I chose to pursue practice as a Finance attorney with a specialty in private equity fund financing at Mayer Brown LLP practically by accident. As a summer associate at the firm, I, at first, pursued litigation projects under the assumption that the skills I, like virtually all other law students, had learned in law school predestined me to join the firm’s litigation practice group. I also had majored in political science (again, like virtually all other law students) and was objectively terrible in mathematics, so I naturally assumed that I would need to steer clear of the firm’s practice groups (like Finance) that I thought were likely centered around quantitative analysis and similar, terrifying substantive areas. Little did I know at the time that simply having an open mind toward the firm’s culture and unique philosophy toward practice group selection would guide me in a wholly different and unfamiliar–yet hugely rewarding and beneficial–direction.
The best decision I made as a summer associate (other than taking advantage of the great social events, of course) was to keep an open mind toward, and to take on various work assignments in, a wide array of Mayer Brown practice groups. The firm closely and holistically adheres to the “free market system,” a philosophy toward specialty selection that allows summer associates and attorneys alike to explore a wide range of practice groups and sub-groups in the hope that each attorney will ultimately find an ideal fit. Summer associates, in particular, are encouraged to expose themselves to, and gain experience in, practice groups that might be outside their initial areas of interest in order to either cement or challenge their original expectations and assumptions about the firm’s numerous practice groups. Fearful as I was to deviate from my deeply held belief that I was destined to be the firm’s next star appellate litigator (and perhaps equally concerned that my inexperience in transactional law and glaring deficiencies in my quantitative reasoning and corporate sector knowledge would be major obstacles), I nevertheless kept an open mind about subscribing to the firm’s “free market system” and decided to wade into the legal deep end that summer – exiting my substantive comfort zone and cozy familiarity with litigation to take on projects in the firm’s transactional law practice groups – to see whether I could swim or whether I would sink.
Much to my surprise, I swam. My first exposure to Mayer Brown’s transactional practice was, fortuitously, with the Finance group, and my initial reluctance toward (and fear of) practicing law in a non-litigation setting quickly gave way to an unexpected discovery that transactional law – and more specially, the firm’s Finance group – was where I belonged.
The dawning realization that I belonged in the Finance practice group, and the underpinnings of my continuing reaffirmation of that belief, hinged on the reality of what a Mayer Brown Finance attorney actually does in day-to-day practice. Instead of being buried in quantitative analysis and spreadsheets, each Finance attorney with whom I worked spent most of their days interacting with clients, solving oftentimes complex and esoteric legal issues, and negotiating bespoke transactions for a range of clients from all sectors of the market. The key traits of an excellent Finance – and transactional – attorney, I learned, were less rooted in mathematics and quantitative analysis (though those skills are undoubtedly useful) and more centered around fostering and reinforcing close client relationships (and, in turn, understanding each client’s unique needs and goals for every transaction).
More important, however, in my ultimate decision to become a transactional attorney at Mayer Brown was the collaborative approach the firm’s attorneys took toward each deal. Law school curriculum, focused almost solely on training students to become litigators, fosters a belief that practicing law – and being a zealous advocate for clients – should be combative; the best attorneys, we are all told, are those who are willing and able to unrelentingly fight for their client, whatever the cost and regardless of how much ill will is created in the process. Opposing counsel, we come to believe, is the enemy.
But practicing transactional law contrasts sharply with that philosophy. Most deals require a collaborative approach whereby opposing counsel solve problems by finding answers that are mutually acceptable to their respective clients, with the ultimate goal of helping clients close deals that contribute to fueling the global engine of commerce. This collaborative approach was the difference-maker for me: I quickly realized I wanted to spend my legal career working with others to create and to build instead of searching for ways to fight and undermine.
This realization as a summer associate has been reaffirmed time and time again over the course of my career. My specialty, assisting private equity funds with obtaining liquidity for purposes of acquiring assets and making investments in locations around the world (a practice that other firms oftentimes label “Corporate”), provides a daily opportunity for me to help clients create and build their businesses. Each financing transaction has its unique challenges and obstacles, but the focus on collaboration and working toward a mutual goal shapes and guides every day of my practice. Whether I am negotiating a credit agreement, addressing issues in a limited partnership agreement, or simply working with opposing counsel to tackle open items in a deal, the focus on cooperation as a driving force behind every transaction is always at the forefront of my mind.
I oftentimes look back on my experience as a summer associate and consider the fact that, had I not kept an open mind and taken the risk of exploring different practice groups at Mayer Brown, my life and career would be entirely different. The firm’s Finance and other transactional attorneys with whom I work continually reinforce my belief that transactional – and especially Finance – law offers a unique opportunity to create tangible benefit and to drive the wheels of commerce, all while approaching the practice of law with a focus on collaboration and cooperation. Yes, I practically stumbled backwards into my career as a Mayer Brown Finance attorney, but my decision and journey ever since are ones I have never regretted.