5 questions with Brad Erens

Brad Erens, a partner at Jones Day, oversees the business restructuring and reorganization practice at the law firm’s Chicago office. The firm, which is considered the eighth largest worldwide, is known for its litigation practice, which numbers over 1,000 lawyers. But Erens took time out from his busy day to chat recently with Jeremy Harrell, managing editor of Buyouts, an affiliated publication of PE Week. The conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: Six months ago, one of your partners was somewhat facetiously complaining of not having enough to do. That still true?

A: We’re substantially busier than we were six months ago. Even with a little less than two months left, 2007 will go down as having the least number of bankruptcies of any other year. But the activity behind the scenes has picked up dramatically, certainly for us and I suspect for most people.

Q: Given the loose lending terms of the last cycle, have LBO firms given their portfolio companies a long enough runway to avoid default?

A: It’s a case-by-case issue. We are seeing some companies that are highly levered and that will continue to need new capital. At some point, the investors and sponsors will decide to stop throwing good money after bad, and those companies will pile into bankruptcy pretty quickly.

Q: If a wave of restructurings are oncoming, how contentious is the issue of second lien loans going to be?

A: There are a lot of complexities associated with how second-lien loans work, compared to first lien loans in a bankruptcy. There have been some decisions on that over the last couple of years, but there are still a lot more issues that need to be vetted. So those disputes will rise in cases and will tie up cases. The main point I’d make is that if you’re a first-lien lender with a week intercreditor agreement, you will regret having that agreement going into a bankruptcy.

Q: Is this an issue that’s going to have to play out in the courts, or can it be hammered out at a negotiating table?

A: I think we’ll see both. It’s unlikely that it will play out only in the conference rooms and not in the courtrooms.

Q: We have heard that we will begin seeing a different wave of restructurings, given how diverse the debt markets have become. Do you agree?

A: No one has a crystal ball. I don’t tend to think that restructuring cycles are dramatically different from one to the next. We see revolving five-year cycles of higher activity and lower activity. And while there are always new issues—such as hedge funds and second-lien debt this time around—at the end of the day, the restructurings are in any large respects the same.