2024 Private Sector Career Symposium Highlights Pathways to Diverse Legal Careers

A day of panel discussions featuring alumni practitioners, organized by the Office of Private Sector Careers with lead sponsorship by Latham & Watkins, provided insights into future practice areas for J.D. and LL.M. students planning their path forward.

Full classroom of students listening to panel discussion

Practitioners from more than two dozen law firms, representing an array of legal specialties, joined Columbia Law School faculty on panels to share insights into corporate law, litigation, bankruptcy, tech, and other careers in the law with students during the daylong 2024 Private Sector Career Symposium.

“This event is the chance to have—all in one place at one time—students, alumni, faculty, and practitioners to talk about the private sector as a whole: where we are, and where it’s going,” said Danielle Schweiloch, assistant dean, Office of Private Sector Careers. “Students can get information directly from the source on how to best be prepared as they are making choices about their careers going forward.” 

At the event’s networking breakfast, keynote speaker Janet Nova ’92, the National Football League’s deputy general counsel for media and league business affairs, described her career path, including work at media giants News Corp and 21st Century Fox. 

Woman in white jacket speaks at podium
Janet Nova ’92

Nova encouraged students to consider law firm work as a first step even if their goal is to work as an in-house counsel. “You’re going to get incredible training,” she said, adding that at her first job, at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, “I learned how to draft, I learned how to review contracts, and some of the most valuable experiences were sitting in the offices of senior associates and partners while they participated in calls with the other side and with clients.” Other advice she offered included working in person, even in summer associate jobs. “I would encourage everybody to get into the room because that’s where you learn,” she said. “That’s where you learn from your business clients, and that’s where they learn to see you as part of the business.” 

Panel discussions offered deep dives into areas designed to prepare students to embark on their legal careers. Many featured insights from law firm partners and associates who are Columbia Law School alumni. Topics included:

  • Administrative and Regulatory Practice

  • Bankruptcy and Restructuring
  • Corporate and Transactional Law
  • Emerging Issues in Generative AI
  • Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG)
  • Future of Litigation

Three Columbia Law alumni in high-profile general counsel positions joined Gillian Lester, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, for the day’s final session. Speakers at the Latham & Watkins Dean’s Panel: Inside the Mind of a Client included Fabio Bertoni ’96, general counsel for The New Yorker magazineKaran Bhatia ’93, global head of government affairs and public policy at tech giant Google; and Susy Clark ’96, senior managing director, general counsel, and chief sustainability officer at private equity firm Centerbridge Partners.

Asked by Dean Lester what qualities they look for when hiring, the in-house lawyers agreed that the first requirement is being very good at one’s job. 
Knowledge of the company is also key. “I’m looking for, do you understand what we do, and do you care about it?” Bertoni said.

Bhatia looks for candidates who can collaborate well. “You’re going to have to work with product teams, you’re going to have to work with marketing,” he said. “Are you the kind of person who can work effectively with other people?”

Know what you think, and be ready to express it, Clark advised. “The more senior you get, the more you’re expected to have a point of view and express it right away,” she said. “That’s a muscle. The more you exercise that muscle, the better you get at it, and the earlier you start, the better.” 

And don’t be afraid to volunteer. “Being part of some new strategic initiative, if the opportunity presents itself, it’s great learning and … it really gets noticed,” Clark said. “If ever you get to raise your hand and be part of some strategic thing that the place where you work is going to do … roll up your sleeves and get involved.”