M&A lawyer Laura Turano ’11, LLM ’12 on making billion-dollar deals in a tough market

In 2023, the global market for mergers and acquisitions was at its lowest volume in more than decade, according to Dealogic. But no one seems to have told Laura Turano ’11, LLM ’12. In the past 18 months, she has helped secure a succession of major deals. Turano represented packaging company WestRock in a $20 billion merger with Smurfit Kappa; pharmaceutical company Merck in its $10.8 billion acquisition of Prometheus Biosciences; Carrier Global Corporation in the $4.9 billion sale of Global Access Solutions to Honeywell; and IBM on its $4.6 billion acquisition of Apptio. She also advised Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter on an agreement with Bacardi to renew a partnership with D’Usse, a cognac brand in which Carter maintains an ownership stake.

Laura Turano
Laura Turano

What she loves about mergers and acquisitions, Turano says, is “being the person in the room, amid enormous stress, who says, ‘Don’t worry, I do this all the time.’”

A partner in the corporate department of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison since 2019, Turano was named to Crain’s New York Business’ “40 under 40” and “Notable Women in Law” in 2023, and was a finalist for International Finance Law Review Europe’s “Women Dealmakers Hall of Fame” in 2024. At the Law School, Turano sits on the advisory board for the Institute for Corporate Governance & Finance and teaches a course on M&A as an adjunct professor. Before joining Paul, Weiss, she was an associate in the M&A department of Davis Polk & Wardwell.

In this Q&A, Turano shares what she loves about corporate law, which skills she draws on to close deals, and why she encourages vulnerability in young lawyers.

How did you come to be interested in corporate law?

When I showed up at NYU Law, it was terrifying. I was the first person in my family to get a four-year degree and the first to go to graduate school, and I had this big anxiety that because I came from a small town [Fort Myers, Florida], and didn’t come from [a family of] lawyers, I’d be at this big disadvantage. I remember my very first class was Civil Procedure with Arthur Miller [University Professor and Warren E. Burger Professor of Constitutional Law and the Courts], who literally wrote the book on the subject.

But I think what I came to find was that even though the faculty were these superheroes, they really engaged with students, they really encouraged and wanted feedback, and that made a huge difference for me.

I came to law school originally to do human rights law. I spent my 1L summer in Bogotá, Colombia, doing international human rights work. Then I said to myself, “You’re at the best school in the country, you should try out some other kinds of law while you can.” So my 2L summer, I worked for a big firm and I just fell in love with the puzzle-solving involved in being a corporate lawyer.

I ended up taking a brief detour to get an LLM in tax because I took courses with Noël Cunningham [LLM ’75, professor of law emeritus,] who really fostered [in me] this incredible interest in tax law. Professor Cunningham told me about scholarships and funding opportunities, but importantly also told me I had a talent for tax, which really encouraged me to pursue that strength. But in that program, I also learned that just because I had a talent for it, it wasn’t my exact passion.

What do you like about M&A work?

A lot of what I do is project management. As a partner, you’re managing a huge team to accomplish a goal. It’s not just M&A lawyers, it’s executive compensation experts, it’s intellectual property [lawyers], it’s environmental lawyers, and tax [lawyers]. What I love is [that] the way you’re able to give the very best advice to your client is by really humbling yourself. It actually reminds me a lot of being a 1L at NYU: you have to not fear that you might ask a dumb question, because if you’re asking it, your client probably is as well. When I’m on a transaction, my goal is to approach my client’s problem as if it were my own problem: I want to know the ins and outs of it, so I need to ask the sometimes obvious question.

Another thing I really like is that to do these kinds of transactions you have to collaborate, and I find it really exciting to work closely with experts in fields I don’t know as much about. I love coordinating and bouncing ideas off of people and learning their strategies for solving problems and finding ways to incorporate them.

I also love being an expert to my clients. When they’re really stressed about a deal, I love that I can help guide them and offer calm and show them the next steps and help them chart it out. It’s a fun role.

You had some major deals in the past year. What have been some important skills you’ve drawn upon to make deals in a down market?

I think my essential skills are the same: listening to clients’ problems and taking them on as if they were my own. It’s just that those skills prove to be even more valuable in a tough market.

I feel the wheels in my head are constantly turning: I’m trying to solve problems. And I think that that’s what matters when it’s a tough market. I’m really fortunate to be at Paul, Weiss, because I feel strongly that my associates and partners are all problem solvers at their core, so when I’m trying to come up with a solution, it’s never alone—I get to benefit from an incredible group of people who are also constantly thinking about best solutions.

When I think about my background in tax, I think I find a lot of things interesting that many might find, well, boring. I bring that same interest to M&A. I am able to see what’s unusual or compelling in, for example, some math buried deep inside some deck a banker’s team prepared. I ask questions about what I don’t know, and I think that builds confidence for the whole team.

What have been some significant victories in your career thus far?

The Carrier deal was amazing because, in that instance, my client was my best friend, Francesca Campbell, who is the head of M&A legal at Carrier. We were associates together at a different firm, and even though it wasn’t that long ago, there weren’t a lot of women in the M&A group. I feel like we really mentored each other. So, I talk a lot about taking on my client’s problems as if they were those of my family or friends, and in that case, it genuinely was! It was meaningful to see how far we’d each come and to work together with our teams for a good outcome.

This year, I also got to advise Jay-Z which was really amazing. It’s a pinch-me moment to feel like you can help this talented person make a choice about something you have expertise in.

Recently, you’ve taught an M&A course as an adjunct at NYU Law. How does it feel to be back on campus?

It felt really surreal to be the one standing behind the podium!

Week in and week out, these students think creatively and critically. I try to create a classroom where students can [allow themselves to] feel vulnerable. Often, when I’m working with junior associates, I’m trying to get them to that place they were at in law school where they feel comfortable asking questions. That can get lost as an associate, [when you’re] always wanting to have the right answers. I try to encourage my associates to trust their gut. Share an idea, contribute to the discussion—even if we don’t use your idea, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good one.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Posted May 19, 2024.