Photo by Greg Endries.
Paul Weiss partner Matthew Abbott discusses his legal education in Canada, how he arrived at one of the nation's leading corporate law firms, and what keeps him interested in private equity deals.
Name: Matthew Abbott
Firm: Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
Practice Areas: Corporate, Mergers & Acquisitions and Private Equity Transactions
Location: New York
Law School: LL.B., University of Toronto, 1998
Undergraduate: B.A., Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 1995 with first class honors
Quotable, on the marks of a great young lawyer: "You look for people who really love what they do and are excited about the practice of law, and in my world excited about doing deals and helping private equity firms and companies achieve their objectives."
Lawdragon: Most of the lawyers we interview went to American law schools. Can you share something about the University of Toronto that stands out for you, in terms of how it prepared you for the profession or anything else you appreciate about it looking back?
Matthew Abbott: It’s a terrific institution. It’s no secret among the top New York firms in particular that the candidates that come out of U of T are comparable to the candidates that come out of the best U.S. law schools. The big Wall Street firms all recruit at U of T. I was sort of at the beginning of the trend – now almost twenty years ago. I guess I first came down in ‘97, as a summer associate. That was the beginning of the wave where New York firms, and also some Boston and California firms, recruited in a concerted way from U of T. It’s academically very rigorous. They have an incredible student body with many down in New York and many in Canada, as well. Like any good law school, it obviously prepared me for my career.
Frankly, what I appreciate most looking back at it was the camaraderie among the students. It was a relatively selective law school. U of T is very small compared to many of the law schools in Canada and in the U.S., so there are really only about 130 students per class. Definitely the relationships I forged have been valuable both personally and professionally. I really met a lot of great people, good friends and great professional contacts that have served me well over the last 17 years.
LD: Did you always envision yourself coming to New York for a corporate practice, and how did you come to join Paul Weiss?
MA: I don’t know about always coming to New York but certainly I was always interested in corporate and litigation work. Coming out of law school, I didn’t know what I really wanted to do that summer. Paul Weiss recruited me on campus at U of T. When I spent my summer there, I loved litigation and corporate but I found the Paul Weiss corporate practice to be very entrepreneurial, appealing, and I gravitated towards that.
LD: Within the corporate arena, you’ve developed a focus on private equity deals. How did you come to develop this focus? Was there a partner or mentor that was influential in the way your career evolved?
MA: First of all, I think private equity is a key part of the Paul Weiss corporate practice; it has been for 30-plus years. We have some long-standing private equity clients. A former partner, and one-time chair of the firm, actually wound up in a management position at a private equity firm. He left Paul Weiss and became the COO of the private equity firm, and his name was Matt Nimetz. He was and is definitely a mentor who got me involved in General Atlantic matters very early on. Since being a summer and first-year associate, it’s always been part of what I’ve done.
It’s no secret that private equity has grown over the last 6-7 years and it has grown as part of our practice. With General Atlantic, probably the client that I’ve done the most work for, I’ve sort of grown a lot with them and I’ve been doing their work for over 17 years. It wound up becoming a key part of the firm’s practice, and Matt Nimetz in particular was instrumental in pointing me in the right direction. He is a very impressive guy. He went from being a mentor internally at Paul Weiss to then being a client. He’s one of the pioneers I think of representing private equity funds in New York City. He’s in his 70s now, he’s retired from GA, but I still have lunch with him at least once a month and seek his advice on a range of matters. I suspect I’m not alone. He’s a great guy and a great mentor.
LD: Private equity deals can involve different types of corporate work as well as complicated legal issues in a variety of jurisdictions. What keeps you excited about the practice, deal after deal?
MA: I think it’s embedded in your question. It’s a very perceptive question because it’s true. It’s the variety. Private equity is really an umbrella term, right? When I say I spend a majority of my time doing private equity deals, that could involve minority investments; leveraged acquisitions; private companies; public M&A; it could involve representing a private equity fund when they are selling a public or private portfolio company; or helping a private equity fund take a portfolio company public. There really is no one kind of cookie-cutter private equity deal. You have to help them in all stages of the investment from inception to execution to selling the investment. And then often what happens is after the private equity fund has left or exited the investment, I’ve been able to forge a relationship with the portfolio company and we continue to represent the company itself going forward. Not strictly private equity, but it all stems from relationships with the private equity firms. Every deal is different, and I find that my clients all invest in different industries and that keeps me interested.
LD: The firm's private equity team has earned accolades in recent years. What do you think gives Paul Weiss the edge in complicated transactions?
MA: We have terrific, smart, ambitious lawyers. Obviously that’s where it starts. I think there’s a creative culture at Paul Weiss; we tend to represent entrepreneurs, PE firms and companies in the corporate practice who are working on novel or challenging transactions. That requires you to be a very business-savvy, practical lawyer because you’re often representing the people who are trying to find creative ways to get a deal done. Today we represent a number of more established financial institutions as well as PE firms and entrepreneurs, but the emphasis at Paul Weiss remains on training practical business lawyers and I think clients appreciate that. Private equity firms are among the most sophisticated consumers of M&A services because that’s what they’re in the business of doing; there are multiple deals a year. So I think private equity firms really appreciate lawyers who are business-focused, practical, technical, and of course you have to be smart, but it’s the business-like judgment and the practical nature of our firm that appeals to the private equity world in particular.
LD: Individually, you’ve also earned distinctions for the prominence you achieved early in your career. What do you look for in young attorneys that signals that they have what it takes to succeed in the practice?
MA: Obviously intelligence and focus. But I think ambition and dedication are really big parts of it. You look for people who really love what they do and are excited about the practice of law, and in my world excited about doing deals and helping private equity firms and companies achieve their objectives; to me that’s the mark of a good lawyer and someone who is really going to succeed in the long term. Most of the people who come to the law firms are really smart but I think what differentiates those who are really successful is that they have passion for what they do.