Wachtell rings in new top leadership

Corporate lawyer Andrew Nussbaum and litigator William Savitt to succeed veteran chairs Edward Herlihy and Daniel Neff

William Savitt (l) and Andrew Nussbaum Images courtesy of Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz

Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz has named two new co-chairs, with corporate lawyer Andrew Nussbaum and litigator William Savitt set to take the reins of the highly profitable New York firm.

The duo will succeed current chairs Edward Herlihy and Daniel Neff, who have led Wachtell since 2006 and will remain on its executive committee, the firm said. 

Nussbaum has been a partner at Wachtell for nearly 25 years, having joined in 1993. Last year he was part of a Wachtell team that worked on AT&T’s $43bn WarnerMedia spin off and merger with TV company Discovery and has also advised Salesforce on a number of matters including its $27.7bn acquisition of Slack in 2021. 

Meantime Savitt, who joined Wachtell in 2000 and co-leads its litigation department, made headlines recently when he litigated on behalf of Twitter against Elon Musk after Musk sought to back out of his $44bn acquisition of the social media company, compelling the deal to close on its agreed terms in October last year. He has acted in a number of other landmark and prominent cases, including defending Allergan in response to a hostile bid from Pershing Square and Valeant.

Nussbaum and Savitt are set to lead a law firm that has long been one of the most profitable in the US, with Wachtell’s 89 partners earning an average of $7.29m last year according to data from the American Lawyer, a figure surpassed only by Kirkland & Ellis’s $7.52m per equity partner. 

Under Herlihy and Neff, Wachtell, which operates out of a single New York office, maintained its reputation as a preeminent deal and litigation firm in the face of stiff competition from much larger US rivals such as Kirkland. 

The firm is one of the last on Wall Street to operate a pure lockstep partner compensation model, Davis Polk and Cravath Swaine & Moore having moved to modify their locksteps in 2020 and 2021 respectively. However, Wachtell remains distinct in its policy of restricting itself to practising US law and resisting the temptation to open overseas branches thereby helping to keep costs down and profitability higher, so long as the top-end work keeps flowing in.

According to Bloomberg, it was one of the first law firms to use “success fees”, which link fees to the value of successful deals rather than hourly billing rates. 

The use of such arrangements was put under the spotlight earlier this year when Elon Musk sued Wachtell in a bid to recover $90m in fees, alleging the firm had secured an improper bonus payment on completion of his acquisition of Twitter. 

Wachtell has denied the claim and last month Judge Richard Ulmer of San Francisco Superior Court agreed with the firm that the case should be heard by arbitrators rather than in court in the first instance, according to a Reuters report.

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