The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Jenna E. Levine is a partner in Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz’s Corporate department. She focuses on mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, and capital markets transactions. Jenna received a B.A. from Dartmouth College in 2001. She completed a J.D. in 2008 at Columbia Law School, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, received the Paul R. Hays Prize in Civil Procedure, and served as online editor of the Columbia Law Review.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
My practice involves representing public and private companies in a variety of transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, divestitures and carve-out transactions, spinoffs, and corporate governance matters. At any given time, I am usually involved in a mix of different types of matters in a variety of industries. Much of my work is transaction based, but an equally important part of my practice is working closely with clients on an ongoing basis to advise on shareholder relations, strategic considerations, and other important questions that arise as they operate their businesses.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent public and private companies in a wide range of industries (including energy, technology, financial services, health care, retail and consumer products, and industrial services, among others).
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I work on mergers and acquisitions, spinoffs, carve-outs and other divestitures, formation of joint ventures, proxy contests and other corporate governance matters, and securities transactions. The mix of matters I’m working on at a given time is quite variable—at the moment, my active matters include multiple public company clients either spinning off or divesting certain of their respective lines of business, a proposed take-private transaction of a public company by a controlling shareholder, the defense of a public company against a hostile takeover proposal and proxy contest, the acquisition of a private company by a public company, and a capital management transaction for a private company.
How did you choose this practice area?
I was relatively sure that I wanted to pursue corporate law when I started law school because I enjoy negotiating, working with a team, and problem solving. I spent my 2L summer at Wachtell Lipton, working on corporate matters but also doing a rotation in the litigation department to make sure I was exploring my options. I enjoyed that experience, but overall, my summer confirmed my expectations that corporate law was the best fit for me. I particularly liked that the corporate practice at Wachtell was so broad, and I wouldn’t have to choose a narrow area to focus on before I’d had the chance to try things out. The variety in my practice is one of the things that keeps it interesting, and I always feel like I get to challenge myself with new skills and questions.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
I don’t really have a typical day or week, which is one of the reasons I enjoy my work as much as I do The way I spend my time varies depending on what stage my matters are in, but one constant is that I spend much of my day on the phone, either working with clients to learn about their objectives and challenges and strategizing ways to address them, or negotiating with counsel for a transaction’s counterparty. I also do a lot of drafting transaction documents and working with other attorneys on our team to evaluate strategic options, corporate law or securities law questions, or structuring considerations with respect to corporate matters in various stages of development.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Attorneys who succeed in the Corporate practice have a wide variety of backgrounds and skills before they join the firm. Personally, I think it is always helpful to have some work experience before law school if possible—it helps to ease the transition to working at a firm and lets you focus more on the substance of your work. It is also helpful to have taken one or more corporate law classes, even though you’ll do most of your learning on the job. Strong writing skills, people skills, and public-speaking skills are also important.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
The most interesting matters I work on are also often the most challenging—clients come to us with matters where there often isn’t a clear path forward or where, for whatever reason, the standard way of doing things won’t work. This requires a lot of creativity and a firm understanding of the rules we’re operating within so we can devise a solution that works and that meets the client’s needs.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Getting to build relationships with my clients and work collaboratively with them to achieve their most important goals and address their biggest challenges is very fulfilling. Our clients trust us with complex challenges every day, and I take that responsibility very seriously. It is rewarding to get to see the results of my work, and the nature of the situations I encounter in my practice means that I never get bored.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
I think some people believe that negotiations and M&A involve a lot of screaming and confrontation, and that is rarely the case (although it happens sometimes). I think people would be surprised at how respectful and collegial most people can be while still forcefully advocating for their clients’ interests.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
The corporate practice at Wachtell Lipton is structured differently in a number of ways—we have a low partner-to-associate ratio and take a lot of pride in making sure that even our most junior lawyers develop a broad-based skill set and get real client exposure. My practice has looked very different at different times since I joined the firm—I started here during the financial crisis and initially spent a lot of my time working on transactions to help clients manage their liabilities and weather the difficult economy. During other periods, I’ve found myself focusing on proxy contests, spinoffs, or public M&A because those are the types of transactions my clients were pursuing or the challenges that they were facing in those periods.