Bloomberg Law
July 28, 2022, 9:01 AM

They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40 - Alexander Merton of Quinn Emanuel

Lisa Helem
Lisa Helem
Executive Editor
Kibkabe Araya
Kibkabe Araya
Special Projects Assistant Editor

Please describe two of your most substantial, recent wins in practice.
As a white collar and tax dispute lawyer, many of my most substantial victories involve resolving issues for our clients favorably, expeditiously, and without much fanfare.

One memorable and recent matter involved representing the Odebrecht Group, the largest construction conglomerate in South America, in what the DOJ has described as “the largest-ever global foreign bribery resolution.” We secured unprecedented and favorable settlements with various US and international regulators, allowing the company to stay in business and refocus its time and resources back to achieving a bigger and brighter future.

The other, on the tax front, we resolved a tax dispute for Garrett Motion Inc. shortly before trial regarding the proper allocation of over $250 million in tax liabilities. Only a fraction of that amount was ultimately allocated to Garrett.

What is the most important lesson you learned as a first-year attorney and how does it inform your practice today?
The most important lesson I learned as a first-year attorney was how critical it is to take complete ownership of each of your cases, despite whatever formal role you might have in a particular case. I began my career as a trial attorney at the U.S. DOJ Tax Division through the Attorney General’s Honors Program. From the start, I was assigned a docket of 30–60 cases that I was responsible for, any number of which could be active at a given time, and I had to keep track of every deadline, fact pattern, key issue, and strategy for each case. That responsibility imbued a sense of pride and responsibility over every case—every argument was a meaningful one, and every success was a professional victory that gave me a sense of personal accomplishment.   

Today, as a partner at Quinn Emanuel, I observe every day how important it is that each one of our team members are given an opportunity to share the same sense of personal ownership over our cases. This approach generally leads to more engaged team members, fewer mistakes, and more fulfilling victories for the entire team.  

How do you define success in your practice?
To me, success is when a client can honestly say, not only are you one of their favorite counsels to work with, but one of the best lawyers with whom they have ever worked. Personal attributes that mean so much to our clients—e.g., being tirelessly responsive, consistently professional, thoughtful, articulate, ensuring our clients feel heard and understood, and paying close attention to details (both with case-related issues as well as items of personal significance for client team members)—can mean just as much (if not more) to our clients than the underlying successful outcomes. Beyond securing a desired result for a client, it’s the way we get there that truly sets one counsel apart from another, and it is in this space that I find success for each client is defined and demonstrated according to their individual needs.

What are you most proud of as a lawyer?
I was raised by a single mother, and I was not the best academic student growing up. So, despite working three separate jobs to put me through private school, I never felt that I gave my mother much to be proud of. It wasn’t until college that I found my life’s calling, advocacy and debate, and I haven’t looked back since. Now, I work on some of the largest and most noteworthy legal cases in contemporary times every single day. I take pride in making sure I never squander an opportunity to do exceptional work for our clients, and perhaps as a result, making the most of these opportunities (at the very least) always gives her an exciting or cutting-edge story or few about me that she is proud of.

Who is your greatest mentor in the law and what have they taught you?
I haven’t had any legal mentors, but I have had the most exceptional role models from whom I learn and owe much of my success. My two assistant chiefs (now chiefs) at the DOJ Tax Division, Angelo Frattarelli and David Katinsky, could cite sections and paragraphs of the Internal Revenue Code by memory, and they taught me by example how valuable a complete command of a subject matter can be. They were also exceptional writers, teaching me how to say more by saying less.

At Quinn Emanuel, I have looked up to and learned most from Bill Burck. He is literally superb at everything, a brilliant strategist, a devastatingly effective advocate, and he does it in a way that always seems obvious and effortless to adopt. Witnessing these skills and qualities in practice has been both inspiring and educational, and I try to emulate them every day.

Just for fun, tell us your two favorite songs on your summer music playlist.
“‘Til You Can’t” by Cody Johnson is one my kids’ favorites, so we play it every day I drive them to summer camp in the mornings. Once they’re dropped off, it’s hard to go wrong with “Danza Kuduro” by Don Omar and Lucenzo on any summer day.

Alexander “AJ” Merton, a first-generation Filipino American, is active in his firm’s Asian Pacific American diversity initiatives and those of the Asian Pacific American Bar and American Bar associations. Prior to practicing law, he founded a distribution company specializing in foods under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Helem at; Kibkabe Araya in Washington at