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September 07, 2018  

Morgan Lewis Assembling Team in Chicago

Morgan Lewis is pushing to establish a large structured-finance presence in Chicago as part of an effort to expand into asset classes it has traditionally overlooked.

The firm, whose securitization practice is based in New York, wants to hire at least 10 partners and associates to focus on transactions backed by subprime auto loans and equipment loans and leases, as well as collateralized fund obligations.

“We’re expanding the offerings to our clients to give us additional depth in asset classes in which we don’t have expertise,” said Reed Auerbach, head of Morgan Lewis’ securitization group. “We never had a structured-finance practice in Chicago. Now we do, and we’re looking for great talent.”

The recruits will work in an office that already includes securitization partners Jeff Weinstein and Patrick Lampe, who arrived Aug. 27 from Sidley Austin. In addition, Morgan Lewis partner Philip Russell has relocated to Chicago from New York.

The firm’s global structured-finance practice counts more than 70 partners and associates.

Morgan Lewis ranks among the most-active securitization law firms, with clients including BMW, Redwood Trust, Toyota and Verizon. But it has lagged behind rival firms in some asset classes, particularly subprime auto loans. Morgan Lewis hasn’t handled such a deal since 2016. So far this year, 39 subprime-auto securitizations totaling $22.9 billion have priced in the U.S., according to Asset-Backed Alert’s ABS Database.

Another focus of the Chicago group will be collateralized fund obligations, which are backed by shares in hedge funds and private equity funds. While only a few such transactions have materialized, Morgan Lewis has been approached by several insurance companies in the Midwest about structuring deals. That partly explains why the firm is assembling a team in Chicago.

Morgan Lewis ranked second among underwriter counsel in Asset-Backed Alert’s mid-year league table, while finishing third on the issuer-counsel side.