Kathryn Smith, BFLSA Scholarship recipient reflects on her final semester at Columbia University in the City of New York.
Spring Courses at Columbia University – Overview
I am delighted to have graduated from the Columbia University Law School Master of Laws degree with first class honours, as a James Kent scholar.
In my Spring semester at Columbia University I took the following courses:
- Advanced Bankruptcy – Judge Robert E. Gerber and Professor Arthur S. Kaufman; Professor Michael Gerber;
- Cross-Border Insolvency and Sovereign Debt Restructuring – Judge Arthur J. Gonzalez;
- Secured Transactions – Professor Kenneth Kettering;
- Introduction to Financial Valuation – Professor Eric Talley; and
- International Banking & Finance – Professor Georges Ugeux.
I completed my LLM thesis under the supervision of Professor Edward Morrison. My thesis explored the lessons for Australia from the U.S experience of stay on contractual ipso facto clauses that become operative in the context of insolvency events. My research focussed on:
- key legal issues and practical arguments that may circumvent Australian insolvency practitioners’ ability to effectively rely on the ipso facto stay that was introduced by the Treasury Laws Amendment (2017 Enterprise Incentive’s No 2) Act 2017 (Cth); and
- proposed solutions to these issues, with a view to promoting efficient Australian reorganization processes and fortifying the legislative intention of increasing the incidence of successful Australian turnarounds.
My work was nominated by the Columbia law faculty for the E.B Convers Prize for the best original essay on a legal subject. Based on the research I conducted, I also contributed to the submissions made by the Turnaround Management Association to the Australian Treasury Department in May 2018 on the content of the forthcoming ipso facto regulations. I have also submitted an article derived from my thesis for publication, which I hope will be a useful resource for Australian insolvency practitioners in grappling with this new area of law.
View from the inside – some coursework highlights
During Spring semester I took the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of U.S insolvency law by taking an advanced course in bankruptcy deal-making. It was an amazing opportunity to approach restructuring in a multi-disciplinary manner. This course allowed me to consider not only the legal issues involved in effecting a turnaround but also management challenges and financial perspectives. I was also able to apply the new skills I had acquired from my law & business courses in financial valuation; financial statement analysis and interpretation; and accounting in the context of insolvency deals. This experience has made me a more well-rounded insolvency practitioner. It was also very exciting to be part of a small class where I was one of a handful of students with the privilege of regular interaction with former Bankruptcy Judge Gerber. His Honor shared his experiences as the presiding judge over high profile Bankruptcy cases that have established important U.S Bankruptcy precedents such as: General Motors, DBSD North America, Lyondell Chemical, Ames Department Stores and Adelphia, which made for very interesting class discussion and provided great advice for junior advocates on how best to present a case to the Bankruptcy Court.
Columbia permits students to cross-register for one course at New York University (NYU). I took this opportunity to enrol in former Bankruptcy Judge Gonzalez’s course on cross-border insolvency and sovereign debt restructuring. It was very interesting to learn how U.S Courts interpret and apply the UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross Border Insolvency that is substantially enacted in Chapter 15 of the U.S Bankruptcy Code. It was also very useful be able to raise issues and arguments pertaining to challenging issues that arise in the context of recognition of Australian insolvency processes directly with his Honour. This process afforded me an insight into the ways in which Australian lawyers can effectively advocate for the recognition of their clients under Chapter 15. Judge Gonzalez is also one of the members of the Financial Management and Oversight Board for the financial rehabilitation of Puerto Rico. It was fascinating to learn about his experiences as a member of that body and the legal, financial and political challenges that Puerto Rico faces as it endeavours to restructure its debt.
My course in International Banking and Finance also allowed me the to explore challenging contemporary legal issues in these fields, including: the regulation of crypto assets; developments in Fintech and the disruption and opportunities presented by the evolution of blockchain technology. As part of this course I submitted a paper on the intersection between international data protection regulation and the advent of Open Banking, which I am working with Professor Georges Ugeux to submit for publication to a U.S journal.
Learning outside the classroom – conferences & seminars
The Spring semester contained no shortage of opportunities for learning outside of formal classes. I was delighted to support a group of my colleagues from Columbia as they presented on deploying technology to resolve intersectional victims’ rights in the international justice arena at the 2018 Rebellious Lawyering conference hosted by Yale Law School. At this conference I also was able to listen to Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw’s captivating closing keynote on intersectionality, civil rights and current issues in race and gender law.
Another highlight of the semester was attending an interview conducted by Visiting Professor, Amal Clooney at Columbia, during which Professor Clooney asked tough questions of UN Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on current human rights challenges and the UN’s successes and failures in this sphere.
I was also fortunate enough to be sponsored by the International Women’s Insolvency & Restructuring Confederation (IWIRC) to attend their annual conference in Atlantic City, where I met talented women in insolvency from the East Coast of the United States and learned more about ethical issues in bankruptcy actions and Chapter 11 plan confirmation issues.
I also participated in a bi-weekly reading group in the American Constitutional Traditional, which allowed me to explore the historical, political and philosophical underpinnings of the U.S Constitution and consider its influence on present-day issues, structures and institutions.
I am currently studying for the New York Bar Exam, which will be held in July 2018. I will then join White & Case LLP (New York) as an Associate in their Financial Restructuring and Insolvency team in September 2018. I am looking forward to putting into practice all of the substantive U.S law and financial and business skills that I have gained this year.
My year at Columbia has been a deeply enriching experience. It has not only expanded my legal knowledge but also broadened my understanding of important issues in finance, business, accounting, technology and social justice. Columbia’s rigorous teaching methodology has also shaped me into a more confident, effective and resilient advocate. I have had the opportunity to make meaningful connections with talented lawyers from all around the world and gained valuable insights into different legal systems and cultures. This will stand me in good stead in an era where the practice of law is an increasingly global endeavour.
I know that I will look back on my LLM with great fondness and gratitude for the rest of my life. I am very thankful to the BFSLA for allowing me to undertake this incredible adventure.