Bryn Sherman – Offit Kurman
Relationship-building isn’t always a given at major law firms. Attorneys are continuously tasked with moving from one case to the next, so they’re rarely able to offer the full gambit of services or truly gauge the effectiveness of advice rendered.
Which is far from ideal, says Bryn Sherman, a principal at Maryland-based Offit Kurman, which shares her tenet that for an attorney-client relationship to succeed, it needs a base of trust and understanding. Trust from the client to the attorney and understanding of the client from the attorney.
As she explains, the firm and its management committee encourage personnel to build and nurture long-term professional relationships — including her acting as outside general counsel to corporate clients that often become repeat clients.
“It’s the glue that holds the client – and you – together. It builds trust — it’s the emotional IQ component,” the personable Sherman tells Vanguard. “You’re always going to do a good job, but it’s just as important to connect with that person on the other end and make it clear that their matter is the most important matter to you during the time that you’re working with them. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s a $500 million matter, or a $50 one.”
Sherman is more likely to be entrusted with big-ticket matters involving complex litigation and bankruptcy law, one of her areas of expertise. But while she’s hoping there won’t be too much of a need for it, the evidence seems to portend otherwise.
Hard times come again
Sherman’s interview with Vanguard coincided with the news concerning the international pandemic COVID-19 that’s wreaked havoc on people, industries and the stock market. While Sherman feels that economic strife may be looming, she’s confident that Offit Kurman is prepared to mitigate difficult situations for clients as well as keep the firm’s lawyers in demand.
“I’ve been fortunate because whether the economy’s been bad or good, I am busy,” she muses with a hint of dark humor. “Everything I’ve been through has given me the ability to restructure a client’s debt in bad times or to acquire debt when the economy has been strong.
Due to the current state of affairs, debt restructuring is sure to be high in demand for this year and next, and Sherman’s days should be more than filled. While confidentiality concerns preclude her from speaking too in-depth regarding certain crises she’s mitigated, much of Sherman’s career has been about shepherding companies through a “bet the company” crisis. And while that’s never an easy process, she emphasizes how familiarity between counsel and client make it more bearable.
“Whatever crisis has caused the client to come to me? It requires me to fully understand whatever has happened with that client,” she says. “I must obtain and build out the big picture, not only for me but also for the client: What is their mission, their goal, the 5-year-plan, the 10-year plan? At the end of the day, the client is always happier when the strategic advice and options incorporate the underlying goal and they can see that I am fully invested in what they’ve created.”
Learned from the best
As to how Sherman became so comfortable in bankruptcy and real estate law, she equates it to a perfect storm.
Sherman was a law student at the University of Miami during the recession in the late 1980s and early 90s, which allowed her to soak up the wisdom of some uniquely qualified adjunct professors who found the South Florida climate agreeable during the winter. She recalls a Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer who lectured on financial industry regulations, and a bankruptcy attorney well-versed at the issues facing debtors and creditors.
Maybe most importantly, though, was one of her professors, Judge A. Jay Cristol of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida. He’d go on to be that district’s chief bankruptcy judge, but not before imparting much wisdom into Sherman and inspiring her to choose a future practice focus.
Sherman had clerked for a bankruptcy firm in Washington, D.C., and when it came time for her to go live at Deckelbaum Ogens and Fischer, Chtd., in 1992, she seemed a young veteran. “In my first year, I must have handled 10 to 15 hotel-apartment-condo debt restructures,” she recalls. “Bankruptcies were everywhere, including the first airline bankruptcies.”
Give her credit
Her fluent acumen on the debtor side served beneficial in being strategic when she transitioned to the creditor side of bankruptcy law, representing banks and the real estate sector. She gained better insight into multiple industries, and further sharpened her skills during another economic downturn, the Great Recession of 2008.
Having achieved partnership at Deckelbaum, Sherman was among a dozen of its lawyers who joined Offit Kurman following the firms’ merger in 2009. “It’s been a win-win situation,” Sherman says, adding that Offit Kurman, has gained recognition as being among the nation’s fastest growing full-service firms, with offices in seven states and the nation’s capital. The number of the firm’s lawyers has more than quadrupled to over 250 and there are now 13 offices from New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina.
There’s a personal touch of collaboration and entrepreneurialism in each attorney and each office, assures Sherman, who’s looking to extend her reach while remaining an Offit Kurman principal.
With nearly three decades of business law and experience as an outside general counsel, she’s interested in a seat on a corporate board of directors, serving a company in an audit, risk and compliance role.
Such an opportunity in the fitness or wellness business could appeal to Sherman, who’s passionate about nutrition and staying in shape. But she could also be at ease in real estate or the hospitality industry, where Sherman cut her teeth as a bankruptcy lawyer during the early 1990s.
A mother of two high schoolers as well as a busy lawyer, Sherman still found time to enhance her credentials through a course at the Harvard Business School Executive Education and has served on a nonprofit board since 2013. Now Sherman would like to take her skills to a boardroom of a U.S. public or large private company, and is armed with some well vetted advice.
“If your balance sheet isn’t right, and you’re not balancing risk and not compliant, somewhere along the line the shoe’s going to drop and you’ll have yourself a problem,” Sherman says. “It applies to all entities.”
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