Bloomberg Law
July 27, 2023, 9:00 AM

They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40 - Jonathan Ashtor of Paul, Weiss

Lisa Helem
Lisa Helem
Executive Editor
MP McQueen

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

I recently led the IP/technology aspects of Qualcomm’s $4.6 billion acquisition of Veoneer’s self-driving platform, Arriver. It was thrilling to help Qualcomm achieve its goal of obtaining state-of-the-art autonomous vehicle technology like vision perception and software that mimics human driving decisions, enabling Qualcomm to strengthen its autonomous driving business.

Previously, I advised speech recognition pioneer Nuance Communications in its $19.7 billion sale to Microsoft—one of the largest AI deals to date. By combining Nuance’s AI-powered enterprise technology with Microsoft’s vast platform, Nuance’s technology can now be leveraged to develop new solutions across a wide range of industries.

Guiding Nuance in its sale was especially gratifying to me, as I previously helped spin off Nuance’s automotive division, Cerence, separating its cutting-edge automotive AI business into a new public company. I’m excited to continue expanding my AI and emerging technologies work through our recently formed Digital Technology Group.

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

As first-year attorney, I got my first taste of a truly complex deal; we represented the Ron Zacapa rum brand in selling their flagship line to global spirits distributor Diageo. The deal was transformative for our client and presented challenging IP issues.

Our team on the deal was small, so despite my young age I was able to play a direct role in negotiating key elements of the deal and drafting agreements. There was no playbook for the deal, and I learned not to use one; every deal is different, and the best way to approach a transaction is by learning what is new and different about it.

This lesson has served me well as a technology specialist and particularly in AI transactions, where the technology is continuously evolving. Helping AI companies like Nuance Communications complete transactions like spinning off its automotive segment requires a deep and individualized understanding of the technology at play and how to transact around it.

Paul, Weiss wrote the book on how to do a complex spinoff of an AI company in this deal for Nuance, and the success of that deal culminated in the subsequent $19.7 billion sale of the company to Microsoft.

How do you define success in your practice?

Alongside my client work, I’m a legal academic studying patent data to research key drivers of innovation. One common thread between my academic work and legal career is that I care a lot about getting the right answer.

I’m not motivated by winning as much as winning for the right reasons; succeeding for me is finding the reason my client should edge out the competition and advocating effectively to ensure they do. What interests me is how often the right answer is also the best answer for the client’s business objectives as well as larger societal goals.

I grew up with many diverse experiences, especially given my family’s roots in India and Iraq. Over the years, I’ve found that the best way to achieve my clients’ objectives in the right way and for the right reasons is through a diverse team. Diversity in experience and background translates into diversity in perspectives, questions, insights and creative solutions, which is mission-critical on cutting-edge deals.

Success is also about pushing the cutting edge forward in terms of legal practice. For example, I recently formed a Generative AI task force, which analyzes the impact of this new technology on our practice and clients.

What are you most proud of as a lawyer?

One of the transactions I’m most proud of is the extremely complicated work we did for Qualcomm in its carve-out acquisition of Veoneer’s self-driving business, Arriver. Veoneer was a publicly traded company and Arriver was an internal division, so extricating this business required designing a novel deal structure.

We partnered with a private equity firm to provide for the transfer of Arriver to a Qualcomm entity, while the rest of the business stayed behind with the private equity entity. Executing the deal required an in-depth understanding of what powers autonomous driving systems and how to make the technology competitive in a stand-alone company, and I was proud to help Qualcomm achieve that.

I’m equally proud of my pro bono work for education nonprofits. Before law school, I directed a “No Child Left Behind” program in Queens, New York, and I’ve since remained passionate about ensuring access to quality education in underprivileged communities.

I’ve represented national nonprofit Matriculate for nearly 10 years and am thrilled to have contributed to its mission of helping thousands of underprivileged high school students apply and gain admission to elite colleges around the country. This summer, I will begin serving on its distinguished board of directors.

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

I feel lucky to count Scott Barshay, chair of Paul, Weiss’s Corporate Department, among my greatest mentors. His unwavering drive to achieve the client’s objectives and surpass expectations is a constant motivator for me. Under Scott’s careful guidance, I’ve led the technology aspects of some of the most complex, high-profile deals of the past five years, including four major AI transactions on behalf of Nuance, Aptiv and Qualcomm.

Scott’s keen interest in promoting the advancement of younger lawyers, particularly women and lawyers of color, is something I try to emulate in my own mentorship efforts. When he sees talent, he gives it every opportunity to grow. I follow that example in the Technology Transactions group by teaching promising junior lawyers how to be stars for their clients.

Another influential mentor of mine was Matt Zisk, a now-retired IP and technology partner from my previous firm. A PhD chemistry professor-turned-lawyer, Matt always maintained an academic bent and love for research.

He inspired me to pursue an academic career alongside my legal career and to conduct patent analytics research in my “spare time.” Like him, I find that this hones my critical thinking skills and propensity to think outside the box.

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

My daughters control my playlist these days, so I have to say, “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift and “Let It Go” (or “the Elsa song”) from Frozen. But for myself, I’m looking forward to the new AI-generated Beatles track when it gets released.

Jonathan Ashtor of Paul, Weiss and middle child, 2, berry picking.
Jonathan Ashtor and Jonathan Hurtarte/Bloomberg Law

Jonathan Ashtor co-founded Paul, Weiss’s Cryptocurrency & Blockchain Group in 2018 and serves as its co-head. He recently helped launch the firm’s Digital Technology Advisory Group and has formed a task force to analyze the impact of generative AI. His pro bono work includes serving on the board of Matriculate, a national nonprofit assisting high-achieving, underprivileged high schoolers in gaining admission to top-tier colleges. He previously served as primary outside counsel to the organization.

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

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