A founding partner of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Herb Wachtell is one the top corporate lawyers in the country.
A decade after graduation from NYU Law, Bronx-born Wachtell teamed up with classmates Leonard Rosen, George Katz, and Martin Lipton to set up a firm of their own. It didn't take very long for the entrepreneurial lawyers to start landing plum assignments—skilled marketers, they discounted their fees to attract clients early on. The firm made a name for itself in 1974 when it helped Laurence Tisch's Loews Corporation acquire CNA Financial Corp., a protracted battle that lasted nearly nine months. By the early '80s, WLRK had established itself one of the top shops around, particularly after Marty Lipton devised the "poison pill" defense against hostile takeovers. With Lipton as the savvy securities lawyer and Wachtell the ruthless litigator, they earned the trust of the some of the nation's most powerful CEOs. In the '80s, they righted Chrysler when it approached financial ruin, defended Phillips Petroleum from takeover attempts by T. Boone Pickens and Carl Icahn, and repped Beatrice in its takeover by KKR. Over the past three decades, WLRK has handled hundreds of multi-billion M&A deals, reportedly making Lipton and Wachtell the highest-paid corporate lawyers in America.
Some of the biggest deals the firm has worked on over the years: Bank One's $58.0 billion merger with JPMorgan Chase, Sanofi's $60.2 billion hostile takeover of Aventis, MBNA in its $35.0 billion acquisition by Bank of America, AT&T Wireless in its $40.7 billion acquisition by Cingular, FleetBoston in its $47.0 billion acquisition by Bank of America, and Apollo and Texas Pacific Group in their $27.8 billion acquisition of Harrah's. Wachtell himself has been a leading attorney for the tobacco industry for two decades, litigating on behalf of Philip Morris, the Tisch family-owned Lorillard, and others. He was also instrumental in negotiating the historic $350 billion national tobacco settlement.
One of Wachtell's biggest cases in recent years was his representation of real estate developer Larry Silverstein in connection with Sept. 11th insurance payouts. Wachtell's relationship to Silverstein dates back to their childhood days: They attended the High School of Music & Art and NYU together, and played in the same band in college. (Silverstein on drums and Wachtell on clarinet.) Silverstein turned to his old friend in the days following the attack and Wachtell soon formulated an unusual argument: He maintained that Silverstein was entitled to two insurance payouts since there were two planes involved in the attack, or $7 billion instead of $3.5 billion. The legal match pitted him against Barry Ostrager (who famously called Wachtell "obstreperous, obstructive, and unreasonable") and the case dragged on for nearly five years before until a settlement was reached in 2007.
On the job
Unlike its peers, Wachtell remains a small shop. It's one of the only top firms with a single office in New York, and the only major law firm in the city that operates without a written partnership agreement. (Wachtell and Lipton reportedly prefer a good old-fashioned handshake.) It also still nurses a reputation as a brutal place to work, although that's offset—perhaps—by some of the highest paychecks in the profession. With Wachtell and Lipton now in their seventies (Rosen has retired, Katz passed away), they've made arrangements to pass the torch to the next generation. M&A superstar Edward Herlihy is now co-chairman along with Daniel Neff, and Meyer Koplow is executive partner.
Wachtell is married to wife number three, Svetlana. He has five grown children, Diane, Jennifer, Cynthia, Daniel, and Melanie, and lives on Fifth Avenue.