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When the word came down early last month from top executives at mobile-phone giants Bell Atlantic and Vodafone AirTouch that they wanted to hammer out a quick partnership agreement, attorneys handling the deal knew the task was more than formidable.

Each company had roughly 1,000 employees, serving a combined 20 million wireless customers and holding billions of dollars’ worth of assets. But just 18 days later, a team of nearly two dozen transactional attorneys from Bell Atlantic and Morgan Lewis & Bockius completed its key role in the $70 billion deal now hailed by participants as the largest joint venture in history.

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