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Getting It in Gear: Alan J. Brody

Shareholder, Greenberg Traurig | TMA Member: 16 years
©2021 Drew Noel Photography, www.drewnoeldesigns.com

Q: How did you gravitate into turnaround/restructuring work?

Brody: I graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in accounting and immediately joined the audit department of a large accounting firm. At that point, I was fascinated with the various economic and operational issues faced by our clients.

Wanting to expand my horizon, I quickly entered law school, where I naturally thought I would gravitate to some type of business law. But it wasn’t until my second year of law school that I would meet the person who would truly set me on my professional path.

After I took my first bankruptcy class, a friend of my father’s suggested that I interview for a judicial internship. He told me I needed to go to Brooklyn and meet with the Hon. Conrad B. Duberstein, who was the chief bankruptcy judge for the Eastern District of New York. I didn’t know it at the time, but that interview was the beginning of my career.

My internship with the judge led to two amazing post-graduate years as his law clerk, which formed the basis for everything I know about practicing bankruptcy law. Judge Duberstein was an incredible judge, mentor, lawyer, and person. He taught me the importance of understanding the intricacies of the Bankruptcy Code and the practical equities involved in complicated bankruptcy cases.

Q: He was an impressive judge to be associated with right from the start.

Brody: I was fortunate to have the best. He was truly my mentor.

Q: Did you ever appear before Judge Duberstein after you became a practicing bankruptcy attorney?

Brody: Unfortunately, I never appeared before him in a case. After I finished my clerkship, we met for lunch on numerous occasions. I constantly called him for sage advice, and I always told him that I looked forward to the day that I could appear before him. It just never happened. I appeared before many of his colleagues in the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and others, but not before Judge Duberstein before he passed away.

Quote: Cycling is a great passion of mine. I find the sound of the gears turning on the bike creates clarity and fosters focus.

Q: I was curious whether he would hold a former law clerk to a higher standard.

Brody: Oh, he would have. I can tell you that. When I was clerking for him, his prior law clerks appeared before him. He held us all to a higher standard, but that’s what drove us. We loved that about him. He wanted us to be better—better lawyers and better people. He was incredible. He always said to us, “You need to know the law but never think you are the smartest person in the room. Be prepared to argue your case from every angle, because you never know how your adversary will come at you or what questions the judge will ask.” He taught us to approach problems with creative solutions, not just objections and more problems, and always to think out of the box.

Q: What have been some of your most gratifying, favorite, or important engagements along the way?

Brody: I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in so many great cases over the years, each one challenging and rewarding. I would have to say one of my most memorable cases is Hanjin Shipping Co., which at the time was the largest maritime shipping company in South Korea. Hanjin filed for bankruptcy protection under the insolvency laws of South Korea and shortly thereafter filed a Chapter 15 petition for relief in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Jersey, seeking recognition of the South Korean bankruptcy proceedings and a stay of all injunctions against its ships in U.S. territorial waters and ports.

My clients owned approximately $300 million in cargo in transport containers on several Hanjin-owned ships located throughout the world and bound for U.S. ports. If the cargo could not be timely unloaded in the U.S., my clients and a large number of other beneficial cargo owners would lose valuable contracts with retailers throughout the U.S. The problem was, Hanjin owed significant money to creditors, who would immediately seize all the ships upon docking in the U.S.

Every hearing was standing room only. The judge ordered extra chairs to be brought into the courtroom to accommodate all of the attorneys. Working with some of the other large cargo owners, we drafted a protocol, approved by the court, that provided a streamlined process for Hanjin to unload the cargo without the risk of the ships being arrested upon entering a U.S. port or the cargo being retained by the ports and for Hanjin to receive payment for its services, all of which allowed commerce to flow.

Another truly gratifying case that I was involved in was New England Motor Freight, one of the largest truck load carriers in the Northeast U.S. In that case, I represented a large institutional secured lender. We needed to create an expedited path for the committee to review liens of multiple banks on thousands of semi tractors, trailers, and miscellaneous equipment that would work within the framework of more than a dozen auctions that needed to take place consecutively throughout the region.

Sitting down with my fellow bankruptcy attorneys who I knew through TMA helped us work out a practical resolution that allowed the sale to proceed expeditiously and for my client to recover a significant portion of its claims.

Q: What key milestones in your career have made you the professional you are today?

Brody: Clerking for Judge Duberstein is certainly the greatest milestone of my career. It is both the first milestone and the keystone of my career. My fellow law clerks and I like to get together and share stories of our time with the judge. Inevitably, we always end up saying we need to write a book about everything the judge taught us that made us better bankruptcy lawyers. It would take up multiple volumes and would fill a library.

Transitioning from law clerk to practicing lawyer provided several milestones along my path, culminating in making partner and running a practice. It became my time to sink or swim. Developing my own clients necessitated moving to a strong global firm that could provide first-class service throughout the world, which led me to make a home at Greenberg Traurig, where I was able to expand my network and manage people in multiple offices with deep resources. In the insolvency space, no one is an island. The firm’s collaborative environment has been a crucial catalyst in the continued growth of my practice.

And now, as treasurer and a member of the board of the New Jersey Chapter of TMA, I’m fortunate to work with incredible people in developing networking and educational events that further stimulate conversations among our members and help mentor our young members in the TMA NextGen group.

Q: What role has your TMA membership played in your career?

Brody: I started as a TMA member in both New York and New Jersey, because I started my practice in New York and then came to New Jersey, where I grew up and where I’ve raised my kids.

TMA is a collaborative environment among different professionals in the insolvency space, essentially a roundtable of lawyers, accountants, bankers, turnaround professionals, and auctioneers, all sitting down together to share ideas. It’s an amazing platform to network with others and to keep current on hot topics in bankruptcy, finance, and the various issues we face in our professional space.

Through TMA, I’ve forged a great number of relationships that have brought me into all types of bankruptcy cases, receiverships, and out-of-court workouts. When I’m referring a matter, I immediately look to my TMA family. And as a member of that family, I’ve been the beneficiary of referrals coming my way. I‘ve had the pleasure to meet so many people over the years through TMA, several of whom I count as my personal friends with whom I enjoy spending leisure time outside of all of our hard work.

Bankruptcy involves numerous parties, all looking out for what’s best for their individual clients. The best way to resolve problems to the benefit of your client is to understand each of the other parties’ asks and needs. This way, you can put the puzzle back together in a manner that ultimately allows you to reach your goal.

Through TMA, I’ve created fantastic relationships so that when I walk into court or, nowadays, get on a video conference, people know me and trust what I have to say. This happens when you’ve sat on educational panels together, enjoyed a meal together, or played a round of golf together at a TMA event. Let’s face it—our business is all about relationships and solving problems together.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is new to the industry or is thinking about getting into it?

Brody: Get out of your comfort zone, become involved, and always know there is more to learn. Meet people and find out what they’re all about. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Become part of professional and personal organizations. It’s rewarding and it’s incredible how they will broaden your perspectives and create lifelong relationships. The relationships I’ve been fortunate to make through TMA have been a driving force to my success.

Q: What are you passionate about outside the office?

Brody: When I’m not working, I like to spend time with my wife and two sons, go on 50-plus-mile rides with my cycling buddies, and hit the golf links.

Cycling is a great passion of mine. I find the sound of the gears turning on the bike creates clarity and fosters focus. Riding group pace lines, to me, is similar to our turnaround world, because to achieve the goal, everyone needs to work together as one and take turns in the front to pull the group forward through adverse conditions. In a pace line, we work best together as a team. When I’m out on the bike, I can think about anything I want. I can think about my family, I can think about work. I can relax, I can be competitive. I can enjoy time with my friends.

Q: How long have you been cycling?

Brody: I’ve been cycling for about 15 years. I started doing some local events, and I’ve made great friends in some of my cycling groups and my cycling team as well.

Q: Have you taken any especially memorable trips that involved cycling?

Brody: My wife and I went out to Colorado one summer, and I rented a racing bike and rode around the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. It was something I always wanted to do since seeing that stretch of road raced by professionals in the Tour of Colorado many years ago. The rock formations are beautiful, and the climbs were just tremendous. I love doing that.

Q: How did you hold up in the altitude?

Brody: At first it was difficult. I’ve also done some hiking out there, and I’ve learned that you have to get acclimated to the altitude. So, you start small and you drink lot of water, and every day you hike and ride a little bit farther until you get used to it. Once you get used to it, you’re fine.

Q: What might people who only know you professionally be most surprised to learn about you?

Brody: In addition to cycling for fun and fitness, I used to get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to train for time trial racing. Time trialing is a pure test of ability. Instead of a mass start, riders are assigned start times out of the gate. It’s a race against the clock that indulges my individual competitive side. With no drafting other riders allowed, you have to push yourself as hard as you can to achieve the best time.

Life is about balance and doing what you love. I’m fortunate to have an amazing family and a career I truly love. TMA has helped me achieve this.

Q: Is TMA New Jersey starting to open back up now?

Brody: We are. We have been looking at potential outside venues. Throughout the pandemic, we have been coming up with events that, while not in person, allowed for us to interact with each other through online video conferencing facilities. Whether through a coffee tasting or an educational panel, we’ve been able to continue to provide content for our members, which is fantastic.

At this point, we all crave personal interaction, and we are now trying to develop some live events toward the end of the summer and going forward, when people will be comfortable attending. We are talking about a lot of great events right now. We’re also working with other chapters within the Mid-Atlantic region. There’s great benefit to networking with other chapters, so that our members and their members can find ways to work together.

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