Brette Tannenbaum is a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and an emerging talent in antitrust litigation. The depth of her expertise at such an early part of her career makes her a stand-out litigator in this year’s 40 & Under List. Tannenbaum speaks with Benchmark Senior Researcher Brittany Sharoff about the perspective young litigators bring to cases, her insights into trends in antitrust litigation, and the necessary steps to uplift young women litigators.
Congratulations on another year on the 40 & Under List! As a young partner with experience across diverse practice areas, what type of approach and fresh perspective do you feel you bring to your portfolio of cases?
Thank you! I think my approach is informed by more than just my age. Whether we want to or not, we bring all of our experiences—personal and professional—to our careers. I think about this frequently when I’m recruiting new associates because I look for qualities that aren’t necessarily listed on a résumé. So, for example, I grew up in Manhattan and I like things to move quickly and efficiently. Both my parents worked so I’ve always been independent and self-motivated; I’m used to juggling a million things at once. I went to high school and college with kids whose families were extremely wealthy and had to learn to operate in a world in which I wasn’t totally comfortable. All of these things contributed to the person and lawyer I am. All of them inform my approach to litigating.
What are some of the client benefits to having a lead counsel team that’s inclusive of young lawyers?
One obvious benefit is long-term investment in the client relationship. I think clients want to see junior partners and other young lawyers engage deeply on their matters so they can trust in the firm’s continued familiarity with their business and legal challenges, even if more senior partners retire. A related benefit is the peer-to-peer connection between young partners and their in-house counterparts. While the general counsel of my clients usually are older than I am, the deputy and associate general counsel who oversee matters day to day tend to be closer to my age. I connect with those in-house counsel frequently to run my matters, and being around the same age helps us form that connection organically. Building teams of lawyers at various stages of life also creates diversity of viewpoint, which helps us serve our clients in so many ways.
You are representing both international and well-known New York-based companies alike. What do you find are the most challenging and exciting aspects of working with high-profile clients on matters of great importance to them and oftentimes, the industry?
My favorite part of the job is delving into the inner workings of my clients’ businesses to learn everything about how they operate. It can be challenging but also exciting to be presented with a new client or matter involving an industry that I know little about. It keeps the job fresh and fun. That’s part of what drew me to antitrust litigation. I’ve litigated antitrust cases for clients in the sports, media, energy and payment card industries. Regardless of industry, antitrust cases require us to understand why our clients’ (and adversaries’) businesses operate the way they do so we can defend (or attack) the fairness of those practices. That process is crucial not only to mastering the factual record and forming legal arguments, but also to understanding my clients’ business strategies, which often drive their litigation objectives. For example, we were retained last year by a major power generation company in a fast-paced trade secrets litigation. I don’t have an engineering background, but I immersed myself in learning about gas turbines and power plant contracts, including from the relevant experts at the client. I felt completely equipped for the discovery process in particular because I understood the documents, issues, and client sensitivities at play. I also got to know my client’s in-house counsel and business teams very well, which was a treat, especially during the pandemic.
Your practice focuses on antitrust matters, where there is a consistent amount of activity right now. What are some trends that you are seeing and what do you expect in the future?
Antitrust enforcement is undergoing a sea change under the current administration. Obviously that shift is already being felt in the merger review context, where we are seeing heightened antitrust scrutiny of deals, particularly in certain sectors like tech. We are also seeing increased scrutiny of vertical competition, including collaborations and mergers between industry participants at different levels of the chain. I expect we will see more cartel and price-fixing enforcement activity over the next few years. On the litigation front, we are continuing to see private antitrust challenges to major technology platforms, and I expect we will see more follow-on private litigation, both class action and competitor lawsuits, against the same companies being targeted by regulators. Sports leagues also continue to be at the center of major antitrust disputes. There have been several recent challenges to the business models of professional sports leagues, and I am working on more sports-related antitrust matters than ever before.
Antitrust matters seem to have overlapping components that lead into other practice areas, particularly IP and employment law. With experience in both of those areas, how does your expertise and advocacy help clients navigate those complexities?
There are certainly overlapping aspects of litigating antitrust and IP matters, and like those matters, employment cases are rarely dismissed at the pleading stage and often require fact-intensive inquiries before they can be judicially resolved. All of them require a deep understanding of the facts. But at the end of the day, I think of myself as a trial lawyer first and foremost. That doesn’t mean that all I do is try cases (I wish!). Part of what makes Paul, Weiss special is that we believe—and train our associates to understand—that you must prepare a case for trial from day one. The key to building a winning record in an antitrust case is organizing the evidence around a handful of themes that apply across industries. Antitrust litigation requires us to build a record of complicated facts and economic concepts and then break it all down into simple themes that will resonate with people who are not steeped in those facts or concepts—whether a judge at the summary judgment stage, or jurors at trial. Trying non-antitrust cases has taught me what types of themes resonate with people and, therefore, has made me a more effective antitrust lawyer.
We’ve heard about the “generational shift” that can affect businesses, especially after the last couple of years. How does Paul, Weiss uplift its young lawyers and equip them to prepare to take the lead on cases?
I think this is one of the more difficult issues facing our profession, and litigation in particular, especially since the pandemic. The kinds of clients that retain Paul, Weiss for litigation often want lead counsel who have tried some version of their case dozens of times before. That means that younger litigators don’t always get on-their-feet experience or direct client exposure until later in their careers.To combat that, we have to actively promote our associates and prepare them to take on leadership responsibility.'
There is a great deal of imposter syndrome among young associates. I remember feeling that way myself. But Paul, Weiss encourages and expects all associates to contribute substantively to their matters from the very beginning. A former partner used to say: “It doesn’t matter how junior you are. You are a lawyer on the case.” That approach gave me the confidence to take ownership over my matters and offer my views in team meetings, which led partners to expose me to their clients and give me opportunities to get on my feet. I continue to benefit from this ethos, even as a partner. During a three-week antitrust trial last summer, the senior partners on my team made sure that I played an equal role. I sat at the defense counsel table every day, so the jury viewed me as a leader. I examined as many witnesses as each of the senior partners did. Given the significant exposure involved, I might not have had those opportunities were it not for the senior partners who promoted me to our client.
Here at Benchmark Litigation, we recognize the importance of recognizing women in litigation. How does your firm offer support to women lawyers? And, more broadly, what do you think the legal profession needs to do to further women across the legal profession?
Gender diversity is hugely important to Paul, Weiss. We have a number of women’s initiatives, including formal mentoring, career chats, networking and skill building events, and gender bias and women’s rights programming. But I think what makes Paul, Weiss special in this regard is our commitment to informal mentoring. Litigation partners are deeply committed to ensuring female associates are getting opportunities on their matters and succeeding when they do. I know I personally benefited from that commitment.
Of course, we can and should do more. Partners need to sponsor, not just mentor. We need to actively promote our female associates inside and outside the firm. We need to take the time to teach them and provide feedback. Associates do not come into the firm knowing how to do everything, and female associates are usually more reluctant than their male counterparts to pretend that they do. We have to be willing to draw talent out and nurture it if we want to retain and promote promising female lawyers.
More broadly, I’d like to see more women in positions of leadership in law firms. Firms need to do more to promote women in terms of partnership, leadership positions, client relationships and external exposure. They need to value and compensate the contributions of their female lawyers. Business generation and client development are essential, of course, but there needs to be more recognition that women often shoulder the burden of mentoring, training, and building morale. Those contributions, while crucial to the business of running a firm, take time away from client work and business development. When law firms give more credit to that work, we will see more women succeed in law firms.
As a young litigator with a great deal of experience in handling high-profile cases, what three (3) key pieces of advice would you give to rising associates and the next generation of lawyers?
Don’t worry too much about finding a specialization early on. As a young lawyer, it’s important to expose yourself to different types of matters. The breadth of experience will help you build skills and get up on your feet early and frequently.
Seek out mentors. Mentors are everything, especially in litigation. Find more senior lawyers with whom you connect organically, and lean on them for advice and guidance.
Don’t be afraid to develop connections with clients, even as a young lawyer. No one expects junior associates to call the GC of a big corporation, but there are so many ways to form connections with your clients early on. Interact with your in-house counterparts often; invite them to lunch or to see a game or concert; keep them updated on your matters and other relevant legal developments; offer to provide CLE presentations or invite them to attend firm programs. Building those connections early on will strengthen your relationships and create lasting business development habits.
Who are four (4) litigators you have looked up to throughout your career? Why and how has their guidance proven so valuable to you?
Before I joined Paul, Weiss, I clerked for U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in the Southern District of New York. She has had an enormous impact on my career and my life. She taught me to think about the law practically and strive for the best result for the parties, not just the right result under the law. She cares deeply about managing her cases and devotes as much time to discovery disputes and settlement opportunities as she does to dispositive motions and trials. We always discussed every opinion in person until we agreed on the outcome, which gave me invaluable insight into how judges think about all sorts of disputes. She’s also someone who has succeeded at a very high level while still making time for her family. I can’t say enough good things about her. We still get together for breakfast regularly and we never run out of things to talk about.
At Paul, Weiss, I’ve had so many incredible mentors. Brad Karp has been a huge influence and advocate. Law firms can be pretty opaque places, but he has taught me a lot about the business of running a firm. Watching him advise clients is remarkable. He earns clients’ complete trust because he truly takes on their concerns as his own, and he expects that from his teams as well. I aspire to his unfaltering commitment to client service, but I will never be able to respond to emails as quickly as he does.
Ken Gallo is the partner who first convinced me I could be both an antitrust lawyer and a trial lawyer. I attribute much of my oral advocacy style to my experience second-chairing him at dozens of depositions and oral arguments. He has a unique way of distilling even the most complex issues down to three or four key points that judges, and juries can follow. And he is always credible; he never overstates a point, which makes his arguments all the more persuasive. I think about his approach every time I’m in court.
Marty Flumenbaum, who is now of counsel, also has given me invaluable advice. He works incredibly hard, but he never lets the job get in the way of being a human being and having a life. He’s the person at team meetings who asks how everyone is doing before diving into the substance. He just cares.