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Pierre Descheemaeker LL.M. ’73: High Flying Corporate Lawyer Finds the Essense of Life

When Pierre Descheemaeker, LL.M. ‘73 joined August & Debouzy as partner in 2008, the European law magazine TopLegal International called it “a boost to the 100-member law firm.”

He made the move because “I liked the challenge,” says Descheemaeker, who has many years of experience in mergers, acquisitions, and restructurings in some of the top international law firms. At August & Debouzy he helped negotiate a $2.24 billion acquisition that may reenergize the French aerospace industry.

In the deal, Dassault Aviation (which makes Falcon Jets and fighter planes) became the second largest shareholder of Thales (which makes defense systems) when it purchased a twenty-one percent stake in the company from Alcatel-
Lucent. The largest shareholder is the French government, with about twenty-seven percent.

“The purchase signaled French industrial policy to create a national champion in the defense sector,” stated an article in Defense News.

Descheemaeker’s career path began in 1970 when, having just completed law studies at the University of Paris II, Panthéon-Assas, he decided that “the U.S. was the place to be if you really wanted to understand the world of securities law and see how things were going to develop over the next twenty to thirty years.”

He shopped around, choosing Cornell Law School over Harvard for his LL.M degree, which he earned in 1973. His most influential professors, he says, were Rudolf Schlesinger, who taught conflicts of law, a subject that Descheemaeker says “is absolutely essential for international legal relations today”; Harry Henn, “who got me interested in business enterprise”; and John Barceló, who “helped me understand that by freeing up trade you could develop the world in a unified and peaceful fashion.”

Descheemaeker’s wife, Françoise, accompanied him to Cornell and taught in the classics department while he pursued his master of laws degree. (She has since carved out a career as a prominent French aerospace industry executive.)

After graduation, at Barceló’s suggestion, Descheemaeker interned for four months with the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law and helped develop what became its 1976 arbitration rules—an experience he called “extremely helpful to my future practice.”

He went on to join the New York office of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, a large international law firm.

“In New York I got my first exposure to mergers and acquisitions,” he recounts. “I also met all four name partners. It was fascinating to meet George Cleary and hear him talk about his experience drafting the U.S. tax code. All of the partners had a sense of ethics and duty to their clients and society, and they helped me understand how important it was for a firm to build and maintain its reputation.”

His résumé includes ten years in Cleary Gottlieb’s Paris office; ten more at Baudel, Salès, Vincent & Georges, where he began his work with such major U.S. law firms as Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Davis, Polk & Wardwell; seven years in the Paris office of Stibbe; and seven at Latham & Watkins, which merged with Stibbe in 2001.

Descheemaeker credits his more than twenty years’ contract work with oil, gas, and mining firms for making him aware of the environment and environmental liability. “The issues are intensified in Europe, where industrial facilities sometimes date back centuries and may have been built on landfill, which could contain undetermined hazardous substances that are extremely costly to remove,” he says. His job: to protect his client, whether he represents the buyer or the seller.

Is there a downside to his long career as a corporate lawyer?

“The work can be so demanding that it’s sometimes hard on one’s family,” he says.

And the reason he continues to like what he does?

“You meet incredibly interesting individuals in all walks of life in this profession,” says Descheemaeker. “It’s entirely devoted to helping others, and that’s the essence of life.”

~Linda Brandt Myers