the Order of the Coif and was on the staff of the Annual Survey of American Law.
Mr Mason is an active volunteer for several non-profit organisations. He is a co-chair of the bankruptcy and reorganisation group of the UJA-Federation of New York's lawyers division, and a member of the New Leadership Network of the American Israel public affairs committee. An Eagle Scout, he is an executive committee member of the board of trustees of the Boy Scouts of America's Greater New York Councils. In 2012 he received the Silver Beaver Award for his leadership on behalf of over 40,000 Scouts and Explorers in New York City.
Together with his wife Beth and their two children, Mr Mason founded the Mason Civic League, a 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to providing educational, art and civic support in Hoboken, New Jersey and beyond.