Dollars to Donuts
Bankruptcy lawyer Janice Grubin comes into her own
Published in 2021 New York Metro Super Lawyers magazine on September 30, 2021
Janice Grubin and her wife have been together 35 years but came out to co-workers only 15 years ago. “I wasn’t going to allow my situation to impact my career until I was comfortable that there wouldn’t be any negative repercussions,” she says. “I never went with anybody to firm functions or at conferences. I was always alone.”
It wasn’t until Connecticut legalized same-sex marriage in 2008 and the couple tied the knot that she came out at work.
“It was strangely anticlimactic,” says Grubin, co-chair of Barclay Damon’s restructuring, bankruptcy and creditors’ rights practice. “I think people were maybe even delighted. … Which led me to the conclusion that if you’re secure in who you are, and you’re good at what you do, people respect that and the other things aren’t important.”
At least in New York City, she hastens to qualify.
A longtime member of both the American Bankruptcy Institute and International Women’s Insolvency & Restructuring Confederation (IWIRC), which works to increase legal opportunities for women, Grubin is at the forefront of a new fight. In the past 10 years, she’s held three leadership positions with the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York (LeGaL). She received its Dedication Award in 2016, and in 2019 received Cardozo Law School’s E. Nathaniel Gates Award, named for a former professor dedicated to equality and social justice.
Grubin was present when insolvency law came of age. The Bankruptcy Act of 1978 helped white-shoe firms—which had traditionally looked down on bankruptcy lawyers—realize there was money in debtor cases, Grubin says. “I applied for a clerkship for a federal bankruptcy judge when I graduated because a friend of mine said, ‘This is going to be big. You should do this.’”
Offered a clerkship with a bankruptcy judge, Grubin, who’d never taken a class in the subject, taught herself the bankruptcy code. “I fell in love with it,” she says. “Sometimes I look at my odometer numbers and think of code sections. My wife thinks I’m crazy.”
Over the last 30 years, she has represented a wide range of individuals and entities in a broad range of industries. From 2013 to 2014, she repped a hospital in a small Upstate town facing severe financial troubles. “At first they thought, ‘Big-city lawyer, they’re not going to care about what happens to our hospital.’ But I was always there for them … and helped them navigate through some very difficult issues. And today that hospital is a new entity operating in the black.”
It was a similar story in 2005 when she became trustee of a complex and messy doughnut chain bankruptcy. “There were 25 Dunkin’ Donuts stores and a bakery and about 400 employees. I remember being appointed the Friday before Labor Day weekend, and it was like, ‘Here are the keys. It’s your operation.”
While she hired a former Dunkin’ Donuts manager to run the day-to-day, she wanted to reassure workers she wasn’t “some faceless functionary sitting in a high-rise in Manhattan.” So she’d visit the stores, meet the employees, taste-test the lattes.
The sale process was a multi-year high-wire act. “You often don’t know what assets there are when you’re appointed—and you have to create the assets that ultimately get you paid,” Grubin says. In the end, she sold all the assets, obtained court approval of 33 settlements, and collected a $10 million judgment against a prospective buyer after a trial on liability and damages—all of which generated a 70% recovery to general unsecured creditors.
Grubin remains deeply committed to “improving the bench both on a state and federal level with people from our community,” she says. “The LGBTQ community is very substantially underrepresented all over the country. … I don’t think that a lot of gay organizations are focused on this.”
After the Biden administration announced its first round of judicial appointments, she says, the White House invited 30 people to a conference, including the executive director of LeGaL. Grubin says, “He spoke up and said, ‘We think you’re doing great stuff, but it’s not enough on the LGBTQ front and I’m from LeGaL and we want to work with you on changing that.’
“We’re making progress,” she says. “We’re making some progress,” she hastens to qualify.