Duane Morris is steadily growing its Dallas office, adding its second lateral partner this year with the addition of James Billingsley.
Billingsley joins the firm’s business reorganization and financial restructuring practice group, Duane Morris announced Monday. Billingsley was previously a senior partner at Polsinelli.
“Having seen the trajectory and growth of Duane Morris in Dallas, I’m very pleased to be part of a dynamic, growing firm and look forward to using its platform to expand my practice nationally,” Billingsley said.
Duane Morris opened its Dallas office three years ago. Since then, it has become a “full service legal resource for clients in the metroplex region,” said Randy D. Gordon, managing partner of the Dallas office. Three weeks ago, Duane Morris added Craig M. Warner as a partner in the Dallas office’s trial practice group.
Texas is a “strategic focus” of the firm and growing the business reorganization and financial restructuring practice group is a priority, Chairman and CEO Matthew A. Taylor said. The practice group has already experienced “robust client demand,” Taylor added.
Billingsley has more than 25 years of experience handling complex business, bankruptcy and commercial disputes as well as asset acquisitions and financial services matters.
“James will contribute his experience in a range of industries, and he has broad and strong relationships across multiple sectors as well,” said Meagen E. Leary, the Practice Group’s co-chair.
Billingsley graduated with honors from the University of Texas School of Law.
You were at Polsinelli nearly 12 years, right? Why is Duane Morris a better fit for your practice?
Duane Morris has prioritized the growth of the business reorganization and financial restructuring practice group in Texas, which is a strategic focus of the firm. The trajectory and growth of Duane Morris in Dallas and Fort Worth over the last several years has been remarkable. I’m pleased to be part of a dynamic, growing firm with a national practice. There’s a great group of attorneys in the Texas offices, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with them to expand the practice, grow the firm, and solidify our market identity.
Do you think debtors will consider the Northern District of Texas as a Ch. 11 bankruptcy venue option over the Southern District of Texas with the ongoing controversy in the SDTX?
They should. The Northern District of Texas has some of the best bankruptcy judges in the country. It’s a group of very smart jurists from different backgrounds who bring a lot of experience to bear, both from their time on the bench and in private practice. The complex case procedures and local rules ensure that all cases get the proper attention and move as quickly as they need. Tuesday Morning Corp., Gold’s Gym, CiCi’s Pizza and a lot of other complex cases were successfully administered in the Northern District in a short amount of time.
What does the SDTX bankruptcy court need to do to get past the controversy in order to get back to being a popular venue for complex commercial bankruptcies?
The Southern District of Texas is still a good venue for complex commercial cases. I don’t think the judges in the Southern District get enough credit for how well they manage their dockets.
We keep hearing that a wave of bankruptcies involving commercial property owners is coming but it never seems to hit. Why is that? Are we back in an “extend-and-pretend” period or is the wave still coming?
It’s probably some of both. The office sector of commercial real estate is the problem. Other sectors seem to be doing fine, especially multi-family and digital communications-oriented properties. And even in the office sector, a number of projects are moving forward. There are several new office buildings under construction in Uptown Dallas with more planned. The problem is the older properties. They’ve lost tenants, they can’t raise rents, and their operating costs have increased because of inflation and higher interest rates. But until lenders become more aggressive, meaning more willing to take properties back through foreclosure or otherwise, there won’t be a massive wave of filings. Everyone is still in a wait-and-see posture.
What do you see happening in the world of complex Ch. 11s for 2024?
I expect the trends we saw in 2023 to continue this year. Last year, commercial filings were up substantially, and I think that trend will continue. Higher borrowing costs, tighter loan covenants, and persistent inflation will lead to more distress across a number of industries. It should be a busy year for bankruptcy and restructuring professionals.