Bloomberg Law
July 27, 2023, 9:00 AM

They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40 - Emily Johnson of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

Lisa Helem
Lisa Helem
Executive Editor
MP McQueen

Please describe two of your most substantial, recent wins in practice.

I am a lifelong Tar Heel, so not much can beat having Michael Jordan as a client. Most recently, the team here at Wachtell advised on the sale of his majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets.

Last summer, I advised Global Payments Inc. on a series of financing transactions that tied to strategic priorities for the company. We obtained a $4.325 billion bridge financing commitment for the acquisition of EVO Payments, negotiated refinancing commitments, executed an issuance of senior notes, established a $5.75 billion revolving credit facility, and negotiated a $1.5 billion strategic PIPE investment from Silver Lake. Concurrently, we led the $1 billion sale of Global Payments’ Netspend business, including related seller financing.

What is the most important lesson you learned as a first-year attorney, and how does it influence your practice today?

As a young lawyer, I may not have been able to articulate the biggest lesson I was learning, but, with the benefit of hindsight, it is that “tomorrow is made today.” As a first-year associate, you have begun your professional life and the choices you make, the work you put in, the relationships you nurture and the reputation you earn will carry you through.

In short, the work you are doing “now” matters, and not just for the particular deal you are on, but for your own development. You are building the foundation of your career.

We’ve all heard the saying that no one cares about your career more than you, and I think that is a helpful reminder to young attorneys that you own your experience. It is your job to master the substance, work well with your teams, get to know your client’s needs, and see as many matters as you can, so that over time you can grow into the role of trusted advisor.

How do you define success in your practice?

Success in my practice is two-fold. It is inherently tied to my clients’ achieving their goals, and for me to aid my clients in achieving those goals, I must first earn their trust. Those goals range from closing transformational corporate transactions, to designing bespoke securities, to timing the market just right for a debt deal, to reimagining a capital structure to better serve their needs.

Success isn’t solely about outcomes; it’s also about how we get there. It has been critical for me to be able to engage with clients, my team, the opposing side and advisors as my authentic self, earning their trust.

That means being thorough, competitive, creative, caring, and warm. I count a number of clients and opposing counsel as friends. Doing high-stakes, fast-paced deal work, and coming out the other side with a group of professional friends is a meaningful measure of success.

What are you most proud of as a lawyer?

In thinking about how to answer this question, I keep coming back to what I’m grateful for as a lawyer. I’m grateful to work with smart, motivated, and passionate colleagues who are committed to excellence.

Those traits aren’t just found in my colleagues today; they were shared by the librarians, dance teachers, coaches, Girl Scout troop leaders and Sunday school teachers who inspired me and supported me growing up.

I am a first-generation college graduate who has been given a world of opportunities made possible through the Morehead Scholarship at UNC and generous individuals who let me see into their lives. Life has so many paths.

This brings me back to what I’m proud of: Every time I close a deal, I slip the press clippings in the mail and send it to my 92-year-old grandmother in my hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina. In that moment, I think about how much my parents and grandparents sacrificed to prioritize my education and encourage my ambition.

I’m proud to be building a life that involves leading cutting-edge, multibillion dollar deals while also serving others through pro bono initiatives. I’m proud to be able to offer to others what was offered to me.

Who is your greatest mentor in the law and what have they taught you?

Marty Lipton has taught me countless lessons, but I’ll highlight one I return to often. In 2016, when I was considering my future at the firm and the professional life I was building—and how those fit in to the larger world around me—he challenged me to “do more.”

Marty is not only a titan of the bar, but has led a life of public engagement, thought leadership, organization building and community involvement. His concept of “do more” was not necessarily one grand gesture, or a pivot from your path, but instead an unrelenting, action-based reinvestment in the community, self, and others.

I come back to this lesson when problems seem inextricable—take stock and then action, put one foot in front of the other, keep giving, talking, strategizing and encouraging others to do the same. Do more.

Tell us your two favorite songs on your summer music playlist.

“Independence Day” by Martina McBride. Is it even Fourth of July if you haven’t listened to this song?

And “Lafayette” by Orville Peck. Classic country sound, updated sensibility.

Emily Johnson of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz with spouse in Colorado.
Emily Johnson and Jonathan Hurtarte/Bloomberg Law

Emily Johnson has been involved in M&A and financing transactions totaling $109 billion over the last year and was the architect of the financing for the split-up of industrial giant United Technologies Corporation (UTX) which resulted in three publicly traded companies, according to her firm. She also represents women and children pro bono in family law-related immigration matters in partnership with Her Justice.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Helem at; MP McQueen at

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