Marty Lipton – cofounder of Wachtell

5 minutes with... Marty Lipton

Starting out, what did you expect from a career in law? What do you consider to have been your big break?

The most interesting and gratifying aspects of being a lawyer are the opportunities to work with fellow lawyers, judges, business people, public officials and academics. Some of my highlights were:

(1) Studying law at NYU Law School in the early 1950s where Russell Niles was the Dean and the influence of the former Dean, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, Arthur Vanderbilt, was still an everyday presence, and then, following graduation, having a fellowship at the Columbia Law School to study under Adolf A Berle.

(2) In the late 1950s and through much of the 1960s working with the businessman John Kluge, as he acquired control of the Metropolitan Broadcasting Company and built it into the multibillion-dollar media giant, Metromedia.

(3) In 1965 forming Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz with my NYU Law School friends Herbert Wachtell, Leonard Rosen and George Katz, and through the years working with them and the brilliant young law graduates who joined us to build the present firm of 270 lawyers.

(4) In 1975 acting as special counsel for New York City and working with the country’s leading investment banker, Felix Rohatyn, to rescue New York City from the fiscal crisis and in the same year working with the business and civic leader Laurence Tisch to solve the financial problems of NYU and then to work with him for some 20 years as fellow trustees of NYU under his leadership until 1998 when I succeeded him as Chair of the Board of Trustees.

(5) Since 1988 having partnered with John Sexton first as Chair of the Board of Trustees of NYU Law School, while John as Dean raised it to the top ranking of American law schools, and then since 2001 as Chair of the Board of Trustees of NYU, while John as its charismatic and spectacular President has been making NYU the first 'global university' and raising it into the top ranking of world universities.

(6) Since 1999 working with James J Mulva, one of the world’s most outstanding businessmen, who in 1999 assumed the helm of Phillips Petroleum and steered it through a series of transactions to create ConocoPhillips, one of the world’s largest companies and whose shareholders have enjoyed a compound average annual growth of 13 percent.

What differences do you see in today’s legal market compared to when you started?

The legal profession has changed quite dramatically in the 57 years since I graduated from law school. Regretfully, much of the camaraderie and familial nature of the law firms of that and earlier times has been lost as the firms of 100 or fewer lawyers of that era evolved into the multinational megafirms of today.

What achievement are you most proud of? 

In a lifetime of interesting and important accomplishments, probably the matter I am most noted for is the invention of the Shareholders Rights Plan, commonly referred to as the 'poison pill'. However, the poison pill is only ancillary to the truly significant and satisfying accomplishments of protecting a large number of companies and their employees and communities from being ravished by corporate raiders.

Who is your legal hero?  

My legal hero and the lawyer who had the greatest impact on me is the judge I clerked for in 1956, Edward Weinfeld of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Judge Weinfeld was then, and is today, recognized as one of the finest trial judges of all time.

What advice would you give to people starting out in their law careers today?

Being a lawyer is a great experience. Every day brings a new and interesting challenge. For those who devote themselves to the practice of law, every day allows working with the most accomplished and brilliant people and the satisfaction of making a real contribution.