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International Business Machines Corp. turned to its longtime lawyers from Cravath, Swaine & Moore to handle its recent purchase of Promontory Financial Group for an undisclosed sum.
The deal, unveiled late last week, will see the Armonk, New York-based technology giant expand its risk management and regulatory compliance expertise by absorbing PFG, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm.
IBM said in a statement announcing the transaction that PFG’s 600 professionals will help train its Watson artificial intelligence and cognitive computing platform, which some law firms and corporate clients have adopted for certain legal tasks.
“More than 20,000 new regulatory requirements were created last year alone, and the complete catalog of regulations is projected to exceed 300 million pages by 2020, rapidly outstripping the capacity of humans to keep up,” IBM said. “Today, the cost of managing the regulatory environment represents more than 10 percent of all operational spending of major banks, for a total of $270 billion per year.”
Large law firms have traditionally handled that work for big banks, but in recent years Watson and other AI technologies have moved onto their turf. The American Lawyer reported in 2014 on the emergence of Watson in the legal field and this past May, Baker & Hostetler became the first firm to license an AI product that relies on IBM’s Watson technology to assist on bankruptcy matters.
IBM, touting its acquisition of PFG, said Watson “will learn by continuously ingesting regulatory information as it is created and through interaction in real-world applications” in order to help the company’s clients “absorb regulatory changes, understand their obligations, and close gaps in systems and practices to address compliance requirements more quickly and efficiently.”
Cravath corporate partners Keith Hallam and George Schoen led a team from the firm advising IBM on its acquisition of PFG. The firm, which earlier this year lost M&A rainmaker and frequent IBM adviser Scott Barshay to Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, has been a longtime outside legal counsel to IBM. This year alone, Cravath has handled IBM’s acquisitions of companies like Bluewolf Group LLC, Resilient Systems and Resource/Ammirati.
IBM’s large in-house legal department was led for eight years by Robert Weber, who stepped down from his general counsel role in late 2014 and was replaced last year by assistant general counsel Michelle Browdy, a former Kirkland & Ellis litigation partner who previously served as worldwide head of litigation at the company.
As for PFG, former Covington & Burling partners Eugene Ludwig and Alfred Moses founded the consulting firm in 2001. Ludwig, a prominent adviser to banking clients who served as U.S. comptroller of the currency in the Clinton administration (he was a Yale Law School classmate of President Bill Clinton), did not respond to a request for comment about who provided legal counsel to PFG on its sale to IBM. Nor did Moses, now senior counsel at Covington in Washington, D.C.
PFG general counsel Joyce Payne Yette, senior deputy general counsel Joy Willing and associate and deputy general counsel Martine-Pascale Gaujean also did not respond to requests for comment on the matter. (Yette also once worked at Covington, which said it did not have a role for PFG on the IBM transaction.)
The American Lawyer reported last year on PFG paying $15 million to settle an investigation by the New York State Department of Financial Services into its work for London-based banking giant Standard Chartered plc. Paul Shechtman, a high-powered New York litigator who left Zuckerman Spaeder for Bracewell in May, represented PFG in the dispute.