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Perspectives: Melissa Fogarty

‘I pinch myself (most days!)’ – Clifford Chance’s London corporate co-head Melissa Fogarty on memorable deals, embracing technology and why she would absolutely recommend a career in M&A law

Why did you decide to become an M&A lawyer, and has it lived up to expectations?
M&A was the fourth seat of my training contract at King & Wood Mallesons. Until then, I was going to be a litigator.

I’ve always been swayed by people more than anything else. During my fourth seat I was supervised by the incredible Alison Lansley – a leading M&A partner in Australia. She is inspirational… and the decision to qualify in M&A was an easy one.

What’s been your most memorable deal and why?
Definitely Citi’s sale of EMI in 2012. It was a unique deal – from pre-pack to business separation to sale… it was incredibly challenging and thrilling at the same time.

It gave me the opportunity to work with the great Matthew Layton, Daniel Kossoff (both now retired from the firm) and Rob Crothers. Rob and I remain the closest of mates and partners to this day.

And it also introduced me to the team at Citi, from which a wonderful professional relationship and many close friendships have developed. I am so very grateful for that opportunity.

If it’s different – what’s been the most memorable deal you’ve completed during difficult market conditions?
It’s not exactly difficult ‘market’ conditions, but certainly the O2 and Virgin Media merger was done in challenging ‘life’ conditions at the beginning of lockdown in 2020. We acted for our longstanding client, Telefonica, on that transaction.

What impact did those conditions have on the transaction and what did you learn from it?
It was probably one of the first big deals in this market to be done totally virtually, with everyone having to adjust to life working from home. I had home schooling happening in the background and, through the screen, a large team at Clifford Chance who were all having their own challenges during those early days of Covid. We forget how terrifying that period was for many of us.

I’m still in awe of the teams on both sides of that transaction – our collective resilience and camaraderie was very uplifting to see. I’m grateful to the teams at A&O and Herbert Smith Freehills as it was a lovely example of how to execute a deal with great doses of positivity and collaboration.

How has the role of an M&A partner changed since you started out?
There have been many positive changes in our working lives since then. To name a few: agile working, shared parental leave, a greater focus on mental health, greater diversity in our teams and a stronger focus on creating a truly inclusive workplace.

We have so much more progress to make of course, but there have been so many important developments.

Would you recommend a career in M&A law? Why?
Absolutely!!!! I pinch myself (most days!).

Yes, there are other days when the going gets really tough. But I like the challenge and that no day is the same and I love working with such talented people both on the client side and within Clifford Chance.

What are your top tips for success for those who want to follow in your path?
The deal is really important – of course you need to get that right. But understanding the broader context for your client, and supporting them either side of the deal, is where the real joy lies.

It’s also where relationships grow. So, my top tip is to broaden your focus – reframe your role. I try to encourage our team not to think of themselves as ‘public M&A’ or ‘private M&A’ specialists, but rather corporate advisers.

What’s the single biggest change that you think needs to happen in law?
There is a lot more progress to be made in creating an even more inclusive and supportive environment within law firms. And we need to continue to embrace advances in technology and evolve our ways of working.

But I also meditate a bit on what I hope will remain the same: the intrinsically collaborative culture, the rich ‘on the job’ learning and development we provide to our teams, and the strong focus on serving our clients (during and between the deals).

Melissa Fogarty is co-head of corporate, London at Clifford Chance.