Martha McGarry, the first woman to make partner in the M&A practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, joined the partnership of Mayer Brown in New York this week after bumping up against a mandatory retirement policy at her former firm.
Like many other Big Law firms, Skadden requires its attorneys to ramp down their work and step away upon hitting a set age. McGarry confirmed that Skadden’s retirement age is 70 years old.
McGarry has been a prolific M&A lawyer for decades and said in an interview with Bloomberg Law she wants to maintain that practice. She has spearheaded deals for American Express Co., The Coca-Cola Co., and The Hershey Co., among other household names. She said she wanted to continue working with her clients, which she will do as co-leader of Mayer Brown’s M&A practice.
“They are part of the daily fabric of my life,” McGarry said of her clients. “And the more I contemplated that all ending, I just decided: No. My energy level is incredibly high. There are lots of things that would be fun to be a part of and to accomplish, and I don’t want to stop.”
McGarry was named partner at Skadden in 1985 and worked at the firm for 43 years. Her practice has generated around $30 million in revenue in recent years, according to a source familiar with her move.
Skadden did not return a message seeking comment on the firm’s retirement policy. McGarry declined to comment on the size of her practice.
Skadden Executive Partner Eric Friedman noted in an email to partners last week obtained by Bloomberg Law that McGarry had made “valuable contributions” to the firm including as a past member of the firm’s policy committee and to Skadden’s “women’s initiatives.”
“Martha is well known for her dexterous handling of numerous complex, high-profile transactions,” Friedman wrote.
As co-leader of M&A, McGarry said she hopes to help Mayer Brown build up its public company transactions practice.
She interviewed with a number of law firms, and said Mayer Brown stood out for several reasons. The firm has an international network of offices. It has strength in regulatory practices that are critical to supporting M&A transactions and a corporate practice. The caliber of its lawyers was “extremely high,” she said.
“They play very nicely together, and it was so obvious having interviewed with them what a warm and collegial place it was,” McGarry said.
McGarry made partner at Skadden after working on General Motors’ $2.5 billion acquisition of Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems Corp. She said the pace of deal work during the 1980s was frenetic, and she would “easily” work over 3,000 hours a year. She worked closely with renowned Skadden dealmakers Roger Aaron, Joe Flom, and Peter Atkins.
McGarry isn’t the first Skadden partner to join Mayer Brown after a long career at the Wall Street firm. James Schell joined Mayer Brown in early 2020, telling The American Lawyer at the time that Skadden’s mandatory retirement at age 70 played a part in his decision.
Roughly half of the nation’s top 200 law firms reportedly have some form of mandatory retirement. The practice is a way for law firms to help transition client work to younger lawyers. The policies have in some cases been challenged by regulators as discriminatory.
Mayer Brown capital markets partner Phyllis Korff is also a former Skadden partner. McGarry called Korff a close friend, saying she helped recruit Korff to Skadden from Sullivan & Cromwell.
Mayer Brown this week also added partner Thomas Horenkamp and counsel Adam Arnett to its corporate and securities practice, with the pair joining in Chicago from White & Case. Amanda Rosenberg also joined Mayer Brown’s projects and infrastructure and tax transactions and consulting practices from Norton Rose Fulbright in Los Angeles.
Representing corporate titans in M&A deals is one of the most lucrative legal practices for U.S. law firms. But the practice is largely dominated by men. Among the 44 highest ranked corporate M&A partners in New York by Chambers & Partners, one is a woman: Cravath, Swaine & Moore’s Faiza Saeed, who is also that firm’s presiding partner.
McGarry said law firms have done a better job in the past five years of promoting women to leadership positions. Much of the change has been spurred by a push for diversity from clients, she said.
“That’s a pretty natural force to prompt change in a meaningful way,” she said. “I think you have seen around the entire legal profession in the past five years, all the firms are appointing women to leadership positions, which is terrific.”