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Leigh-Erin Irons
Leigh-Erin Irons, Fredrikson & Byron

The POWER 30: Leigh-Erin Irons

There’s a lot of money around in private equity, said Leigh-Erin Irons. The companies have raised funds or have funds committed that are not invested yet, she said.

Private equity has become an attractive investment strategy and a source for liquidity, Irons said.  And there are many founder-run companies still is business. “They need a liquidity event to get the value out of the company but public markets are less desirable,” she said

“Private equity can help grow those companies through strategic partnership and also provides an exit event,” she explained

There isn’t an industry that private equity doesn’t touch, Irons said. It’s different from venture investments because the private equity is looking at established businesses, not startups.

Most private equity groups are incredibly sophisticated, and locked in on a strategy, Irons said.  As lawyers they are partners in their plan, frequently buying and sell again in three to five years, she said. “We’re  doing diligence on front end, helping to make sure the business is ready to sell.”

The trend is consolidation of businesses or roll-up strategies, which means buying multiple businesses in a particular sector.

Irons said the M&A practice can have an unpredictable schedule and involves a lot of money, which some find intimidating. She also thinks that corporate law suffers from the unknown, due to the business nature of the practice and a gap in legal education about what a corporate practice means. This has created a disadvantage in recruiting, she said.

She also notes that there aren’t a lot of women in the private equity practice.

“I started in 2003, and we were just coming out of the dot-com bust, and there was a great need for corporate lawyers, I had great mentors who were men,” said Irons.

“There aren’t many senior lawyers of color [in M&A], there just aren’t,” she added.

Fredrikson has been very successful in hiring and gets better every year at retention, she said.

The practice is best for those who love making deals, Irons said. “A deal is like a trial, you have to be a deal junkie.”