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OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS
WENDY WYSONG

Partner Wendy Wysong talks about taking her government career into private practice and swapping her house with a yard in suburban Virginia for a Hong Kong high-rise. Her advice: go for it.

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photo of Wendy Wysong

I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since I was 14, when I visited my brilliant aunt as she was studying for the California bar amidst a houseful of teenagers. Back in the ‘70s, she outshone her mostly male, mostly younger classmates, and continued to do so throughout her career.

While I was certain of my own career choice early on, my career path has largely been more opportunistic. I made certain that if an opportunity was offered that sounded interesting and challenging, I was in a position to take it. For example, in my final year of law school, I made a last-minute decision to accept a clerkship in Washington, DC with US District Court Judge Stanley S. Harris. That decision turned out to be transformational. Judge Harris became both my mentor and sponsor. He not only encouraged me, he put skin in the game, guiding me to his former law firm and supporting my application to join the US Attorney’s Office a few years later.

While I loved my first firm, after I tried my first case and took it all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court, I realized my best chance of becoming a true trial lawyer was to join the US Attorney’s Office, as Judge Harris had foreseen. My four-year commitment became 16 as I prosecuted corrupt politicians and then pursued international criminals all over the world. My experience in export controls and sanctions eventually led me to the US Commerce Department as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for export control enforcement.

This career move led to my current position, as companies sought that specialized expertise as they expanded their FCPA compliance programs to include more obscure but equally damaging export controls and economic sanctions. Clifford Chance offered the right platform for this type of work, plus the ability to travel and work globally. I increasingly found myself advising companies in Asia, which led to the opportunity to move to Hong Kong as the head of the anti-corruption practice in Asia Pacific. Here as well, that practice has expanded to include sanctions and export control compliance, and my two-year commitment has expanded to six.

My advice is to be open to opportunities and position yourself to take advantage of them; make sure you have the keys to open the doors you find. Look for sponsors, not just mentors.

Networking

I look at “networking” as being open to and interested in people you meet along the way. Your brother’s high school debate partner becomes the global Litigation Counsel for an international bank, or the agent you gave a shoulder to cry on brings you the next big case. So take the time to get that cup of coffee, go to the baby shower, and talk to the person in your jazzercise class – she could be the next Supreme Court Justice (true story). If you, like me, are naturally introverted, make a plan to maximize your next conference experience beyond your speech and panel presentation. Set a goal to talk to three people, having at the ready a two-sentence description of your practice and five go-to questions for the other person.

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