Wall Street Journal Profiles Nancy Lieberman '79

Excerpted from the Wall Street Journal:

As one of Wall Street's top lawyers, Nancy A. Lieberman was never short of confidence when trying to persuade companies to hire her for complex deals and litigation.

But as she prepared to woo drug maker Amylin Pharmaceuticals Inc. last year, she was worried. It was her first pitch since a skiing accident three years earlier robbed her of mobility. Ms. Lieberman hoped Amylin's executives, who were pondering litigation that could sink the firm if it were unsuccessful, would agree that her limitations didn't extend to her abilities as a lawyer.

Before the audition, a ritual lawyers call a "beauty contest," she gathered her team at a hotel across the street from Amylin's San Diego campus and asked a colleague to remove the headrest from her wheelchair. "When I'm sitting behind a desk or at a conference table I look like everyone else if the headrest is not on," she said.

Ms. Lieberman, 55 years old, won the job. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP was hired by Amylin to perform delicate corporate surgery, first extracting the diabetes-drug developer—along with, Bydureon, its most valuable drug—from a soured pact with Eli Lilly & Co. and then helping to sell the company to Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in a $5.1 billion deal that closed in August...

Ms. Lieberman grew up at the edge of New York City in Queens, the youngest of three children. Her father was a home builder and her mother a homemaker. When she was 12 she heard a cousin talk about law school and ditched her plans to teach history.

She graduated from high school when she was 16 and enrolled at the University of Rochester after a string of rejections by other schools. She graduated at the top of her class and was at the University of Chicago's law school by 19.

She interned at the White House during Gerald Ford's administration and at Skadden Arps, one of the world's top law firms, where she was offered a job. She demurred. After clerking for a federal judge in New Orleans and studying tax law for a year, she came back and took the job at Skadden.

Since then, corporate dramas have enveloped her life for months at a time. She advised chemical maker Huntsman Corp., HUN -2.50% port operator Maher Terminals, apparel company Russell Corp. and pharmacy chain Rite-Aid Corp. RAD +0.01% on deals worth billions of dollars.

Less than six years after she was hired, in 1987, she made partner. She was 30, the youngest-ever partner at Skadden Arps.

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