Paddling Upstream with Only One Orr

Most Americans think that lawyers spend most of their time in courtrooms, but modern lawyers wear a wide variety of hats. Lawyers serve as advocates, counselors, mediators, judges and spokespeople, among other occupations. Attorneys who specialize in large corporate bankruptcies and reorganizations, for example, spend much of their time taking a gigantic financial mess and straightening it out in a way that solves the problem and is fair to every one of the creditors. This takes not only courtroom skills, but the ability to understand and undertake complicated business, financial and contractual obligations.

So when the City of Detroit became burdened with more than $14 billion in debt and a widening cash shortfall, who better to turn to than a reorganization attorney? Kevyn Orr worked as a successful bankruptcy lawyer and turnaround specialist at Jones Day in Washington, D.C., before accepting an offer from Michigan’s governor to become Detroit’s emergency manager under a state law allowing such appointments. Orr is well-known for his work in major corporate turnarounds and high-stakes bankruptcies, including helping Chrysler after the company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009.

Now, Orr is working with city leaders to help trim Detroit’s expenses and find ways to generate new revenue. The Detroit City Council initially opposed his appointment based on the argument that the state shouldn’t be sticking its nose into the city’s business, but those rumblings have quieted since Orr was officially appointed on March 1 before assuming his new role on March 25. Orr told reporters that he plans on exploring every option to ensure that he gets the job done, whether that means selling city assets, renegotiating labor contracts or even filing for bankruptcy protection. Those moves may well generate outside opposition from urban preservationists, union officials and others, but Orr has been there before in other matters and emerged with favorable results.

The task is unimaginably difficult, as it will require expertise in government, finances, labor, bankruptcy law, administrative law, accounting and a myriad of other skills. It’s hard to imagine anyone but a lawyer successfully taking on this thankless task. 


Posted: 3/29/2013 12:00:00 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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