Analysis: Star dealmaker Edward Lee leaves Wachtell for Kirkland
Wachtell suffers a rare defection as it loses an impressive young partner to the world’s highest-grossing law firm.
It isn’t often that Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, one of New York’s two most prestigious corporate powerhouses, loses partners: its generous lockstep compensation model, collegiate atmosphere, premium client base and high-stakes mandates keep many ambitious partners there for decades. But in a surprise move, M&A expert Edward Lee has just joined the New York office of Chicago-headquartered behemoth Kirkland & Ellis.
Though perhaps too young to be a marquee name, Lee was undoubtedly one of Wachtell’s most impressive partners; we interviewed him last year for a feature. His CV reveals his pedigree: before Wachtell he was at New York’s other elite law firm, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, for 20 months. Less than 15 years after graduating from Harvard Law School, Lee was already a prominent player on some of Wachtell’s, and therefore the world’s, largest deals: he had instrumental roles in Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $74 billion acquisition of Celgene and United Technologies’s $90 billion purchase of Raytheon, as well as acting on smaller but still substantial deals such as Salesforce’s $16 billion acquisition of Tableau Software. Between 2019 and 2020, he advised on over $300 billion worth of M&A. And this is to say nothing of his expertise in shareholder activism.
This is simply the latest chapter in Kirkland & Ellis’s campaign to dethrone America’s most prestigious corporate firms. Having nabbed M&A and shareholder activism experts Jonathan Davis and Eric Schiele from Cravath, Swaine & Moore in 2016 and 2018 respectively, Kirkland enticed David Klein from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison last summer. No doubt the Chicago firm’s generous compensation helps: Wachtell has the highest PEP (profit per equity partner) in America at $6.3 million, but its closest competitor is Kirkland, which no doubt offered Lee an exciting compensation package. Partner pay at Kirkland is based not on seniority but on performance, so a budding rainmaker like Lee would stand to earn a very high salary indeed.
Kirkland is not without its own losses in M&A: this year, in the space of two months, it lost corporate experts Neal Reenan, Ian Bushner and Kate Withers to Latham & Watkins, the second-highest-grossing law firm in America. But in 2019 it ranked third in the world for M&A by deal value, behind Wachtell and Sullivan & Cromwell. It already has volume on its side – last year, it handled 663 deals compared to Wachtell’s 69 and Sullivan & Cromwell’s 154 – and it’s been handling higher-value deals for some time now. It likely won’t be long until it takes the number one spot.
The European Commission’s approval of the copyright directive in April threw more gas on the fire. In a few years, the internet has become – among other things – the main market fo
The long-serving boss of Cobepa, Jean-Marie Laurent Josi talks about the business model of a Belgian investment firm that is trusted by major European families, one which marries t
Since the last half of 2008, it is no longer possible to conceal the term ‘crisis’. New paradigms have become apparent and structural changes are predicted. Indeed mar