Nancy Valentine’s Idea of Fun

Complicated bankruptcy cases make this attorney’s day

Published in 2013 Ohio Super Lawyers — January 2013

For most people, the keys to an unforgettable summer include a light island breeze and a few toes in the sand. But Nancy Valentine isn’t most people. The summer of 2006 was one of her favorites because she spent three months as the appointed Chapter 11 trustee of an Ohio golf course. “It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done,” says the Hahn Loeser & Parks bankruptcy attorney. “I mean, really fun.”

Typically, the U.S. trustee grants appointments to a pre-elected panel. But then-trustee Saul Eisen “took a big chance on me,” Valentine says. She laughs when she recalls her course of action: “I went down there with a locksmith and shut the place down. He goes off panel, and that’s the first thing I do.”

It was a good instinct. “I had to decide what to do with the facility, which was in a lot of trouble—close the doors to market it for sale,” she says. “The end of the story is that we sold it, which paid the bank in full. The result was a good one.” It was in the middle of the story, though, where Valentine excelled. “We had virtually no money,” she says. “We had about enough to pay the bills for 90 days, and that’s it.” To sell the course, it had to be maintained. So Valentine got creative. “We made an arrangement with a neighboring golf course to maintain it for us,” she says. “They wanted to bid for the facility, so we planned to offset their bid with the cost of maintaining it.” (Ultimately, that particular course was outbid.)

As much as Valentine enjoyed the trustee process, she says it was tough not actually being the lawyer on file. “My now-partner was the lawyer, and at the second hearing he told me, ‘You don’t get to be the lawyer this time. You have to sit down and be quiet. You need to tell me something, you write me a note,’” she says. “That’s very difficult for me: not talking.”

Before settling on bankruptcy law, Valentine gave divorce work a try, but it didn’t fit. “It’s a very tough business,” she says. “People are very emotional. It gets very tricky. While I was fairly good at dealing with the clients’ relationships, I found it more stressful than dealing with complex multimillion-dollar transactions.”

That’s not to say human emotion doesn’t play a part in her work. “I think people get distressed, and then do something they shouldn’t,” she says. She cites a distressed-asset case involving multiple shopping districts in which a member of management got caught in a check-kiting situation. “He didn’t get prison time, but that is a crime. These things don’t always materially impact what I’m doing … but I’ve seen proceedings become more difficult because of criminal charges.”

One of the biggest cases in Valentine’s career involved AgStar Financial Services, which gives loans to the agricultural industry. Valentine represented the company after a series of loans, involving eight dairy farms in Ohio and Indiana, eventually went into default, totaling more than $70 million in debt. “We learned that a lot of these farms were in distress in 2009,” she says. A contributing factor was that milk prices had dropped below what it cost the farms to produce. Compared to her asset-distress cases—in which the companies in question are not operating—the farms were still running. “An operating business, with live cows—that made things challenging,” she says. “Both the firm and I continue to provide legal work to AgStar in various ways.”

Valentine’s referral network helps her get cases like AgStar, and she gives a lot of credit to the International Women’s Insolvency & Restructuring Confederation (IWIRC). “IWIRC has just been incredible for me,” she says. “First of all, I don’t have anyone in my family with a legal background. I knew who Jones Day was, but I didn’t have a lay of the land with big firm versus medium firm versus small firm. And I didn’t have a network of referral sources from New York firms.”

She says IWIRC, for which she serves as treasurer, opened its arms to her. “It’s a great way to network a lot more easily,” she says. “But more so, being able to walk into a room full of women, both senior to you in age and younger, and you can meet them and their friends … you get comfortable. It’s something that means so much to me.”

Valentine appreciates the variety of her work. “You get a little touch of business, you got a little touch of litigation and having to be in court and quick on your feet, and you’re helping people solve problems.”

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