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Paul Weiss, Munger Tolles Handle Bill, Melinda Gates Divorce (1)

May 4, 2021, 6:03 PM; Updated: May 4, 2021, 10:22 PM

Teams of lawyers led by Munger, Tolles & Olson and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison are advising on the divorce of Bill and Melinda Gates, who announced Monday the end of their 27-year marriage.

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft Inc., is being represented by Munger Tolles partners Ronald Olson, Robert Denham, and Eric Tuttle in Los Angeles.

Paul Weiss senior trial lawyer Bruce Birenboim and Loretta Ippolito, co-chair of the firm’s personal representation practice in New York, are representing Melinda Gates, along with Robert Cohen and Shannon Rogers Simpson of Cohen Clair Lans Greifer Thorpe & Rottenstreich and Bellevue, Wash.-based divorce lawyer Sherri Anderson.

Bill Gates, 65, and Melinda Gates, 56, a former manager at Microsoft, have said publicly that their separation is amicable and that they intend to continue working together in philanthropic affairs. Their media contacts didn’t respond to requests for comment about their legal teams.

Bloomberg News reported that court records show the couple have a separation agreement in place, although its terms remain unclear.

A copy of divorce papers filed in King County Superior Court in Seattle and obtained by celebrity news website TMZ shows that Olson and Munger Tolles are co-counsel to Bill Gates along with Stoel Rives trusts and estates partner Wendy Goffe in Seattle and Ted Billbe, another Bellevue, Wash.-based divorce lawyer.

Large law firms like Munger Tolles are no stranger to high-profile divorces. The split between Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren, finalized in 2010, saw McGuireWoods represent the golf superstar’s ex-wife, whose twin sister was once a London-based associate at that firm.

Olson, a name partner at Munger Tolles and longtime confidant of billionaire Warren Buffett, declined to discuss how his firm came to land a lead role for Bill Gates on a case that will divide an estimated $146 billion fortune.

Billbe, who once worked at Perkins Coie and a predecessor to DLA Piper prior to forming his own shop in 1997, also declined to comment.

Bezos to Gates

Cohen of New York’s Cohen Clair, which is part of Melinda Gates’ team, is a prominent U.S. divorce lawyer with an all-star client list that over the years has included billionaire Henry Kravis, comedian Chris Rock, model Christie Brinkley, and music executive Tommy Mottola, as well as Ivana Trump and Marla Maples in their respective splits from former President Donald Trump.

Cohen Clair, formed via a 2011 merger among prominent matrimonial law shops, most recently represented Judith Nathan in her divorce from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump loyalist and personal lawyer to the former president.

Rounding out the legal team for Melinda Gates is Anderson, who also represented Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos in his 2019 split with ex-wife MacKenzie Scott. Anderson, who began her career at Preston Gates & Ellis before starting her own firm in 2002, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The Bezos and Scott divorce resulted in a $137 billion fortune being divvied up in 2019, with Scott receiving an Amazon stake valued at $38 billion.

Billbe, now co-counsel to Bill Gates along with Munger Tolles and Cohen Clair, advised Scott on the record-breaking settlement. The deal made Scott the world’s fourth-richest woman and surpassed in size a $1.7 billion split between media mogul Rupert Murdoch and ex-wife Anna Maria Mann in 1999.

Scott’s net worth subsequently grew—thanks to Amazon’s surging stock price—even as she donated to charity at least $6 billion. Scott remarried in March.

Dividing Assets

One firm that appears to be sitting out the Gates marital dissolution is K&L Gates, which takes part of its name from William Gates Sr., who died last September at 94.

Bill Gates’ late father was once a name partner at Seattle-based predecessor Preston Gates & Ellis, which merged with Pittsburgh-based Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham to form K&L Gates in 2007.

A spokesman for K&L Gates didn’t respond to a request for comment about whether the firm is involved in the Gates divorce case. K&L Gates, which over the years has had close ties to Microsoft, has also done trademark work for the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to public filings.

The Gates’ will remain co-chairs and trustees of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose charitable endeavors have seen it give away roughly $50 billion since its creation in 2000. Unlike the Bezos divorce, which mostly involved the separation of Amazon stock, much of the Gates fortune has been moved into their nonprofit.

Bill Gates’ family office is Kirkland, Wash.-based Cascade Investment LLC, whose major assets include holdings in car dealership AutoNation Inc., heavy equipment maker Deere & Co., hospitality chain Four Seasons Holdings Inc., and waste manager Republic Services Inc. Munger Tolles advised Cascade in 2008 on its purchase of a 20% stake in Republic Services, according to securities filings at the time.

Michael Rodden, a former Stoel Rives associate who is now general counsel for Cascade, didn’t respond to a request for comment about whether the family office has retained its own outside counsel. Nor did fellow Cascade in-house lawyers Jaclyne Badal and Rumei Mistry, both of whom previously worked at K&L Gates.

(Adds that Olson declined to comment in eighth paragraph and includes additional information throughout about the Gates divorce case.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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