Matthew Solum, senior litigation partner in Kirkland & Ellis’s New York office, with more than 30 cases tried to decision under his belt, has earned repeated praise from clients and professional publications for his strategic and creative approach to legal issues. Predating his decision to pursue law as a career, Solum recalls an early interest in solving complicated problems. For example, as an undergraduate studying chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, Solum joined a team of postdoctoral fellows researching Quantum Monte Carlo methods and the electronic structure of molecules. 

After college, Solum earned his law degree from Columbia Law School. He then began his legal career at Sullivan & Cromwell before joining Kirkland as an associate in 2002. In the world of Big Law, his curiosity and dedication became the driving forces behind his success.

In the past two decades, Solum has expanded his practice to involve several major corporate clients: One of his most noteworthy relationships keeping him busy is life sciences firm, Bristol-Myers Squibb. In 2022, he prevailed on an appeal of a dismissal of a putative securities class action. The case arose out of a clinical trial for a potential cancer drug that was dependent on patients with a “strong expression” of a particular protein. Patients with more than five percent of that protein were described as having a “strong expression” of the protein; the plaintiffs’ team claimed that was false and misleading. Solum asked the District Court to dismiss the complaint because there was not yet a generally accepted understanding of “strong expression.” The court agreed and dismissed the case.

Some of Solum’s other clients include energy company EQT, gaming company Wynn Resorts, and drugmakers NRX Pharmaceuticals and Lannett Co. He recently defended Vista Equity Partners in shareholder litigation arising out of the private equity firm’s $16.5B acquisition of cloud computing company Citrix Systems. 

Solum also has a notable presence in the international market, representing among others European real estate firm Atrium European Real Estate, Chinese financial services company Jiayin Group; investment giant Blackstone in litigation and arbitration related to commercial properties in Milan, Italy; and private equity firm Warburg Pincus in an appraisal proceeding in the Cayman Islands.

Solum, whose work earned him a spot on the inaugural Lawdragon 500 Leading Global Litigators, recently spoke to Lawdragon about his high-stakes work resolving multifaceted cases for corporate clients.

Lawdragon: You were a chemistry major for undergrad. What brought you to the law?

Matthew Solum: I was at the end of my second year in college and learned I could graduate a year early if I took certain classes in my third year. I thought okay, that's great because I'll save some money on another year of college, but now I have to figure out what I'm going to do. I was really excited about solving complicated problems, so I considered getting a PhD in chemistry, but that can take a long time. A law degree only took three years and there are a variety of complicated problems to solve with a broader scope of issues.

LD: Did you know any lawyers growing up?

MS: I didn't. But my dad had a friend who was a small-town lawyer who sort of did everything, a jack of all trades. I wrote him a letter explaining that I was thinking about law school and asked him if he could explain what it's like to be a lawyer. He responded with a very thoughtful, kind, eight-page, single-spaced, handwritten letter explaining why he thought what he did was great and why he thought it was a great path to travel down. That was a significant push in this direction.

LD: Is there anything from that letter that sticks with you today as you practice law?

MS: Yes. He explained that he enjoyed taking on cases with new issues, which could make everyday a new challenge. In my practice, there are constantly new issues that arise that require me to pore over some new area to become an expert in those issues.

LD: How did you end up in securities and M&A litigation? Did you target those practices, or did it come about more organically?

MS: It was more organic in the sense that I was very interested in doing as much as I could, I wanted as many experiences as I could get, and so I dove into everything. And it just happens to be that there's a lot of that kind of work. I was involved early on in my career in a complicated securities case, and I just kept getting involved, kept staying busy.

LD: What was the matter?

Private equity has continued to become a more and more dominant mode of deploying capital... We're going to continue to see litigation around take-privates and around the sale of private companies.

MS: It was a securities class action against Honeywell arising from disparate issues across what was then four businesses at Honeywell. Even though from a certain lens the claim was focused on a stock drop after an announcement, the case itself involved intensely factual issues and we had to be able to solve it for the client in a way that addressed the issues in each of the four businesses. It was very gratifying to resolve the case because we were removing a huge potential liability.

LD: Is there a case from early in your career, after you moved from Sullivan & Cromwell to Kirkland, that stands out as a favorite?

MS: Because I kept saying yes to work, I racked up significant experience, and I quickly found clients hiring me as trial counsel. For example, a significant retail company hired me as lead counsel in an arbitration when I was just a seventh-year lawyer. Opposite me were partners who had many times as many years of experience as me, respectively. Being up against them for two weeks before an arbitration panel, leveraging the experience of other amazing trial lawyers at Kirkland to try the case before the panel, and having a great team of associates – we obtained a great result.

LD: And was that an international tribunal?

MS: Yes, it was an international tribunal and involved cross-border issues. Managing the cross currents of international laws and a complex factual narrative was challenging and ultimately rewarding.

LD: So you've been doing global work since at least then?

MS: Before and after that time. Even very early in my career, I advised clients on international issues and advocated in international arbitration tribunals. The cases ran the gamut from financial services companies to industrial conglomerates to technology companies.

LD: Is there another international matter that stands out?

MS: Another case that stands out arose from an alleged securities fraud in Austria involving that country’s leading investment bank. My client, which was a real estate firm, was not even alleged to have been involved in the securities fraud, but it needed to unwind a series of transactions with that bank. Disputes arose in Austria, the U.K., the Netherlands, France and Israel, among others. There was a significant criminal investigation, and public relations issues. My client was looking for overarching advice and being able to go over there and help work through those disputes, see around corners in terms of what might come next, was really fascinating work. And we were able to unwind the transactions in an efficient and very advantageous way.

LD: Which of your more recent cases stand out to you?

MS: I have had a series of motions to dismiss granted recently, and it is always rewarding to have a potential liability for a client dismissed right out of the gate. For example, there was a securities class action filed against an issuer. It was a stock drop case involving a disclosure about one of Bristol Myers Squibb’s drugs. There was an area that we believed was unsettled, and therefore the way that the drug was described was entirely accurate. And the plaintiffs were saying that it was actually settled and counter to how Bristol Myers had described it. There were potentially very significant damages associated with who was right. On our motion to dismiss, we were able to explain to the judge why we were right and why the complaint doesn't survive. Just taking away that potential liability altogether is satisfying.

LD: Private equity is driving a lot of M&A activity in the last year and a half or so. Has that had an impact on the types of cases that you're seeing?

Because I kept saying yes to work, I racked up significant experience, and I quickly found clients hiring me as trial counsel.

MS: Private equity has continued to become a more and more dominant mode of deploying capital. And I think that's going to continue to drive litigation. We're going to continue to see litigation around take-privates – when a public company is purchased and its stock no longer trades on a pubic exchange – and around the sale of private companies. That activity has been increasing for some time, and I think that's certainly going to continue.

LD: Are there any other trends that you're seeing in terms of the types of cases that are keeping you busy these days?

MS: We are seeing more cyber ligation and ESG litigation. Overall, the world continues to become more and more interconnected. Clients are often facing investigations or litigation in multiple jurisdictions. There can be parallel regulatory and criminal investigations and all of that increases complexity. We have offices in a number of international markets so we can help clients manage and otherwise address those complex litigation risks. And we often partner with law firms in foreign jurisdictions as well.

LD: You’ve been at Kirkland almost your whole career. What do you appreciate about it as a platform for your work?

MS: We try cases. That means you can ask someone down the hall "Hey, what do you think about this evidentiary issue? Here are a couple ways I'm thinking about it.” That kind of access is invaluable, and I think it can help shape not just how you go about litigating at trial, but also how you think about the case and its strengths or weaknesses well in advance of trial. It’s an honor to collaborate with the best trial lawyers in the world. 

LD: Kirkland has such a stellar reputation. Do your cases sort of naturally sift over to you or are you doing a lot of business development?

MS: It's both. The firm has clients and sometimes those are referred, and I have my relationships and folks call me for cases because we have worked together before, they know someone who has worked with me, or the like. What I would say is when you achieve a great result for a client, then they will go out and be your biggest advocates.

LD: How would you describe your style as a litigator in the courtroom?

MS: Crisp, clear and credible. I am well prepared, have command over the facts and the issues and aim to establish credibility by explaining my clients’ positions, including why my clients are in the right both legally and because their positions are fair. 

LD: Do you find yourself in mentorship positions now for younger lawyers?

MS: Yes. Younger lawyers come to me to ask, "How should I be thinking about this argument?" or "Hey, I have this issue with a case," and we talk through the best way to deal with it and how they might think about it. I also find my myself offering career advice, such as whether a clerkship makes sense. 

LD: What is some of your best advice for young lawyers, ones who are specifically interested in courtroom experience?

MS: Practice, practice, practice. Really find your voice. Triers of fact very much appreciate authenticity. People really can tell when you believe something, and if you believe what you're saying and advocate your position without equivocation, then that can really resonate with people.

LD: Any advice in terms of career development?

MS: Be excellent at what you do, and find a place where you want to be excellent at what you do.

LD: Meaning, find a culture that fits with you, or a practice area that you like?

MS: Both. Sometimes people find a place where they're not happy, and it's harder to be excellent at what you do if you're not happy. So, find a place where you're able to be excellent and happy doing so.

LD: What do you do for fun outside of work?

MS: I travel quite a bit. I've got a sister who's lived all over the world, and so when I travel, I often take time to see her. I just went out to Lusaka, Zambia this year where she is currently based and was able to visit some of her favorite local spots. We went to a local Elephant Nursery where they care for and raise orphaned baby elephants, and to the South Luangwa National Park, which was an amazing place to see wildlife. I also run and enjoy running in races around the country and the world. For example, I recently ran a half-marathon in Marrakesh, and it was an incredible experience. What a beautiful city. 

LD: Do you have a favorite book, movie or TV show about the law?

MS: One of my favorites is, “A Few Good Men.” It’s such a classic. I have twin daughters and a son, and when my daughters were eight, we made a video reenacting the “You can't handle the truth” scene. One of my daughters played Tom Cruise’s character, Lieutenant Kaffee, the other daughter was the judge, and I was Jack Nicholson’s character, Colonel Jessep. My son was fairly young at the time, so he was our audience. We really got into it. I think they had fun. I sure did.