Hometown: Granada Hills, California
Current Job: Special Counsel at Taconic Capital Advisors
Education: Yale College ’76, Oxford University ’78 (Marshall Scholar); Yale Law School ’81
YLS year: 1981
Clerkship: Judge J. Skelly Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; Justice John Paul Stevens, Supreme Court of the United States.
Activities at YLS: Yale Law Journal (Articles Editor); Jessup International Moot Court Competition
What do you currently do and how did you get there?
My 25 years in Washington D.C. began with two clerkships with two wonderful judges—Judge J. Skelly Wright of the D.C. Circuit and Justice John Paul Stevens of the U.S. Supreme Court. Their judicial styles were quite different. I admired, respected, and learned a great deal from both of them. After my clerkships, I was a lawyer for nine years at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Washington D.C., a firm that valued my skills and credentials and allowed me to avoid narrow specialization. I started in district court litigation, moved on to international aviation regulation, and then focused on international corporate transactions; I also did appellate litigation and pro bono campaign finance reform work. My primary client was Lufthansa, the German airline. Another client was a European airline computer reservation system called Amadeus. I enjoyed the international work and frequent travel to Europe. I liked my colleagues and made partner without undue anxiety.
From 1989 to 1992, I taught a comparative federalism course once a year as a visiting lecturer, three times at Harvard Law School and once at Yale Law School. The subject was very interesting, and teaching increased my confidence in speaking before audiences, but I wasn’t sure that becoming a full-time law professor would suit me. After Bill Clinton won the 1992 election, I signed up to do transition work without aiming to go into the government. I worked on the confirmation teams for two Attorney General nominees, Zoe Baird, who withdrew amid controversy, and Janet Reno, who was confirmed. The confirmation work was a concentrated experience like a political campaign. It seemed likely that I would be offered a mid-level political position in the Justice Department, either in the Office of Legal Counsel or the Solicitor General’s Office. Either of these would have been within my comfort zone as a former appellate law clerk with academic interests.
But a different opportunity arose. I had also been on the agency review team preparing a transition report on the Export-Import Bank, the U.S. government export credit agency. The new chairman of Ex-Im Bank, Ken Brody, a former Goldman Sachs partner, asked me to join his team of political appointees as general counsel. I would be part of the policy making process in a federal agency, and would manage a team of 20 lawyers. I had no experience in finance or management. Following my father’s advice, I chose the Ex-Im Bank job rather than going to the Justice Department in order to grow and develop in new dimensions that would benefit me in the long run. It turned out to be a great decision. The job was challenging and interesting and gave me the chance to grow professionally and to work with a cohesive team.
A couple of years later, I learned from a friend at Wilmer that the Vice President and General Counsel of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) was retiring. This was a plum job at the World Bank affiliate that invests in private sector projects. The VPGC was a member of senior management, head of a department of 60 lawyers from around the world, working to promote economic development in member countries. IFC lawyers worked primarily on project finance and capital markets. My experience in these areas was thin, but I had managed lawyers who documented loans and guarantees to developing countries, I had strong academic and law firm credentials, and I got the job. Again, it was a terrific growth experience. In addition to overseeing the Legal Department, in which I had the assistance of a strong group of managers, I was assigned oversight responsibility for environmental and social issues and helped launch a new IFC initiative in frontier markets. I traveled widely to represent IFC in meetings with private business executives, government officials, and non-government organizations. My travels included Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Mali, Bosnia, Macedonia, Russia, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Brazil, Peru, and Chile. I loved the job.
Then misfortune struck. As part of a World Bank Group executive development program, I was required to spend a week in a poverty environment. I signed up with a group headed to a small town in the Altiplano of Bolivia, 13,000 feet above sea level. Despite taking prescribed medication, I succumbed to acute altitude sickness, spent several days in a deep coma, and nearly died. The episode had cognitive as well as physical consequences. My ability to do my job at IFC was impaired. After some time trying unsuccessfully to return to my pre-Bolivia level of functioning, I left IFC on disability leave.
During the years I was out of the workforce, I worked on medieval English legal history. So that he could spend more time with me in my illness, my husband, a professor at Boston University who specializes in legal history, had started work on a database of the Year Books, law reports in Law French dating from 1268 to 1535. I began helping him by making lists of judges and cases, then began to translate cases into English. Working on the database in gradually more demanding tasks was an effective means of therapy for my impairments. It also helped create a significant resource for legal historians around the world. After several years working on the database and other projects at home, I recovered.
Opportunity knocked once more. Ken Brody, my old boss at Ex-Im Bank, asked me to become the general counsel of the hedge fund he had co-founded. Once again, on the strength of past achievements, I was asked to work in a new sector where I had little background. I moved to New York and embarked on yet another career adventure. At Taconic Capital Advisors I work in a small, cohesive institution with smart people and high standards. The five years I’ve been at Taconic have included the financial crisis and the post-crisis regulatory aftermath. Every day there is something new to learn.
About a year ago, I handed over the general counsel role to another lawyer at Taconic, and am now special counsel. My work involves advising the investment desk on complicated legal issues, including litigation, that affect the value of investments. The work draws upon my legal background and wide experience, and I am enjoying it very much.
2. LAW SCHOOL
What were the activities you participated in at YLS and what impact did they have on your career?
Today, people seem to participate in so many different activities. My primary activity was the Yale Law Journal. I started work on a note during the summer between my 1L and 2L years and the note was published in the YLJ while I was a 2L. I was later elected as one of five Articles and Book Review Editors. Being an Articles Editor broadened my legal education because I was exposed to a wide range of topics through reading hundreds of manuscripts, and then taking principal responsibility for editing half a dozen articles and book reviews that we accepted for publication. The position gave me a chance to learn in some depth about particular areas of the law, how to present arguments effectively, and how to develop ideas.
I also participated in the Jessup International Moot Court Competition. We swept the board at the New England regional competition but lost at the national finals in Washington, D.C. against stronger competitors in a format that didn’t suit our strengths as well as the regionals.
What do you view as your biggest accomplishment?
It was probably the work I did while at the Export-Import Bank where, as General Counsel, my work included trying to improve environmental and social responsibility. The Bank’s charter had recently been amended to allow it to take account of environmental considerations in deciding whether to approve export financing applications. My boss was very supportive and we were able to make progress. We hired the Bank’s first environmental specialist and developed the Bank’s first-ever set of environmental policies and procedures. The Bank’s board of directors decided not to support exports connected with the Three Gorges Dam on the grounds that the dam would be environmentally destructive, as indeed it has turned out to be. The Bank faced a lot of pushback from certain members of Congress for that decision.
How have you balanced work/life?
I did not achieve much balance in my younger years, but David Seipp, who is now my husband, was incredibly supportive. I used to try to eat dinner as late as possible, so we knew of every restaurant in D.C. that was still serving dinner at 10 p.m. at night. While at Wilmer Cutler & Pickering (a predecessor of WilmerHale), I took a step away from work/life balance by taking on a time-consuming commitment outside of law firm work. Feeling that practicing law was not enough, I accepted when my friend Kathleen Sullivan (then at HLS) called to ask if I would be interested in teaching a course at Harvard. I developed a course comparing federalism in the European Community and the United States, which I taught both at Harvard and at Yale. I fitted in this extra commitment while maintaining my billables by working even more of the time. I had no leisure at all. There is always a trade-off. I’m pleased to report that I lead a more balanced life now.
What advice would you give to young women lawyers today?
I would suggest trying to step back and from time to time think about how other people perceive you. Sometimes what we are most comfortable with isn’t the most effective approach. For example, I have always had a tendency to be very detail-oriented, but sometimes that was too much of a good thing.
What traits impress you the most in young lawyers?
At Wilmer Cutler & Pickering (now WilmerHale), I was sometimes sent to Yale to interview. I think it is important to stand out and be intellectually curious. Obviously, you should be strong on paper, but you should have interesting things to say, be able to carry on a good conversation, and be generally likeable.
What challenges do women lawyers continue to face today?
I think that not much has changed since I left law school. When I heard about the Speak Up report, I thought it raised very similar issues to what I saw when I was at YLS. I think there needs to be more consciousness-raising on gender inequality issues. Part of the problem is that women may be socialized to be less assertive. At my law firm, women were more likely to accept the assignments they were given, whereas men demanded assignments that would help them in their careers. Over time, this can translate into men progressing further in their careers and more of them making partner.