In the News April 18, 2014

Sarah Ernst Named Law360 Rising Star

Sarah Ernst, partner in the firm’s Health Care Group, has been named a 2014 Law360 Rising Star in the category of Life Sciences.

The annual award honors 163 attorneys under the age of 40 who have made great achievements in the realms of major litigation or transactions. Winners are selected based on the strength of their accomplishments in their respective practices thus far in their careers.

Mark Ray, co-chair of the firm's Health Care Group, called Ernst's "sunny seriousness" a central element of her approach and a major reason for her success.

“Sarah is the type of person that doesn’t shy away from the challenge—she actually enjoys the problem-solving and gets a lot of professional satisfaction out of solving the hard problem,” Ray said.

Text from the full Law360 profile on Ernst’s accomplishment is below.

Extracted from Law360:

Rising Star: Alston & Bird's Sarah Ernst

By Jeff Overley

Law360, New York – As the nation’s drug and device firms increasingly diversify their holdings, Alston & Bird LLP partner Sarah Ernst has positioned herself in the vanguard of transactional talents making sure the new additions are good fits, winning a spot among the young life sciences lawyers honored recently by Law360.

At just 34, Ernst landed on Law360’s Rising Stars list of top attorneys under 40 thanks to a resume laden with key roles in splashy deals inked by some of the industry’s biggest names, including McKesson Corp., which last year inked a $2.1 billion purchase of surgical supply firm PSS World Medical Inc.

Recalling her role representing PSS, Ernst interspersed background on the market circumstances that led to the deal with cheery enthusiasm not always associated with the high-stakes negotiating that permeates the world of mergers and acquisitions.

“PSS was … really fun,” Ernst said, a spirited description that would come up time and again in a conversation about her recent M&A work.

J. Mark Ray, co-chair of Alston’s health practice, called that sunny seriousness a central element of Ernst’s approach and a major reason for her success.

“Sarah is the type of person that doesn’t shy away from the challenge—she actually enjoys the problem-solving and gets a lot of professional satisfaction out of solving the hard problem,” Ray said.

A sizable part of Ernst’s work has involved well-known over-the-counter products. For example, in the realm of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission compliance, she’s counseled OTC giant Prestige Brand Holdings Inc., whose line includes anti-nausea tablet Dramamine, redness reliever Clear Eyes, cough drop Luden’s and sore throat spray Chloraseptic.

Similar companies with smaller, specialized portfolios are also clients, and Ernst said they’re increasingly appealing targets for big-name manufacturers. One example from 2008 was Adams Respiratory Therapeutics Inc., maker of congestion-busting medicine Mucinex, whose “Mr. Mucus” character starred in numerous television commercials.

“They had a brilliant marketing campaign,” Ernst recalled.

After advertising cuts through the noise and results in a top-selling product, “it really then makes sense for somebody to come along and say, ‘Let’s see how this fits,’” Ernst said.

That’s what happened for Adams, which Ernst helped guide through its $2.3 billion acquisition by Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC. That sale was the culmination of a lengthy relationship with the Mucinex maker, which Ernst also counseled on its $135 million initial public offering as well as follow-on offerings worth a collective $400 million.

And the start-to-finish shepherding was nothing new for Ernst and her colleagues, who pride themselves on nurturing clients through all phases of growth, from angel investor to blockbuster buyout.

“We tend to do it through the whole life cycle of the company,” Ernst said.

And Ernst, in particular, prefers to get things done with a smile. Take last year’s $408 million sale of Harden Healthcare Holdings Inc. to Gentiva Health Services Inc. The deal presented all sorts of tricky hurdles, as it involved the sale of a private equity-backed company to a publicly traded corporation, and the original structure of the deal could have led to double taxation.

“I think Harden was a situation where it really [did] present these problems that play to her strengths,” Ray said.

And with contributions from Alston’s tax pros and other co-workers, Ernst was able to sort through the challenges and seal a solid deal, having had a good time along the way.

“Harden was very complicated,” she said, “which again, made it fun for us on the legal side.”

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