The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Kevin Lehpamer, Partner — Corporate
Kevin Lehpamer is a partner in Clifford Chance’s New York Corporate practice, with a focus on public and private M&A transactions. He regularly advises sellers, purchasers, and other parties in negotiated cross-border and domestic mergers, acquisitions, reorganizations, joint ventures, and investment transactions. He has represented a broad range of clients, including Blackstone, Pfizer, Barclays, Toshiba, General Electric, KKR, and JPMorgan. He has been recognized in the leading legal publication The Legal 500 and by IFLR1000 as a “Highly Regarded Lawyer.”
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
I focus on public and private M&A transactions. I advise a broad range of sellers, purchasers, and other parties in cross-border and domestic mergers, acquisitions, reorganizations, joint ventures, and investment transactions.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent financial investors, such as private equity firms, and strategics—both public and private companies.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I have worked on a broad range of M&A matters, from handling large public company mergers to representing private equity firms in leveraged buyouts, sales of portfolio companies, minority investments, and other matters. A typical private equity company representation can involve numerous aspects of an M&A/corporate practice, ranging from negotiating a purchase/sale agreement to navigating issues relating to regulatory matters, debt or equity financing, carve-out issues in separating from a parent company, and management investment/retention issues.
The more complicated deals can span multiple jurisdictions, which can only add to the complexity.
How did you choose this practice area?
At the very start of my legal career, I tried a number of different practice areas and found M&A work the most compelling; you are typically involved in a very critical moment in a company’s life cycle, working together with a band of incredibly smart people all focused on a common goal. It’s the perfect combination of exhausting and totally thrilling.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
It may sound cliché, but there really is no typical “day in the life.” My day usually involves a series of negotiations, client meetings, conference calls, and typically at least one issue I didn’t see coming the day before. I’m usually working to navigate a series of thorny commercial and legal issues to help my client find resolution and accomplish a goal.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
The best preparation is starting with a solid foundation, which means having a well-rounded legal background. Many law schools are now offering M&A seminars, which I think can be helpful in giving an overall sense of a typical M&A process. I think many students believe they need to take one specific course in order to be prepared, but in reality, I would give the exact opposite advice—a broad foundation is invaluable. Take advantage of your time in law school, expand your horizons, test the waters, and try areas of the law you may never have the opportunity to explore again. Ninety percent of what you will be working on will be like nothing you have ever seen before, and those that can think on their feet and think critically will be ahead of the curve.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
The timing pressures can give M&A a reputation for being incredibly intense. Of course, there are challenges, but I’ve found that my mentors and colleagues who have been practicing for years have developed a way to navigate this aspect of the work and do it all in a professional way. There is a reason we are doing this so many years out and are still excited for each new deal.
How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?
I think the trend to become increasingly global and more complex will continue to accelerate. Think of the companies we read about in the news every day trying to grapple with more government regulation around the world in areas such as data privacy and antitrust. There is a huge increase in private equity funds establishing new strategies and platforms for investing. There are also a number of different areas and niche practices that didn’t exist when I first started my career. As I mentioned earlier, having a broad foundation is critical—M&A in particular is broad enough that it encompasses a lot of different areas. For instance, I am in no way an expert in global antitrust in every major jurisdiction, but I draw on our global network of attorneys who can advise our client.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain in this practice area at your firm?
A summer law clerk at Clifford Chance has an opportunity to try all of our practice areas—including those in the transactional space and litigation. Those with a specific interest in M&A as well as other practice areas are also drawn to the cross-border aspect of our work and global appeal. Our 2L summer law clerks have the chance to work in one of our foreign offices for two weeks during the program. We maximize this opportunity by making sure that the work they are involved in during their time in the home office will connect with attorneys in the office they visit abroad. Being able to forge these connections through such an impressive global network really does set us apart from our competitors.
What has been the most surprising aspect of dealmaking to you?
I joined Clifford Chance in 2016 as part of the firm’s continued growth in the U.S.—attracted by the quality of the firm, the global platform, and the high premium I put on culture. Everyone seemed friendly and engaging—it was clear they took their work very seriously without taking themselves too seriously. After being here for a few years, all of my impressions coming in have held true. The obvious draw of the firm is combining the strength of the U.S. practice with a leading global practice, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have the chance to work with practitioners at the top of their professions all over the world in a broad set of areas. What may be less obvious, however, is how the culture impacts the quality of the work environment and the quality of the advice we are able to provide the client.
I sit on our hiring committee, and we all take great pride in making sure we’re attracting people who fit into the Clifford Chance culture and what we have worked so hard to build. Personally, it’s been incredibly rewarding: I get to meet so many interesting people and hear about their different paths to law school and their life experiences. The committee is composed of attorneys from all of our practice areas, so I’ve also gotten to bond with colleagues from other practice areas and problem-solve in a different way than I do in my own practice day to day.
My role also allows me an opportunity to mentor younger attorneys; I’m not that far removed so I can recall how challenging this job can be, especially early in your career—and the issues or challenges of a first-year associate are not the same as those of an attorney eight years out. Many people forget that. My best advice is to have empathy: Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, have patience, and never stop learning. I know I haven’t.