A Q&A Conversation with Kevin Morse
Helping turn a stressful situation into a positive one is the role of Chicago Bankruptcy Member Kevin Morse. Morse works with businesses nationwide to turn their balance sheets around and help them achieve their goals.
In addition to his day-to-day practice, Morse accepted the role of Deputy Member-in-Charge for Clark Hill’s Chicago office.
He recently discussed what makes his bankruptcy practice unique, what goes into being a Deputy Member-in-Charge, and a brief career in acting as a child growing up in Los Angeles.
How did you get interested in insolvency and bankruptcy law?
After my first year of law school in Los Angeles, all of the district court clerkships were taken, so I applied for bankruptcy externships. I found that bankruptcy law is a unique hybrid of many different practices, including corporate, transactional, and litigation. It didn’t really shoehorn you into one area of the law, you got to touch a lot of different things.
During that externship, I was exposed to huge Chapter 11 cases as well as Chapter 7 cases. There were two cases in particular that involved intellectual property law and real estate homestead exemption that I thought were amazing, and it snowballed from there.
During my 2L summer, I moved out to Chicago to spend the summer with my girlfriend (who is now my wife of 14 years), and I worked for the Department of Justice in their US Trustee division, which is the bankruptcy watchdog. That was my next foray into bankruptcy as I got to actually appear in bankruptcy court as a law student and really fell in love with the practice.
How would you describe the main goal of your practice?
When a company is not financially performing, they contact me to help them restructure their debts and reorganize their operations. I always say that a bankruptcy attorney’s job is to keep a company out of bankruptcy. Ideally, we want to be contacted as soon as there are signs of stress or distress so that we can use our tools in negotiating, restructuring, and any of the other out-of-court tools that are available to help the company balance its financials and get back on the right footing.
What makes your practice and the Clark Hill bankruptcy group unique in what the team offers to clients?
Our work is focused on the small-to-middle market, which is a broad range but includes organizations with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and liabilities. Many of these businesses are family-owned and multi-generational, so we really make a point to emphasize that these business owners have been connected to their work for most of, if not all of their lives.
An important part of my work is to ingratiate myself with the clients to get to know the individuals and what the company is all about. There’s no doubt that bankruptcy is a scary event and no one wants to consult with a bankruptcy attorney, so it’s important for me to understand what’s important to them, what their goals are, and then tell that story to creditors or a bankruptcy judge if necessary.
Another key differentiator for us is the ability to represent companies across the US. With more than 20 offices now, we can provide a personal touch in every area as we have the breadth to reach customers and other parties involved. I think that’s unique in the small-to-middle market. We’re small enough that we can be personal but also large enough that we can cover the entire country for our clients.
What really attracted you to join Clark Hill about a decade into your legal career?
What attracted me to Clark Hill was the opportunity to grow. Clark Hill is vibrant and growing. It’s looking to the future and that’s really what I was looking for. It was a platform to continue to expand and grow my book of business and my practice and take it to a national level. And it’s really helped me do that. Our footprint in Texas and the West Coast has really helped me expand my work to places I never previously touched.
Clark Hill has the tools to help me get to all of the places I need to go to, or we have team members to help in those areas if I’m unable to. This was an opportunity to grow and establish myself on my own, and Clark Hill has made it a great situation. I took a chance on Clark Hill and it’s really worked out well.
You’re now Deputy Member-in-Charge for the Chicago office, what has motivated you to pursue a leadership role like that with the firm?
I think there’s a ton of potential in the Chicago office in particular. We’ve got a lot of amazing established attorneys here, and I also think we have a lot of young up-and-coming attorneys in really important practice areas that we can continue to grow and market.
I truly don’t see any reason that Clark Hill Chicago shouldn’t be the preeminent mid-size Chicago office. We’re at about 65 attorneys right now and there’s no reason we can’t continue to grow.
I really want to help push that forward. I think there’s a lot of talent and opportunities here, and I think we have a lot to offer. I want to continue to make sure there’s growth among our current attorneys and those that we bring in. I wanted to be a part of that forefront, and continue to carry this firm forward.
What have you realized is a key part of the Deputy Member-in-Charge position?
Listening is a really important part of the job. Sometimes people just want to be heard, and I think it’s important when you’re in a position of management, it’s important to listen to them, hear what their concerns are, and see how you can address them.
Having an open mind and an open ear is important to make sure people are comfortable and feel included in this firm. Just like I do with my clients, it’s important just to listen to people. Sometimes they just want you to know how they’re feeling and what their concerns are, and I think that’s been a really important item that I’ve learned in the last few weeks.
Switching to something unrelated to law, we’ve learned that you were a child actor and got to work with Tom Cruise. What was that experience like for you?
Yes, I was Tom Cruise’s youngest brother in Born on the Fourth of July, and it was an amazing experience. I had no interest in acting but when I was 8 years old, my parents and I were shopping for sunglasses on Sunset Boulevard, and a woman walked up to me and asked me if I wanted to be in a movie. I wound up going to three auditions and got a part to play Tom Cruise’s little brother.
I went on to spend about eight weeks of second grade, not all at once though, flying to and from Dallas to film my portions of the movie. I would get flown first class and had my own trailer. Tom Cruise couldn’t have been a nicer guy. My mom and I went out to dinner with him once and we all signed autographs for fans while we were out. So there are people out there who have my second-grade signature next to Tom Cruise.