Private Sector Career Symposium Connects Prominent Practitioners With Columbia Law School Students
Attorneys From Across the Profession Offer Insights Into the Evolving Legal Landscape at Third Biennial Event.
New York, March 27, 2014—Entrepreneurship, international arbitration, corporate and transactional practice, privacy law, digital media. These are just a few of the fields represented by dozens of prominent practitioners and distinguished Columbia Law School faculty and alumni in an array of panel discussions at the Law School’s third biennial Private Sector Career Symposium.
Launched by the office of Career Services and Professional Development in 2010 to help students keep pace with developments in private sector law practice, the symposium is designed to highlight the wide range of opportunities available to young lawyers in a rapidly changing global society.
The March 7 event featured three concurrent sessions with break-out panels on everything from entertainment and sports law to lawyering in emerging markets. As well, Columbia Law School Dean David M. Schizer, the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law and the Harvey R. Miller Professor of Law and Economics, led a lunchtime discussion, “Private Sector Practice: Evolution or Revolution?”
Students and alumni had a chance to interact throughout the daylong symposium with panelists such as
Ko-Yung Tung, a senior counselor who practices international law at Morrison & Foerster.
“This symposium grew out of our recognition that private sector law practice continues to change dramatically,” Dean Schizer said. “Our objective is to ensure that our students are knowledgeable about these changes and are prepared to successfully navigate these new challenges.”
Petal Modeste, dean of Career Services, said the symposium provides students with “a roadmap of various paths people have taken to achieve professional success” while also giving alumni a chance to reconnect with former classmates and get to know current students.
An Entrepreneurial Start
In a morning session entitled “Starting Up: Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurs, and Lawyers,” panelists discussed their work with start-ups and the enterprising people who run them.
“To use Freudian terms, entrepreneurs tend to have a lot of pure id, relentlessly pushing on every front to get their business off the ground,” said David J. Byer, a partner in the intellectual property practice group at K&L Gates. “You often have to act as the parenting superego. You can’t always say no, and you have to build up leverage and trust by making things happen.”
The panelists discussed the risks and rewards of working in a field where it could take years to be compensated for legal services rendered—if any compensation is received at all.
“You’re putting skin in the game, so in this space you have to choose businesses and founders you believe in,” said Roderick O. Branch, a partner at Latham & Watkins LLP. “The key to our practice is relationships.”
|(from left) Roderick Branch, Adam Dinow, Charles Torres, John Moehringer, and David Byer|
Making the Choice for Corporate Law
Another morning panel, moderated by Columbia Law School Richard Paul Richman Professor of Law Jeffrey N. Gordon, focused on the experiences of lawyers who have chosen to make their careers in the corporate or transactional practice of large law firms.
Ackneil M. Muldrow III, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, said he was drawn to the forward-looking nature of a corporate practice rather than the retrospective approach of litigation.
A trial practice is about righting past wrongs, he said, while “in the corporate sector, you’re making your best guess as to how the transaction will play out.”
Another rewarding aspect of a transactional practice is “facilitating everyone getting to ‘yes’” in major deals,” said Monica Holland ’99, a partner at Davis Polk & Wardwell.
“I almost see my role as being a translator,” she said. “I speak the language of the contract and make sure it’s going to reflect the deal the parties think they’re getting.”
The panelists also spoke about the importance of finding mentors, cultivating relationships with peers during law school, and maintaining a personal life while meeting the demands of clients.
Krishna Veeraraghavan ’02, a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, said young lawyers should be proactive in relationships with mentors.
“You should make them want to help you and figure out how to get the feedback you need,” he said.
|(from left) Krishna Veeraraghavan '02, Ackneil Muldrow III, Monica Holland '99, Paul Denaro '99, and Craig Arcella '98|
Evolution of Private Practice
During the lunchtime panel, Mel M. Immergut ’71, the former chairman of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, said tougher client expectations, greater efficiency due to increased use of technology, and the move to a more corporate business model could lead to a better work experience for many law school graduates. Dean Schizer moderated the discussion among the panelists, who also offered their perspectives on the current job market and explained the differences between working at a law firm or in an in-house environment.
According to Immergut, who taught a fall course at the Law School called The Law Firm of 2013, the recent global financial crisis shifted the attorney-client relationship and gave more negotiating power to clients. Daniel A. Neff ’77, co-chairman of the executive committee at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, said his firm strives to be the best in specific areas, instead of seeking out a big market share. In that kind of atmosphere, he explained, young lawyers can benefit by learning quickly and becoming experts in their particular fields.
Nina Shenker ’82, managing director and general counsel for asset management at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., agreed that technology and globalization have changed the way her office operates. But she told students that being a trusted adviser and “issue-spotter” is still the essence of what a general counsel does.
“You need to be smart, creative, and you also need to have a really good sense of how to protect your clients and how to protect the firm,” she said.
|(from left) Dean David Schizer, Nina Shenker '82, Mel Immergut '71, Daniel Neff '77, and Susan Steinthal '95|
In one of the afternoon panels, “The Digital Media Revolution and the 21st Century Lawyer,” six lawyers working in the digital media field gave insider accounts of how technology is transforming the practice of law.
Several panelists remarked that practicing in the digital media space is drastically different from practicing in other areas.
“You have to be very comfortable with ambiguity and risk,” said Damien Atkins, senior vice president, deputy general counsel, and chief compliance officer at AOL Inc. “And that sounds very antithetical for a lawyer, but it’s true.”
|(from left) Damien Atkins, Landis Best, Ted Lazarus '01, Mozelle Thompson '81, Molly Siems '07, James Schwab|
Ted Lazarus ’01, director of Google Inc.’s legal department, said his team often operates in gray areas, offering legal advice on business platforms in which the technology is so new that there aren’t any relevant regulatory statutes. Instead, Lazarus said his lawyers try to predict where the law is headed and look at regulators’ past decisions.
“It’s fun because there’s room for creativity,” said Molly Siems '07, director of legal and business affairs at NewsCred Inc., a start up online marketing company.
“You’re making things up as you go along—if you enjoy that, then you may really enjoy working in tech.”
Moderator Mozelle W. Thompson ’81, chief executive officer of Thompson Media Consulting and former FTC commissioner, reiterated a point many panelists made during the day: establishing relationships with peers is key to later career success.