Alumni Share Their Views on Working at a Law Firm vs. In-House
What are the differences between practicing at a law firm or working for a corporation? Perhaps the best person to answer this question is someone who has worked on both sides. We interviewed White & Case alumni, who now work for corporations, to gain insight on the differences and challenges of working at a law firm versus in-house. Our distinguished panel of alumni comes from diverse backgrounds and worked at different White & Case offices, and each took a unique career path after law firm life.
Daniel J. Arbess is a Partner at Perella Weinberg Partners and Portfolio Manager of its Xerion strategy, which he founded in 2003. Daniel previously worked in the Stockholm, Brussels and Prague offices.
Maureen Brundage is the Executive Vice President and General Counsel at The Chubb Corporation. She is also the Chief Ethics Officer, responsible for ensuring the effectiveness of Chubb's legal compliance and ethics program. Maureen previously worked in the New York office.
Pauline Crouzillat is the in-house counsel for Carrefour, dedicated to the Mergers and Acquisitions group. Pauline worked in the Paris office.
Gurinder (Gary) S. Sangha is the President and CEO of Intelligize who worked in the Hong Kong office.
W&C: Tell us about your background and current position.
DJA: I came to White & Case in 1987 because I was fascinated with the decline of the Communist world and thought there would be great opportunity in the transition. I spent some time in the Stockholm office working on Soviet joint ventures, then relocated to Brussels and Prague. I became a partner and Head of Global Privatization in 1992 and resigned in 1995 to pursue post-privatization restructuring-oriented private equity. My career has been defined around the development and investment in markets of the former Communist world for the past 25 years.
GSS: I worked as a securities lawyer in the Hong Kong office of White & Case from 2005 to 2007 (prior to that, I worked at the New York office of another law firm). After leaving White & Case, I moved to the United States to start Intelligize (www.intelligize.com). Leading law firms, accounting firms and public companies use our legal analytics software to prepare, analyze and review SEC filings. I currently serve as the Chairman and CEO of Intelligize.
PC: I worked at Freshfields for seven years before joining White & Case's Paris office in 2007. I was drawn to the dynamism of the Corporate M&A department, its vision and the team (where everyone can contribute to matters and, more generally, firm life). However, two-and-a-half years later, I was given an opportunity to join Carrefour, the world's second-largest retailer, as in-house counsel dedicated to the Mergers and Acquisitions group.
MAB: I began my career as an associate in the Corporate department of White & Case's New York office in 1981. In 1989, I was made a partner focusing on securities law, mergers and acquisitions and general corporate work. Eventually I headed the Firm's global securities practice. In 2005, I left to join Chubb, which is a worldwide property and casualty insurance company, as its General Counsel. In 2008, I was appointed by Chubb's Board of Directors to also serve as Chubb's Chief Ethics Officer.
W&C: What made you decide to make the switch from a law firm?
PC: To be honest, I think that nothing prepared me to leave a law firm and join a corporate environment. My higher education (a Masters Degree in Private law at Université Paris 2) was exclusively legal and it was therefore natural for me to work in a law firm. Consequently, the decision was not an easy one to make, even if I was conscious of the prospects this offer presented, to accept the position meant putting my career as a lawyer on hold. However, the wish to renew myself and the idea of a challenge was what drove me to take on this new adventure with Carrefour.
DJA: I left to become an investment principal, first pursuing restructuring-oriented private transactions in Europe, and later managing portfolio workouts and distressed debt investments for Triton Partners. In 2003, I launched my hedge fund, Xerion Capital Partners and in 2007, I sold it to Perella Weinberg Partners, an independent, privately owned, global financial services firm that provides corporate advisory and asset management services.
GSS: Running my own company has always been a dream of mine. The work experience I gained at White & Case significantly mitigated my downside risk because I figured that if my startup venture failed, I could always return to practicing law. The biggest change from working at a law firm to running a company is that the majority of my time is spent focusing on sales and closing new business. This, of course, was not my primary responsibility while working as an associate at White & Case.
MAB: In my many years at White & Case, I worked very closely with many clients and always enjoyed being involved in a matter from the beginning to the very end. I also liked to understand and be involved in the business aspects of the transactions. As outside counsel, you do not always get the opportunity to be so involved. So when I was contacted about the Chubb General Counsel position, I was intrigued by the opportunity to get involved at a deeper level than you can as a "hired gun". In addition, the opportunity to become part of the management team of a company with such a stellar reputation as Chubb's was a big draw. Since Chubb is a public, NYSE-listed company, as General Counsel I could continue utilizing my securities law and corporate governance expertise, while developing my insurance industry knowledge. The fact that it is headquartered a half-hour from my home in New Jersey also did not hurt!
W&C: What was the biggest change for you from working as a partner at White & Case to working as General Counsel at Chubb?
MAB: Not keeping time records or diaries. Although that sounds like a joke, it is a serious benefit! In addition, as the Head of Securities at White & Case, I had a narrower and very deep expertise. As a GC, my role is much more general and broader—I handle everything from HR issues to litigation.
W&C: What do you enjoy most about your job?
GSS: Every day brings new challenges and lessons. Since founding Intelligize, I've learned an incredible amount about sales, product development, management and fundraising and each day I continue to learn more.
PC: I appreciate being at the heart of a large CAC 40 company. Being thrown into a very international and dynamic environment, I am able to make use of the skills that I acquired during my years as a lawyer. Notwithstanding the fact that the retail industry has the reputation of being extremely regulated, which implies a large amount of technicality as well as important political issues. This is very stimulating and challenging!
MAB: I like the variety of work—it is never boring. Before coming to Chubb, I didn't have an insurance background. I quickly learned that insurance touches everything—from product recalls to helping homeowners and companies rebuild after Katrina, or workers' compensation claims and even Ponzi schemes. I also really like my staff and peers and the collegial and supportive work environment.
W&C: What are the greatest challenges in your job?
MAB: In this economy, you have to be more mindful of budget and how money is spent and learn how to do more with limited resources. We are a cost center, so I have to be creative in using and allocating resources and prioritizing work. I continually remind my team that we must focus on high-value/high-risk work.
WC: Daniel, you left your footprint at White & Case as the partner who established the Prague office, which is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. Can you please share your experience?
DJA: I was involved in White & Case's privatization assignments in Russia, Vietnam, Belarus and Israel. This was, in many ways, the most exciting and rewarding opportunity of a lifetime—the chance to be in on the ground floor ofsome historic developments in the world economy. I was focused on cultivating connections in the Czech Republic and spent vacation time and weekends traveling to Czechoslovakia to meet with members of the economic delegation. This investment paid off and opened many doors for White & Case to win business. White & Case became a major player in the Czech Republic and was propelled to the top of Privitasation International's league table of legal advisors.
W&C: What skills did you learn during your time as a lawyer at White & Case and which ones do you find most useful in your current role?
DJA: Multi-stakeholder negotiation, the importance of process to transaction outcomes and attention to detail.
GSS: In no particular order: an attention to detail, effective time management and the importance of customer/client service.
PC: The reactivity and the team spirit. These for me are the driving forces, which are indispensible within any law firm or company.
MAB: Since working at White & Case was the only legal job I had before joining Chubb, everything I know about being an attorney and a manager I learned at White & Case. One of the most useful skills, I think, is the art of juggling matters with competing priorities.
W&C: What is your fondest memory of working at White & Case?
DJA: Building a team and business from the ground up with the supervision and support of Hank Amon. The earliest negotiations with Bata over the Czech footwear industry and Anheuser Busch over "Budweiser." The restructuring and sale of Skoda to Volkswagen remains the transaction about which I am most proud in my career.
GSS: My angel investors were actually all senior attorneys from White & Case. Accordingly, my fondest memory is the day I learned that they would be financially backing my business idea.
PC: My fondest memory is the interaction between different teams and the quality of the relationships between associates and partners, which contribute to the sociable atmosphere. White & Case, for me, is a very "human" law firm—and as proof of my affection, I attend the Alumni event in Paris every year and am in regular contact with my former colleagues.
MAB: That is the toughest question, because I have so many. I had the honor of working with such phenomenal folks in the Securities Department at White & Case that they even made all-nighters at the printer and spending Easter weekend working around the clock at a client's offices in the Netherlands fun! I still have broadly displayed in my office a picture of a bunch of us bowling at a summer associate outing my last summer at White & Case. It brings back very happy memories (and not of my bowling abilities, which left much to be desired).
W&C: Did you have any mentor(s) or was there any particular individual(s) at White & Case who made a significant impact on your career?
DJA: Hank Amon guided and taught me. The most important lesson he shared was to recognize and make the most of everyone's strengths. Jim Hurlock, as the Chairman of the Firm, had the vision to support White & Case's early expansion into the European emerging markets.
GSS: Ken Ellis, Ian Hardee, Shawn Woosley, Jason Ng, Lee Hill, Jeremy Low and Josh Zimmerman were instrumental in my development as an attorney. Several of them also backed my business venture.
MAB: The whole notion of "mentors" did not really exist when I was coming up the associates ranks. But looking back, Jack McNally, Don Madden and Mort Moskin clearly helped guide me and my career, so I would call them my main mentors.
W&C: What's your best career advice for young lawyers?
GSS: White & Case is a truly international law firm and I would really encourage young lawyers to leverage this, either by working at different offices or working on international projects. Even though Intelligize is headquartered in the United States, most of our team members are based in South Asia. If I had not worked at the Hong Kong office of White & Case, I would never have learned how to do business in the region and my company wouldn't be where it is as a result.
MAB: Focus on the job you are doing. Focus on being your best now and on developing the next step up. For example, a third-year should try to figure how to be a good mid-level associate, not how to be a GC or a partner. Hone your craft and your style by observing other lawyers at the Firm.
DJA: Learn the technical skills; they will always be useful. Learn the interpersonal skills; they will help you in every aspect of life. Above all, find an intellectual path that inspires passion. Put in 10,000 hours to be good at anything.