I studied Arabic in college and spent time in various Middle Eastern countries, particularly in Syria, where I completed a Fulbright scholarship in Damascus. That was a great experience – the people are amazing, and the place is amazing. But I also saw a repressive society where the rule of law is not respected. I’m under no illusion that, simply through the practice of law, one person can address the structural problems of politics or human rights. But witnessing the complete lack of a stable legal framework, or even a sense of predictability in dealings with the government, got me thinking about what might be done. That’s what inspired me to start thinking about a legal career.
A good academic background prepares you well to think like a lawyer, but, in practice, it’s all on-the-job training and you really hit the ground running. Having a great formal induction was important when I joined the firm, but just as useful was the informal orientation that came from working on my first deal and being immediately involved in the work, even at the most basic level. It’s important to work with people who take the time to explain the context and really help you along the learning curve, which admittedly is very steep at first.
Everybody remembers their first big transaction. Mine was a wind project in Mexico. It was completely new territory for me. The deal involved a complex refinancing of a project that had been delayed for a long time. Of course, we had to get it right, but there was also a lot of pressure to close it – and close it quickly. We dealt with environmental and social issues, and challenges popped up at the last minute. It was tough, but we closed it successfully and everyone was very happy. One person was literally overwhelmed with emotion to finally get there after years of working on the project. When you’re in those last few months of a deal, it seems like it’s never going to end, but everyone has the same goal in mind – and that’s a good feeling.
What I’ve learned so far is that it’s essential to seek out people with specialized knowledge and build good relationships with your senior teammates. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your colleagues are your best resources, and you need a network that you can go to for advice.
When it comes to a high-pressure deadline or challenge, it’s helpful to pause, take a step back and think it through. When your team needs you to finish something, or you have client deadlines and just have a million things to do, it can be tempting to rush through your work. But take a second and clear your mind. It sounds simple, but in those moments, it can make all the difference.