Photo by Amy Cantrell.
All storied firms, even those as strong in its region and nationally as Munger Tolles & Olson, need partners from the next generation to ascend the ranks and make sure that the firm remains the first help clients turn to for their most important cases and deals. On the transactional side of the practice, one such partner at Munger Tolles has been Mary Ann Todd.
Todd is a Munger Tolles lifer, having joined after finishing her 1993-1994 clerkship with Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Yale Law graduate says that an M&A practice turned out to be a “good fit” for her, and it’s clear that the firm’s biggest clients would agree.
Of course, with Munger Tolles that client list is headlined by Berkshire Hathaway, which Todd represented in its $28B acquisition of H.J. Heinz Co. and the $44 billion acquisition of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. Todd has also handled major deals for Universal Music Group and BDT Capital Partners, among others.
Lawdragon: Can you describe your journey from law school to the current status of your practice and your recognition as one of the top M&A lawyers in the country?
Mary Ann Todd: I really lucked into finding an area of practice that has been incredibly fulfilling. I did not think I would enjoy being a litigator, and sought out M&A work as an altevrnative – notwithstanding that law school had not taught me a thing about this type of practice and it was a bit of an unknown. It was the right fit. Each year, deal making and transaction work have brought new challenges, ranging from learning about a new client or target company’s business to working through a complicated deal structure.
Unlike a lot of my peers at the time, I wanted my first post-clerkship job to be with a firm where I could envision staying my entire career. I made a great choice in coming to Munger Tolles, where I have had terrific mentors and opportunities. I have developed strong client relationships over the years that are the highlight of my practice.
LD: Have there been roadblocks along the way and, if so, how did you overcome those?
MAT: I don’t view myself as having faced significant roadblocks in my practice. It is not easy to be a busy practitioner and an active parent, and I, like many others out there, would love to have a few more hours in the day. For me the key has been the support I receive from family and friends as well as my Munger Tolles colleagues, and the satisfaction I feel about my practice.
LD: Not many people, even lawyers themselves, understand how difficult it is to distinguish oneself in today’s legal marketplace. How have you done that in your career and what do you think distinguishes you from other lawyers with the same length of experience and background?
MAT: I have always tried to place myself in the position of my client, and have that viewpoint guide my approach to client service. I am very focused on delivering the best work product, as promptly as possible, in a form most usable to the client.
LD: If you had a chance for a do-over in your career, what would it be?
MAT: Happily, nothing material (as we corporate lawyers would say).
LD: What’s the best career advice you’ve ever gotten?
MAT: From my first days at my firm, I have heard other lawyers refer to Charlie Munger’s words of wisdom: “It’s the work on your desk. Do well with what you already have and more will come in.” I think lawyers are sometimes too focused on pursuing new opportunities and lose sight of the need to do the highest quality work for their current clients. Successful lawyers must do both. It is a great feeling to have a current client refer you to a new one.
LD: You’ve been doing this work for more than two decades now. Is there anything that still surprises you?
MAT: In the highly competitive environment in which we practice, I still hear stories about lack of responsiveness and lack of sensitivity to client needs that surprise me. Your client must always come first, and always deserves your best work, period.
LD: What are you looking forward to in the coming years? Are you the kind of person who draws up five-year plans?
MAT: I don’t have a five-year plan, but I do look forward to continued challenges in the M&A sector and new opportunities to do types of deals I have not yet done. I also strive to be the kind of mentor to new lawyers that I was fortunate enough to have at the early stages of my career.
LD: What do you do for fun?
MAT: Living in Los Angeles offers a lot of opportunities to spend time in the outdoors. This is my favorite thing to do – with my family – whenever I can.