Harvey Miller

Miller Time

Inspired by the challenges of an economic downturn,
Harvey Miller ’59, bankruptcy’s eminence grise, builds
on an already unparalleled career.

By Peter Kiefer

Winter 2009

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It is a testament to his reputation as America’s preeminent bankruptcy attorney that Harvey Miller ’59 has earned some notable monikers over the years. The New York Times recently referred to him as “The King of Bankruptcy.” And The Wall Street Journal dubbed Miller “Dr. Doom,” which put him ill at ease.

“My mother was having some health problems, so I was concerned how she would interpret it,” Miller says at his office overlooking Central Park. “But when she read it, she was thrilled because she thought her son had finally become a doctor, which is the ambition of every Jewish mother!”

While the financial markets pinball around and economic prognostications continue to darken, Miller is entitled to a bit of levity: Business for him and his firm, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, is booming. After being involved in almost every major bankruptcy case of modern times, Miller is putting the finishing touches on his biggest feat: the liquidation of $613 billion in assets for the nation’s fourth largest investment bank, Lehman Brothers.

It is, at least for now, the largest Chapter 11 case in U.S. history.

It would seem that Miller’s career has been leading inexorably toward this particular moment in history. He recently returned to Weil, Gotshal & Manges after decamping to investment bank Greenhill & Co. in 2002. Prior to that, Miller had spent 33 years building Weil’s bankruptcy department into one of the most prominent debtor-side practices in the country.

According to Leonard Rosen, a retired founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, what makes the 75-year-old Miller so successful is his willingness to both negotiate and, if necessary, go to the mat for his client.

“He combines the skills of a good litigator with the skills necessary to make a deal,” says Rosen. “And he has a phenomenal memory for every case he has ever worked on.”

Indeed, the list of bankruptcies Miller personally oversaw and can now reference is unmatched—everything from Texaco and Macy’s to Eastern Airlines and Drexel Burnham.

As a result of the recent economic downturn, Miller is being solicited more and more for his advice and expertise. At a recent Law School forum, he debated with Michael Patterson ’67, a retired vice chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., over whether the current financial crisis could have been averted by increased regulations.

“My entire career, people have told me the market is perfect,” Miller says when asked about the forum discussion. “The market is not perfect. The market runs on rumors, and the market is based on confidence. What happened on September 15 is you destroyed the confidence of the market.”

It has been a year and a half since Miller returned to the practice he helped erect. In financial terms, those 18 months have seen seismic shifts, and more are expected. But he appears surgically calm about his decision.

“I am really much more comfortable, more connected to and challenged by being in a law firm environment,” he says. “I even have the same phone number. It is like returning home, not withstanding Thomas Wolfe.”

Peter Kiefer is a New York–based freelance writer who has written for the Rome bureau of The New York Times.

Photographed by Mike McGreggor

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