The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Sonia K. Nijjar—Partner, Corporate
Sonia Nijjar represents clients in a wide range of U.S. and cross-border corporate transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, divestitures, proxy contests and capital markets transactions. She advises clients with respect to corporate governance and other general corporate matters. Sonia was a key member of the deal teams recognized in connection with The Recorder’s 2016 and 2017 Corporate Department of the Year contests, in which Skadden’s California corporate team took top honors in a number of categories. In addition, the Daily Journal recognized Sonia and the Skadden team with a 2016 California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year award for innovative work on behalf of Broadcom Corporation in its acquisition by Avago Technologies. Sonia serves on the hiring and diversity committees in Skadden’s Palo Alto office.
Sonia is a graduate of Columbia University School of Law and Stanford University.
Please provide an overview of what, substantively, your practice area entails.
I represent clients in complex mergers and acquisitions transactions and general corporate transactions. On the M&A side, these include both larger mergers of equals and other strategic mergers, and purchases and sales of companies and businesses, as well as smaller-range transactions, including acquisitions and dispositions of assets, businesses and subsidiaries, as well as joint ventures and other collaborations, and strategic investments. I also advise on a variety of other corporate matters, including corporate governance, securities law compliance and directorial matters.
What types of clients do you represent?
My clients include both public and private companies in a variety of sectors, including technology, financial institutions, payments, private equity and other areas. On a given day, I might work on an SEC filing for a public M&A deal, advise on governance matters and look into an indemnification issue on a private company transaction—all for a varied group of clients.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I work on many different types of transactions, including public and private M&A deals of various sizes, sell-side, buy-side, investments, JVs, you name it. A large part of my M&A practice involves cross-border elements.
Intel Corporation’s recent acquisition of Mobileye N.V. for $15.3 billion is representative of the complex transactions I handle. It involved working with a large team within Skadden across numerous offices and time zones to address the cross-border aspects of the deal. It was an incredibly interesting transaction for which we developed a novel plan to address Mobileye’s unique status as an Israeli tax resident as well as a Dutch corporate entity that trades on the U.S. stock market. To date, this is Israel’s largest-ever inbound M&A deal and the largest-ever transaction involving an Israeli technology company.
How did you decide to practice in your area?
Given my background as an economics major before going to law school, I always thought I would likely work in corporate law, as it jelled with my natural interests. That being said, being a summer associate at Skadden where I was encouraged to try the different practice groups, including everything from corporate finance to white collar crime, was a great way to help confirm my initial instinct that corporate law was for me.
I spent the first five years of my career in the Financial Institutions Group in Skadden’s New York office, working on M&A and regulatory matters for financial institutions. During this time, my passion for M&A work was honed and solidified. I can’t imagine an area of practice that would be more exciting, challenging and dynamic. I love reading the New York Times or The Wall Street Journal and seeing the deals I have worked on, and the interesting companies I work with, take center stage in the global business news.
What is a typical day or week like in your practice area?
There is absolutely no typical day or week in my practice here at Skadden, and I love that! What I do on a daily basis is completely based on what deals I’m working on and where they are at a given moment, as well as whether any clients have governance or securities law questions that they’d like advice on. Beyond my practice-related working, I also try to devote some time each week to mentoring associates—either formal mentoring, including giving feedback on work assignments, or informal mentoring by just checking in with associates to see how they’re doing or if they have any questions that I can address.
What is the best thing about your practice area?
There are always opportunities to learn—from solving new and complex corporate issues that we come across, to negotiating against someone with a completely different style and determining what you think will be most effective, to working on a deal acquiring an unfamiliar business that I have to learn about and research. For me, that is by far the best part about my work.
What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?
One of the biggest challenges, especially in an M&A practice, is that your schedule can be very uncertain. Corporate law at any firm is a client services business, and deadlines and schedules—which can change at any given time—are often driven by the client. Working with a team that is capable and flexible is incredibly helpful when you’re suddenly given an accelerated deadline.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Training is an extremely important part of the job—both formal training programs and also “on the job” training. At Skadden, junior associates can bill up to 100 hours a year to shadow senior associates, counsel and partners as they develop their skills. This allows them to participate in important client meetings, negotiations and the like. Ultimately, we are training the next generation every minute of every day by giving our associates and counsel the most challenging legal work and the advice on how to best complete that work.
Additionally, I find the best corporate associates to be ones who go above and beyond what’s asked of them—identifying a potential issue or proposing solutions—and that’s a skill that it is never too early to practice.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area? What do you wish you had known before joining your practice area?
The biggest misconception is that junior attorneys at big firms only perform due diligence, and that only senior attorneys negotiate. While due diligence is a building block to understanding contracts, we’ve had many of our junior attorneys interacting with clients and negotiating points at a very early stage. As a partner, I find that my day-to-day work is not spent sitting around a negotiating table by any means. Any preconceived notions about the type of work you’ll do at your seniority level are usually wrong.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm, and how has it evolved since you have been at the firm?
The corporate/M&A practice at Skadden is incredibly integrated with the rest of the practices at the firm. A corporate governance matter may also have litigation, benefits and tax elements, and it’s amazing to be able to call up an attorney in any of these areas to get their thoughts right away. Over the years, the technology has advanced in such a way that we can now feel as if we’re in the same room with people thousands of miles away. Document-sharing systems and videoconferencing capabilities allow us to seamlessly coordinate on every aspect of cross-border M&A deals across multiple practices.
What activities do you enjoy when you are not in the office, and how do you make time for them?
I enjoy working out. At any office job (even with a standing desk!) there is a lot of sitting, so I think it’s incredibly important to be able to be active outside of work. You can find me at a SoulCycle class most mornings before work—I love the music! I also enjoy spending time with family and friends. I feel lucky to have a great circle of people around me, and I put in the work to maintain those relationships. Making time for everything can be a hard balancing act, but you learn over time how to prioritize.