Kirkland & Ellis hires Wachtell Lipton M&A partner in latest assault on Wall Street elite

Edward Lee joins Chicago giant after advising on 2019's two highest-value deals in rare partner loss for Wachtell
Wall Street

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Kirkland & Ellis has hired M&A partner Edward Lee from Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz in a move that underlines the global firm’s ability to pick off top talent from the traditional Wall Street elite.

Lee’s defection remains a rare example of a high-profile loss by Wachtell but is just the latest of a series of eye-catching New York hires by Chicago-based Kirkland, which recently consolidated its position as the world’s largest law firm by revenue.

“Ed is among the top young M&A lawyers in the country, with significant experience guiding clients through high-profile M&A transactions, as well as governance and activism defence matters,” said Kirkland chairman Jon Ballis.

“Ed’s addition continues our long-term investment in the firm’s leading strategic M&A business. He will be a great addition to the top-tier platform we have in New York and across the firm, and we are thrilled to welcome him to the team.” 

Last year, Lee was on the Wachtell team that advised on the year’s two biggest deals, advising United Technologies on its $88.9bn merger with Raytheon and Celgene on its $87.7bn acquisition by Bristol-Myers Squibb, which was advised by Kirkland.

The mega deals helped propel Wachtell to the top of the 2019 Mergermarket global legal adviser table by value, two spots ahead of Kirkland, in third place.

Among the Kirkland partners advising Bristol-Myers Squibb was Jonathan Davis, who was hired out of Cravath Swaine & Moore in 2016.

The landing of Davis, followed by fellow Cravath partner Eric Schiele in 2018, signalled the potency of Kirkland’s offering — with the firm proclaiming its ability to stand ‘toe-to-toe with the upper echelon of New York’s Wall Street elite’.

Departures from Wachtell remain rare. In 2005, Kirkland’s great ‘out of town’ rival Los Angeles-based Latham & Watkins hired partner Barry Bryer to help spearhead its M&A push.

A year later, Mitchell Presser left to help found private equity firm Paine & Partners before returning to legal practice at UK magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which he left last month to join  Morrison & Foerster.

In making the move, Lee will be saying goodbye to Wachtell’s famously collegiate culture, whose virtues he extolled in an interview last year.

“We’re much smaller than our competitors,” he told Leaders League. “That closeness and familiarity among all of our colleagues helps maintain a very clear culture and focus.”

Last month, Leo Strine, former Delaware chief justice and a leading proponent of governance reform, joined Wachtell as a consultant.

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