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Milan-based M&A and Capital Markets partner Alberta Figari set her sights on a career in international law. After 22 years, she has never looked back.

A D V I C E   T O   M Y   Y O U N G E R   S E L F

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photo of Alberta Figari

I studied ancient Greek and Latin in high school and, upon graduation, saw two options for further study: Law and Economics. I thought “why don’t I start with law and, if I don’t like that, change to economics?”

I finished law school in 1989. At that time, the legal market in Italy was composed mainly of domestic law firms, with one … maybe two international firms. But I wanted to practice international law, so I had to come up with a plan. I never wanted to become a litigator, but I also believed that, at least in the Italian market, it would be quite important to have a base of litigation skills – to be able to go into court and manage a case. It turns out that was a good choice, and one I would advise others just starting out to make.

I practiced litigation locally for four years as a way to develop skills and prepare myself for the Bar exam. After passing the Bar exam, I decided to take a master’s program in international law at King’s College London. When I finished that, it was 1994, and the market for international firms had started to grow in Italy. That’s when I joined Clifford Chance.

The next 22 years were full of changes and challenges, not least of which were a strong evolution in the legal industry and more than one financial crisis. My current practice is completely different from the possibilities I imagined early on, and I grew up with my firm in this sense.

Having established a transactional practice in corporate finance, I became a partner quite young, after three years at the firm. Of course, being a good lawyer helped, but I credit my success to much more than that. Working as part of a global network helped me develop good relationship-building skills, and it was absolutely essential for the market I entered when I returned to Italy, due to widespread privatization of its corporate and banking systems.

Many of my colleagues had expertise in the international financial markets, and they knew how to manage transactions of all kinds: from privatizations and capital raisings to tender offers and IPOs. So I was able to look around and soak up what I needed to build substantive legal skills, develop client relationships and learn the art and craft of negotiating complex deals. Learning from my colleagues was essential to advancing my career, and the firm really encouraged that.

Looking back, I can honestly say that I’ve had it both ways: easy and difficult. It was my good luck to find a smooth path to success: I made tactical choices early on and paid my dues easily enough, and when I came back home, there was a vibrant legal market for my chosen field. While today’s legal market is quite different, the difficult part remains unchanged: it’s all about hard work and patience.

My advice? Treat your career as any entrepreneur would treat her business. Do the work, make strategic connections and find your market. And don’t forget the importance of family.