Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher associate Saee Muzumdar caught up with corporate partners Barbara Becker, who heads the firm’s M&A group, and Rashida La Lande, NY hiring partner, for a discussion about why they chose to be corporate lawyers and some of the benefits of transactional work.
From Left, Saee Muzumdar, Barbara Becker, and Rashida La Lande.
Saee: Law school is relatively litigation (or at least case law) focused—what drew you to transactional work?
Barbara: I had tried litigation as a summer associate—I thought I wanted to be a first amendment litigator! I worked on a fabulous high profile case, but even though the assignment was interesting, the nature of the work felt too much to me like a continuation of school and I was ready for something different. I tried corporate work and it was a natural fit. I very much enjoy working in teams, and collaborating with colleagues both at Gibson Dunn and the client, to achieve our client's goals.
Saee: I’ve found that transactional work experience can produce a wide range of future work opportunities outside a law firm. Can you talk a little bit about some of the careers former colleagues of yours have gone on to? What kind of roles have you been able to help corporate associates obtain?
Barbara: The skills you learn as a corporate lawyer, including analysis of complex legal issues (and relating such issues to particular clients and deals), information synthesis, people management and communication to a business audience, allow lawyers to transfer easily into lots of jobs outside a law firm. Over the years, colleagues of ours have gotten fabulous jobs as in-house lawyers at corporations and investment banks, and many have transitioned to the business side of transactions at PE/hedge funds or head of strategy/business development at companies.
Rashida: I couldn’t agree more. M&A in particular gives you the opportunity to focus on and understand not only the legal aspects of a transaction, but also the financial aspects. You come to learn the key drivers of growth and risk for your clients and different types of businesses, which skills are invaluable for a broad scope of non-law firm jobs.
At Gibson Dunn, because our system permits associates to remain unassigned for the first two years of practice, and because thereafter we have a free market system, associates tend to get a broad perspective of transactional work and issues relevant to corporations, which makes them highly sought after for in-house corporate positions.
Some recent examples that come to mind include a senior associate who transitioned with the firm’s assistance to becoming the general counsel for a boutique investment bank, a former associate who has gone on to become the general counsel of a small energy company, a mid-level associate who recently left for a VP job at a hedge fund, and another mid-level associate that the firm assisted in placing at a senior legal position at a multinational media conglomerate.
Saee: Obviously none of those kinds of external opportunities appealed to you! What are some of the most interesting deals you have worked on? What factors led you to stay at Gibson Dunn to make partner?
Barbara: The intellectual challenge as well as the ability to work with smart people (who I really like) is what keeps me at the firm. We get to work on a company’s most strategic and challenging transactions and collaborate with clients, both the in-house lawyers and the business teams, to come up with creative solutions to complex problems. I especially like working on cross-border deals where different cultures and legal regimes come into play. For example, Kraft’s acquisition of Cadbury was a particularly interesting transaction both from a business perspective and also because of the complications associated with coordinating different legal regimes to achieve our client’s objective.
In addition, I enjoy helping to build a practice, which involves client development but also developing a team within the firm that includes our youngest lawyers as well as experts in different areas across all of our offices.
Finally, I think one aspect that law students may overlook is that we give our lawyers the flexibility to manage their careers and their own schedules. Although we are all responsive to clients and the requirements of the being a partner at a large law firm, I have a tremendous amount of flexibility in creating my schedule and managing competing demands for my time.
Saee: That’s a very good point, I know each of you has 4 children—without sounding overly cliché, how are you able to “have it all”?
Barbara: The firm is an incredibly supportive place, not just for women and mothers but for all of our lawyers and staff. As I said before, the benefit of working at a law firm is the flexibility to generally manage your schedule and beyond that, the firm has provided me with opportunities to continue to build a successful practice while maintaining a high-quality family life.
Saee: What type of person do you think would enjoy transactional work? You have both been the hiring partner for GDC’s NY office, what characteristics make recruits stand out in interview?
Rashida: The nature of transactional, and particularly M&A, work tends to draw people who enjoy math more than your stereotypical lawyer because you are so integrally involved in the business/financial aspects of the deal. In my experience, the most successful M&A lawyers are the ones who understand the big picture and enjoy putting deals together. This requires broader thinking and the ability to see the forest through the trees without getting bogged down in details. You often hear the analogy of the M&A lawyer as the “quarterback”—the job requires you to synthesize information from various experts around the firm, apply it to the client’s business and the deal at hand, and come up with workable (and legal!) solutions to deal-issues.
In addition to looking for candidates that are smart and enthusiastic, I look for people that have common sense and a good way with clients/people. We of course want people who have done their homework about the firm and are excellent communicators. I tend to think law students that are proactive, thoughtful, entrepreneurial, and enjoy problem-solving make successful lawyers at Gibson Dunn.
This is a sponsored blog post from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. You can view GDC's Vault profile here.
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