The Big Apple Circus has filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection and the powerhouse international law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has agreed to represent the circus on a pro bono basis.
Debevoise is known as one of the world’s top law firms with offices in New York, Washington, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Moscow, Hong King, Shangai, and Tokyo. With over 757,000,000 in gross revenue in 2015 the firm normally represents high paying clients. Debevoise partners in the NYC office include Sean Hecker and Christopher Tahbaz, among others.
But Debevoise has a long history since its founding in 1931 of pro bono activities and has committed to provide at least 5% of the firm’s annual billed time to pro bono matters. The firm has regularly been recognized by The American Lawyer as one of the United States’ top pro bono firms. In addition, the firm has promoted pro bono work with such organizations as The Legal Aid Society, Human Rights First, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest Inc. and LawWorks. The firm has even represented prisoners incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay.
So it should come as no surprise that Natasha Labovitz, co-chair of Debevoise’s business restructuring and workouts group, and business restructuring counsel Christopher Updike have signed on to represent the Big Apple Circus without compensation.
The Big Apple Circus was founded in 1977 and is known for its charitable spirit. The circus has regularly provided discounted or free attendance to those who couldn’t afford full price admission. In addition, the Circus has also routinely provided free performances to disadvantaged groups. As a non-profit, the Circus has relied on contributions from donors, and large companies who rent out all 1600 seats at a cost of $50,000 to $100,000 per performance. But those revenues, particularly the large corporate show rentals, has declined significantly.
The revenue drop off required the organization to undertake an emergency fundraising effort. With a goal of raising $2 Million, the circus solicited donations from existing and new donors and even conducted a crowdfunding campaign. But despite receiving donations from 1400 donors during the campaign, they were unable to meet the $2 Million goal and had to cancel the 2016-17 season.
With an estimated $8.3 Million in debts and another $3.8 Million in other liabilities, the Circus has been forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. While many businesses are able to restructure and continue operating after a Chapter 11 filing, because of a lack of interest in circuses The Big Apple Circus is planning to sell its assets via the Chapter 11 filing and close its doors for good. Debevoise has added to its pro bono reputation by agreeing to guide the circus through the process.