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Perspectives: Jennifer Bethlehem

‘We were at the centre of a deal that was necessary to ensure global financial stability – the stakes don’t get higher’ – Freshfields’ head of consumer and healthcare Jennifer Bethlehem on deal highlights and having the personality for M&A

Why did you decide to become an M&A lawyer, and has it lived up to expectations?
I became an M&A lawyer because I was instantly drawn to the pace and diversity that comes with being at the centre of a transaction – I don’t think my personality would work well not knowing everything about everything on a transaction. Being an M&A partner has definitely lived up to my expectations – it has been a privilege to work with really smart, dedicated and diverse teams within my firm, and with clients and advisers – the feeling of being part of a team that is striving to achieve something difficult together is the reason I still love what I do.

What’s been your most memorable deal and why?
I have been lucky to have worked on many exciting notable deals in my career. The most memorable is the UBS/Credit Suisse merger – we were at the centre of a deal that was seen by financial regulators and global leaders to be necessary to ensure global financial stability – the stakes do not get higher than that!

How has the role of an M&A partner changed since you started out?
To be successful these days an M&A partner needs to not only have strong trusted relationships with senior lawyers at the client, but needs to be available to engage with all levels within the client while actively supporting your team to problem solve issues and move things forward. I would say it is less hierarchical than it used to be – which is a good thing. Diverse thinking and creative problem solving cannot happen unless the power of the whole team is actively harnessed. So more than ever an M&A partner not only has to lead, but they have to put together and make teams work.

Would you recommend a career in M&A law? Why?
If you are a people person who is intellectually curious and needs to be continuously challenged then being an M&A lawyer definitely ticks all the boxes. I am continuously stimulated by the new people I meet and the great teams that I work with.

What are your top tips for success for those who want to become M&A stars of the future?

  • Be curious.
  • Be a problem solver.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Be patient – all learning is good learning and relationships that are cultivated with loyalty and trust over time are those that will enable your future success.
  • Be people focused – M&A is a people business and more than ever depends on harnessing the capabilities of diverse teams.

Jennifer Bethlehem is head of consumer and healthcare at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.