The Ten Essentials in the Bankruptcy Wilderness

Stephanie Wickouski is a New York bankruptcy lawyer. A partner with the NY office of Bryan Cave LLP, she has practiced bankruptcy law for more than 30 years.

The ten essentials are survival items for the wilderness.  They traditionally included things like a map, compass, sun protection, clothes, matches, a knife, water and food.

In the 21st century, the ten essentials were updated to match modern equipment and technology. The “new” essentials now include things like a GPS system and a flashlight.  They also take a so-called “systems approach.” They are not identified as specific items, but as categories/objectives: e.g., navigation, sun protection, insulation, nutrition.

Not every walk in the woods requires you to carry all of them, but chances are, if you do, you are likely to fare better in an emergency.

The “ten essentials” concept took hold, and was copied widely in areas that had nothing to do with hiking in the wilderness.  For instance, fashion magazines frequently tout the “ten wardrobe essentials”  (pieces like a white shirt, a black dress, and a trench coat).

In 2014, restructuring professionals need an updated “ten essentials”, too.  To start the year, here’s my list:

1. An electronic advance sheet. An accessible one that you like to read. Never again have that sinking feeling when everyone else is talking about a decision handed down yesterday and you have no clue.

2. A close relationship with a restructuring financial advisor. Many FA firms follow and closely analyze financial metrics of large companies on Bloomberg.  These FA’s detect signals that a company is headed toward bankruptcy months before anyone else, including the company.

3. A strategy buddy. Successful restructuring types have had their own small “lean-in groups” for years. Everyone needs at least one or two close colleagues in their specialty to strategize with on a regular basis – outside of the office, over dinner or drinks, in a relaxed setting.

4. The right communication device. I can’t tell you how many bankruptcy lawyers I have heard complain about how they hate their old blackberry, i-phone, android, etc. – yet don’t want to spend the money to replace it.  This is one splurge-worthy item! There is no piece of technology more important on a day to day basis than your smart phone. If it’s not optimal, replace it now.

5. The perfect all weather coat. You won’t be at your best if you walk into a hearing cold and wet. As with smart phones, this is frequent area where bankruptcy lawyers’ instinctive cheapness with themselves tends to outweigh good judgment.

6. Bottled water.  Have a bottle in your briefcase at all times. It keeps you from being hoarse, headachy, and sick – none of which any of us can afford.

7. Mini code and rules. There is no substitute for this, even if you are a not a lawyer. If you are a lawyer, have a copy at home so it is handy at all times. You never know when a client or colleague will call with a question. There is nothing more impressive than a crisp, immediate and accurate response.

8. A good bankruptcy app. In case you are somewhere without your mini code.

9.  A good crisis communications firm specializing in bankruptcy. Have him/her on your speed dial. A “Freedom Industries” type problem cannot be dealt with by a legal strategy alone. A terse, empty press release – when everyone is expecting to see a thoughtful, nuanced one – is a sure fire way to set back a case for months.

10.  A great legal assistant. This one needs no explanation.

What are your ten essentials?

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