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Maintaining Variety: A Conversation with Libbie Howley O’Keeffe

Libbie Howley O’Keeffe is a corporate and business lawyer who specializes in diverse business and finance transactions. Her work encompasses business planning, transactional matters, commercial lending, financing, corporate and regulatory compliance issues and business succession planning. Libbie has experience in general corporate representation and counseling, securities, equity and debt financings, as well as mergers and acquisitions. Here, she tells us about some of her most exciting deals, and how her clients weathered the storm in 2020.

HA: Tell us about your path to Hinckley Allen and the kind of law you practice.

LHO: I figured out pretty early on that I didn’t want to be in a courtroom. Litigation does not suit my personality, so in law school I explored areas of the legal world that felt a bit more collaborative. Luckily for me, my partner mentor at the law firm where I was a summer associate happened to be a corporate lawyer and I realized quite quickly this practice area was the right fit for me.

That summer and during my first few years of practice, I ended up working primarily with my partner mentor. I was very fortunate that he had a very diverse corporate practice and didn’t really specialize in any particular subset of corporate law. I’ve been lucky to mirror that as I’ve moved along in my career. I made the transition to Hinckley Allen in 2016 and fortunately, I’ve been able to maintain a general corporate practice where I get to do a little bit of everything.

My practice includes M&A work, and a decent amount of the VC financing work. We have one client in particular in the life sciences space that we represent quite frequently for their investments in startups and emerging companies. General corporate lending and refinancing work remained quite consistent this past year and we’ve also seen an uptick with clients thinking about business succession planning and considering employee stock ownership plans. That’s a new area of work for me and it has been fascinating.

One of my favorite things about Hinckley Allen is that I have the opportunity to work with so many corporate attorneys across our offices who all have different areas of expertise.  It has made for a fantastic learning environment for me as an associate.

HA: Can you tell us about a particularly exciting or case or one that was like a really big learning experience for you?

LHO: At the end of 2020, we worked with a female-owned life sciences consulting firm to set up an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). It was really exciting because this company was built from the ground up by one woman, and as she thought about her business succession planning, she really wanted to thank her employees for helping her get her company to where it is. The timing of the closing of this transaction was perfect – the owner was able to share the news with her team that she had set up the ESOP right before the holidays.  I really enjoy working with closely held clients like that, where you can establish a close relationship, get to know their stories, how they built their businesses and, ultimately help them show their appreciation to their employees.

HA: What has it been like for you working remotely for more than a year?

LHO: Well, I welcomed a new baby a year ago, so it has been an interesting year to say the least!  When I came back from my first maternity leave a few years ago, I had the full support of my group to work remotely one day a week so I was somewhat prepared to work fully remotely once my second maternity leave ended. Pre-COVID, I never had to ask or push for a remote work day. There was an implicit, collective understanding that the firm would make it work for me. That supportive attitude helped me transition nicely into this COVID work lifestyle.

HA: And how do you think your clients have been feeling throughout the pandemic?

LHO: I think everyone immediately went into survival mode and has slowly started to transition back to normal.  A lot of my clients took very cautious approaches at the start of the pandemic – focusing on preserving their business and maintaining their workforce. While some of their expansion and financing plans may have been put on hold, it’s been incredible to see all the creative pivots these companies have made. Many clients have been pleasantly surprised by how well they’ve weathered the storm.