After spending four years as a bilingual kindergarten teacher, Jennifer Wertz intended to practice immigration law, an area in which she saw a need while teaching. But her unexpected love for learning contracts during her first year of law school coupled with the bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers in her first month of law school refocused her attention to an area she had never considered: bankruptcy and restructuring.
“Most of us probably have had a winding path toward restructuring,” Jennifer stated. “It’s just not something you see growing up.”
She started law school in 2008 amid the economic collapse. The fallout from the collapse, Jennifer noted, bred a new generation of bankruptcy lawyers—including herself.
While attending the contracts and bankruptcy courses in law school, Jennifer enjoyed learning about this niche area and appreciated the foundation of bankruptcy law and how it folds into all other practice areas. She views it as a true generalist practice. By the time she completed her respective internship and clerkship in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern and Western Districts of Texas, there was no turning back.
A Culture of Support and Shared Success
Jennifer joined Jackson Walker in 2012 as an associate in the Bankruptcy, Restructuring, & Recovery practice. Since then, Jennifer has been a part of the significant expansion of the Debtor Representation team from fewer than five attorneys in 2016 to doubling to now 10 attorneys—a majority of whom are women—in 2023.
Jennifer reports that the Debtor team is one of the most positive parts of her practice. The team’s structure, she said, provides a lot of support to each member of the group and breeds success.
“A legal career is both a journey and a destination. In my experience, the real key to enjoying both of those in practice is the company you have along the way,” she said. “Our Debtor Representation team has helped me develop as a restructuring lawyer in more ways than I can count.”
Jennifer added that, “Our team has always been vocal about the success of each member of the team, and achievements are celebrated by the whole team. It’s important for women and diverse lawyers to have a culture that fosters success and propels you forward, even with respect to the little daily wins, particularly in the world of restructuring.”
Recently, Jennifer served as team captain in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case for an oil and gas exploration and production company to restructure $2.7 billion of debt as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. She has continued to lead the firm’s representation of the company with respect to its various post-chapter 11 matters. Part of that representation included advocating that the bankruptcy confirmation order discharged and enjoined a post-confirmation lawsuit, which was successful and resulted in a very favorable dismissal.
“That matter really showcased our ability to think outside of the box, all the while using the tools the Bankruptcy Code provides, and we were able to do it in a way that garnered tremendous success for the client,” she said.
Women and Restructuring
The restructuring world, she noted, is about relationships. Not only do attorneys need to think creatively, but they must also manage relationships and oftentimes work toward building consensus in order to obtain a successful outcome.
“On the debtor side, we may have hundreds of parties opposing us. It is the furthest thing from a two-party dispute. Success is frequently driven by consensus. Even outside of one case, it is important to remember that although you may be on the opposing side of a party this week, the next week, your interests may align,” she stated. “In my experience, some of the most effective restructuring lawyers have strong interpersonal skills and are creative thinkers. That is also a large part of the reason a diverse team like our debtor team fosters success.”
“In my experience, some of the most effective restructuring lawyers have strong interpersonal skills and are creative thinkers. That is also a large part of the reason a diverse team like our debtor team fosters success.”
Breaking the Mold
To improve gender parity in the restructuring practice, Jennifer pointed to the need for teams to support and uplift one another on a regular basis.
“In a group with a supportive, celebratory culture like ours – highlighting when someone has done something well on a regular basis – that is helpful and helps female lawyers shine,” she said. “The world of restructuring—especially complex restructuring—can be a bit of an elite club. It can be hard to break into, which is why it is so important to support women and diverse attorneys where they are in their practice, and acknowledge not only the big wins but also the little steps that make a big impact along the way.”
Jennifer F. Wertz is a partner in the Austin office’s Bankruptcy, Restructuring, & Recovery practice. She represents a variety of stakeholders involved in bankruptcy proceedings and related complex litigation. Jennifer also represents entities in complex corporate reorganization and fiduciary litigation, with a focus on workouts and reorganization. She is board certified in Business Bankruptcy Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
Outside of her practice, Jennifer is a volunteer of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and is a member of the Austin Bar Association’s Bankruptcy Section.