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4 Ways You Can Land More Big-Ticket Deals in 2020

One goal most mergers and acquisitions attorneys share is landing work on major, headline-making deals, and there’s no better time than the start of a new year to assess how you can become a go-to lawyer for big-ticket transactional work.

Regardless of whether the market is on fire or ice cold, there will always be at least a handful of eye-popping M&A price tags each year, and lawyers that can put such transactions on their resumes are likely to be seen as highly coveted counsel by clients. As we ring in 2020, there are multiple looming matters that could affect the dealmaking world, including a U.S. presidential election and the anticipated finalization of Brexit, not to mention the regulatory uncertainty tied to new rules being implemented by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. 

Attorneys should seek to start the year off right by getting up to speed on the state of the market, nurturing important professional relationships, and finding ways to improve so they’ll be sought after legal experts when major M&A opportunities arise.

Here, Law360 looks at four tips that can help M&A attorneys use their talent and expertise, and draw upon the resources of the firms they work for, in order to earn spots on the deal teams for major money transactions in 2020.

There’s Always More To Learn

Whether you’ve been in practice for six months, six years or six decades, there will always be more to learn, and the start of a new year is as good a time as any for attorneys to remind themselves that education doesn’t have to end just because school is a relic of the past. Every year there are new rules and regulations attorneys must be well-versed in if they want to be seen as viable advisers for big-ticket transactions. 

There are numerous ways lawyers can continue to educate themselves on all aspects of the legal world, including by reading articles from trusted publications and law journals, having discussions with clients and other legal professionals and listening in on analyst calls.

“All those kinds of things can give you more and more info,” said Baker & McKenzie LLP partner Michael Fieweger, who is chairman of the firm’s global private equity practice group.

Having a good general sense of the deals marketplace is important, but equally necessary is being up to date on the specifics of what’s going on with various regulators. 

For instance, attorneys should be able to explain to clients that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission under President Donald Trump has refocused on issues related to retail investors, whereas the previous regime concentrated its efforts on rooting out improper practices in the private equity industry. They should also be prepared to discuss with clients how that could change depending on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election later this year.

“The administration greatly affects how the SEC itself operates,” said Jason Brown, a partner in the asset management group of Ropes & Gray LLP.

Another example is CFIUS, which in recent years has greatly impacted the deals world when it comes to foreign entities buying U.S. businesses. In its latest annual report, released in November, CFIUS revealed a steep increase in notices and abandoned deals, which served to underscore how the national security-focused interagency committee has ramped up under the Trump administration. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of the Treasury is preparing to implement new CFIUS-related rules in the new year that were outlined in 2018’s Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act. FIRRMA broadens CFIUS’ reach and makes filings in sensitive areas like critical technologies and infrastructure mandatory.

You don’t want to be caught without answers if a client asks how CFIUS might affect a potential deal.

“Knowing the applicable regulatory regime can be very helpful in landing large deals work,” said Steven Shoemate, a partner in the New York office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP and co-chair of the firm’s private equity practice group.

It’s Important To Broaden Your Horizons

Reading and reflecting upon your own practice is a good start, but the best way to ensure you’re well-rounded enough to be seen as indispensable counsel for major deals is by seeking out information and opinions from a wide range of sources. 

Attorneys should draw upon all of their contacts to make sure they have a solid sense of what’s going on in their corner of the dealmaking world, including reporters, other advisers, consultants, investment bankers and people who work at the actual companies that are seeking to do M&A, according to Sean Wheeler, a corporate partner in the Houston office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP whose practice is focused on the energy sector.

“It’s important to get your information from a variety of sources,” he said. “Getting all my information from other lawyers is not very helpful to me.”

Not only is it helpful to you personally to get your information from a wide variety of sources, but doing so will be helpful as attorneys discuss issues with clients. An attorney who has obviously done their homework and can provide expertise from multiple points of view will be valued highly, while an attorney who appears too confident in their own perspective might be seen as pretentious.

“It’s not very useful to just give someone my own personal view of the world in a vacuum,” Wheeler said.

You Should Make Yourself Available 

Clients value legal advisers that don’t just view them as a cash cow, and in order to impart that you see your clients’ success as integral to your own success, you should make sure they know they can call upon you, even when they have a question that might not be related to a specific deal.

“Let them know that if they ever need anything, you’re available to talk about what’s going on in the market, bounce ideas totally free of charge so that if something does come they’ll think to hire you,” Wheeler said.

And while you can certainly let clients know that you’re always available for a phone call, or via email or text, attorneys are more likely to get tapped for big-ticket deals work if they do good old fashioned leg work. Getting an actual audience with clients can help ensure you’ll be the first attorney they think of when it’s time for them to hire advisers for a major transaction.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for people who are willing to get out of their seat,” Wheeler said. “Even though it’s a connected world now and everybody lives on emails and texts, there’s no substitute for getting in front of someone and saying hello in person. You and I could develop a sense of trust over the phone, but we’re not going to be able to do it as quickly or deeply than we would if we were having a conversation in person.”

Marketing Yourself And Your Firm Can Help You Stand Out

Everything mentioned above is important, but when it comes to the truly big-ticket deals, clients are going to want to work with people who can demonstrate their past successes and firms that clearly have the resources to guide their transaction.

An easy first step is to make sure your personal biography is up to date with any recent matters you’ve advised on. Were you the lead lawyer in a megadeal during 2019? Highlight that during conversations with clients and make sure your personal page on your firm’s website notes the work as well. 

“You need to be well known enough in a particular industry or space to get the biggest deals,” Shoemate said. “It’s up to you to make people feel like the decision not to engage you would be indefensible.”

Additionally, clients will be attracted to lawyers that can successfully show why their firm is the best bet to get a large, complicated deal across the finish line. Many law firms employ people who previously worked at federal agencies, for instance, so be sure to emphasize which former federal employees your firm has at its disposal. 

“It’s not just the skill set of the principal or lead attorney, it’s also the people that surround them,” Shoemate said. “Educating the marketplace on your alums from the government can be very effective.”