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2024 DIVERSITY DATABASE UNDERWRITER Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP

Private Equity Career Paths: A Guide for Future Lawyers

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Private equity is one of the most exciting and dynamic practice areas in the legal market today, and it is a significant part of many Big Law firms’ strategic growth plans. The practice offers a variety of career paths, including private funds, private equity M&A and finance.

At Paul, Weiss, junior lawyers have the opportunity to try all of the different types of private equity law through our rotation system, tackling the most high-profile, transformational matters at different stages of the transaction. Read on to learn more about the various career paths of private equity law.

What exactly is private equity?

Private equity firms raise capital from investors and invest that capital into a company with the goal of improving the business and then eventually delivering a return to investors by selling the business at a higher price. Private equity lawyers work hand-in-hand with clients to guide them each step of the way, with lawyers from various specialties—private funds, private equity M&A and finance—handling different aspects of a transaction.

At Paul, Weiss, we advise the best and biggest private equity firms and public companies on their most important transactions. The work is highly collaborative and cross-disciplinary, so there are ample opportunities to connect with lawyers across the firm and gain deeper insight into other areas of the law. Some of our recent work includes helping Roark Capital acquire Subway; General Atlantic sell its stake in CVS and acquire Joe & the Juice; and Apollo acquire Arconic, among many others.

What do private equity lawyers do? What skill sets are important for each area?

First, private funds lawyers help private equity firms structure the vehicles where investors pool their contributions, designing a fund according to the client’s specific business goals. “A successful fundraise for a large private equity firm involves a lot of collaboration, strategic thinking and interpersonal skills,” says Maury Slevin, a private funds partner at Paul, Weiss. “My team and I advise private equity firms on the commercial, legal and regulatory aspects of a fundraise and then negotiate the terms on which investors contribute their capital to a firm’s fund.”

After the fundraise is completed, private equity M&A lawyers advise firms on the legal aspects of acquiring or selling a company. Sam Welt, a private equity M&A partner at Paul, Weiss, describes his practice as helping clients identify and negotiate potential issues, running the deal from start to finish, and managing details with the companies post-closing. “Private equity M&A moves very quickly, and it’s important to have strong problem-solving and project management skills,” he explains.

Finance lawyers work with private equity firms to determine the most advantageous financing solutions a client can use to make investments in a company, whether that’s cash, debt, stock or a combination. “In my role, it’s helpful to be intellectually curious and solutions-oriented. I focus on understanding the operational needs of a company and obtaining and structuring the financing according to those needs,” says Paul, Weiss finance partner Danielle Penhall. “It’s also key to have the ability to negotiate in a way that preserves goodwill and also secures the best possible solution for the client.”

What does the day-to-day look like for a private equity associate at Paul, Weiss?

Private equity lawyers at Paul, Weiss, including associates, work on multibillion-dollar deals with some of the largest, highest-profile private equity firms in the world, as well as with venture capital investors, founders and companies. Whether you pursue M&A, finance or private funds, you can expect to hit the ground running.

“There’s a lot of momentum and excitement on the private equity M&A side,” says Sam, noting that junior lawyers at Paul, Weiss are vital to making sure transactions get from point A to point B in a timely manner. “On my deal teams, first- and second-year associates handle critical tasks, such as performing due diligence, drafting agreements and working with the company’s general counsel to manage the day-to-day issues of a deal or any general corporate matters that our clients face.”

The finance team at Paul, Weiss is “an apprentice-based practice, so junior-level associates are involved in every aspect of a financing. Associates help structure company acquisitions or sales, negotiate and draft contracts, and coordinate with lawyers from other groups like IP or tax on any issues that arise,” says Danielle. “They receive a lot of training so they can build their skill set and get to the next level professionally.”

Associates on the private funds team “often work with clients and investors from the very beginning of a fundraise, and as a result, they naturally get a lot of touch points with clients and opportunities to build relationships,” notes Maury. “They’re quickly given substantive responsibilities, such as drafting offering materials and other fund documents, managing subscriptions from investors and coordinating filings with regulators. These tasks help build a foundation of trust with our clients and show our clients that we have a deep bench of talent at all levels.”

Why did you decide to pursue private equity?

Early in her career, Danielle connected with the intellectually stimulating and fast-paced nature of private equity. “I played an active role on the finance team as soon as I started at Paul, Weiss, getting hands-on experience in a wide range of client-facing projects right away. I was really drawn to the problem-solving aspects and the learn-as-we-go approach,” says Danielle. “Something I still enjoy is the exposure to all different types of industries and businesses, including health care, technology, energy and more. It’s great to be constantly learning.”

The collaborative and relationship-building aspects of private equity resonated with Maury as a junior lawyer. “In private funds, there is not really a fight-to-win mentality—rather, we are building long-term partnerships between clients and investors, so both sides walk away happy,” he observes. “Client relationships extend beyond just a one-and-done deal. In my practice area, you do multiple fundraises and transactions with the same clients, so I’ve worked with some clients for nearly 10 years. Because client service is such a high priority at Paul, Weiss, I learned early on how to nurture those client relationships, which has been invaluable to my success in private funds.”

Sam had a keen interest in and understanding of business, having earned his MBA before law school. “I always enjoyed digging into companies, getting into the weeds of a business and learning how it worked,” notes Sam. “I think it’s essential to have an interest in how a business works and how it’s structured if you want to work in private equity M&A. When a client is looking to buy or sell a company, I’m more tuned into the potential issues or problems that might come up—which makes me a better lawyer.”

What drew you to Paul, Weiss’s Private Equity Practice?

As a junior lawyer at Paul, Weiss, Maury was given a lot of ownership over his matters and developed relationships quickly with his team. “I had amazing mentors and also got to work with industry leaders on the most exciting and innovative fundraises in the market,” he says. In 2020, Maury returned to Paul, Weiss after several years working in-house. “It was a great experience working in-house, and it’s a testament to Paul, Weiss that I came back. The culture and values of Paul, Weiss are truly unmatched, and it’s an incredible place to grow your private equity career.”

Sam has worked at Paul, Weiss since he was a summer associate. “I’m a lifer,” he says. “The practice at Paul, Weiss has always been uniquely collaborative and team-oriented. I really enjoy the camaraderie that comes with working with my team but also across practice groups, including with the private funds, finance and specialist groups. I get to work with the best and the brightest, and we are all united in our dedication to delivering the best results for our clients.”

For Danielle, one of the big draws to Paul, Weiss was “the focus on mentorship and opportunities for growth. Early on, partners took an interest in and were invested in my career, which can sometimes be hard to find,” she says. “Junior lawyers get to work alongside the best talent in the market across a broad client base, so the learning opportunities are endless. Our practice has experienced a tremendous amount of growth in the last 10 years that I’ve worked here, especially in our London and Los Angeles offices, and I don’t think it will be slowing down anytime soon.” 

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Danielle Penhall
 is a partner in the Corporate Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. As a member of the Finance Group, Danielle focuses on representing private equity funds and their portfolio companies in a variety of corporate finance transactions, including leveraged buyouts, portfolio company financings and debt restructurings, among others.


Maury Slevin is a partner in the Corporate Department and a member of the Private Funds Group at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. Maury focuses on the organization and operation of many different types of private investments funds. Prior to returning to Paul, Weiss, Maury was an associate general counsel at Oak Hill Advisors.


Sam Welt is a partner in the Corporate Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. A member of Private Equity and the Mergers & Acquisitions Groups, Sam focuses his practice on advising private equity and strategic clients on a variety of matters, including M&A, joint ventures, private equity investments and general corporate transactions.

See this article and more on the Vault Law blog.