567 An Interview with Bonnie Steingart 1000 Bonnie Steingart
An Interview with
Bonnie Steingart


 Bonnie Steingart is a member of Cardozoís first class and graduated magna cum laude in 1979. While at Cardozo, she was notes and
comments editor of the Cardozo Law Review and recipient of the Felix Frankfurter Award. Now, 20 years later, she has become a member of the Cardozo Board of Directors. She is a partner at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson and specializes in regulatory, transactional, and litigation matters. She sat down with Cardozo Life editor Susan Davis to talk about her career, the legal profession, and what she sees for Cardozo in the future.
 

Davis: This fall you became a member of the Cardozo Board of Directors. Can you tell me what your early impressions are?
Steingart: The people on the Board, their caliber, and involvement are very impressive. They are clearly knowledgeable about the School, its academic and fundraising activities, and they try to make a real contribution to Cardozoís development in those areas and in its being recognized for having quality programs.

Davis: How do you think Cardozoís reputation is viewed in the legal community?
Steingart: Cardozo has a very solid reputation. In terms of scope, depth, and quality of professors, it should be perceived as on a par with NYU, if not better.


One of the nice things
about being a lawyer
is that there is
       opportunity
for movement.


Davis: Were there any courses you found particularly important as you moved into legal practice from law school?
Steingart: At law school you really learn to problem solve in a particular context. I think itís important to learn how to be analytical and how to identify what is important in any given set of circumstances. Itís important to listen to your client and colleagues and read the material thatís available, and then you have to figure out whatís really important. Those are the kinds of skills you need to develop, and much that you learn at Cardozo helps.

 An Interview with Bonnie SteingartDavis: You went from Cardozo to a clerkship with Judge Jack B. Weinstein of the US District Court, Eastern District of New York. Did you find that experience to be a critical part of your education and your practice?
Steingart: Yes, it was. The clerkship was also helpful in increasing the number of firms that were interested in interviewing and hiring me.
I think Judge Weinstein and other judges who took clerks from Cardozo did so because they had such respect for Yeshiva University and for the original founding professors of Cardozo. I was the beneficiary of that reputation. People in the legal profession then, who knew anything, knew that Cardozo would succeed and were eager to hire people from Cardozo. And I think people still think that way.

Davis: Prior to returning to Fried Frank in 1999, you were deputy superintendent and general counsel at the New York State Department of Insurance. How would you describe that position?
Steingart: Being a general counsel is one of the most interesting things you can do as a lawyer. In 1000 my position,  I got to do enforcement against companies that were not complying with solvency or consumer protection requirements. I was able to write laws, develop policy initiatives, structure transactions and reorganizations involving insurance companies, and visit with legislators and deal with issues they had in terms of how the agency is run. So I really got to do a variety of tasks and use problem-solving skills that I have developed over the course of my career.
    Now that I have returned to Fried Frank, Iím trying to maintain that same kind of diversity. I do some corporate work as well as litigation, and I still represent government agenciesóthey get sued and undertake investigations.

Davis: Does Fried Frank hire many Cardozo grads?
Steingart: Fried Frank has at least three partners now who graduated from Cardozo. I think that number will grow in the next year or two. In addition, this firm always hires a number of Cardozo students who come here and do very well.

Davis: It seems as if employment prospects for young lawyers are growing and that firms are hiring increasing numbers of law students.
Steingart: I think that the market for lawyers is strong and that Cardozoís dean of professional development will help our graduates broaden their perspective about exciting career opportunities. There are many things to do beyond going to a large firm or clerkship. There are many interesting corporate, not-for-profit, and compliance jobs to have. There are many ways in which to grow your career.


The clerkship
was helpful in increasing
the number of firms that were interested
in interviewing and hiring me.


Davis: Are there certain areas of the profession that you would qualify as "hot legal areas?"
Steingart: Becoming part of an emerging enterprise is always interesting. I think that lawyers should see if they can get positions in emerging Internet companies or other emerging industries where they can combine business tasks and legal tasks. Thatís a great way for a lawyer to develop. Here in New York, for instance, thereís a "Silicon Alley" where start-up companies need people who are willing to do a variety of activities, legal activities among them.

Davis: On occasion I do some recruiting for Cardozo, which helps me develop marketing and admissions materials. This year, a majority of the students with whom I visited said that they are interested in international law. What does this area of law generally encompass?
Steingart: At our firm, what one does most is give advice to companies that are global. These companies have businesses in all sorts of jurisdictions, and they need advice on how to run them and do transactions that are compliant with all of the securities and other laws in their jurisdictions. You may be called on to do agreements that are global in scope. For example, to market a pharmaceutical company worldwide or to sell media time across borders, you have to have a sense of how those agreements are enforced and you must be sure to have forum selection clauses, choice of law clauses, and other items that will give your clients in an international context the greatest amount of certainty. But there is no single body of international law.
    I think that the YU structureówith Einstein Medical College and Wurzweiler School of Social Workógives Cardozo a really wonderful opportunity to develop a masterís program in health-related law. This area of practice encompasses Medicaid and Medicare; how insurance companies, health insurance companies, and health professionals are regulated; the ethics of medicine, euth 1000 anasia, abortion, and the ethics of distributing a finite amount of high-level medical care to an almost infinitely demanding population.
    Cardozo could be at the forefront of developing professionals who will be leaders in the area, who will practice at hospitals and departments of health, who will make government policy. This is really one of the emerging important social/political issues in the United States. I have already discussed this with some members of the Board, and I will talk with the dean about it. International law is nice, but this, I think, would be an important area in which Cardozo could emerge as a leader.

Davis: You touched briefly on how you have been able to structure your job in order to enjoy it more. The dean and the faculty are beginning to look at pro-active ways that the Law School can correct lawyer disaffection, the attrition rate among young associates, and growing dissatisfaction with the legal field. I wonder if you have any thoughts on this subject?
Steingart: I donít think that thereís more disaffection with law than there is disaffection with life. Lawyers may have inordinately high expectations about what they deserve because they are lawyers. But we donít get things just because we think we deserve them. We get them because we earn them or we are offered certain opportunities.
    I think you have to figure out where you fit, and that is always really hard. I think law, like everything else, has become very competitive. Itís such a big world today that it is much harder to find a place where you feel you belong and where you think you can make a difference. And, of course, if you become a lawyer just because you want to accumulate wealth, then youíve planted the seeds of continuing dissatisfaction.

Davis: Why do so many young attorneys choose to work at a firm like Fried Frank knowing that long work days are common?
Steingart: Many people work long days, and there are still times that I do. But the relationship between young lawyers and law firms is not just one-sided. Young lawyers get exposure to major issues and complicated transactions. They get paid a lot of money, and they can do it for as long as they want.
One of the nice things about being a lawyer is that there is opportunity for movement. After coming to Fried Frank in 1980, I left after three years. I went to a small firm for a couple of years, and I came back here and became a partner in 1986. Then, I left for a couple of years to take the job at the State Department of Insurance. While Iím happy to be back at Fried Frank, there are still other professional opportunities I would consider.

Davis: Pro bono legal work is written about and discussed a lot at law school. There are panels at Cardozo about it, and our admissions materials discuss it. How much of your career is devoted to pro bono legal work, and how is it important to your career?
Steingart: For those interested in doing it, pro bono work is a very important ingredient in a professionalís life. I spend between 10 and 20 percent of my time doing pro bono work that ranges from giving organizational speeches and papers at conferences to taking on litigations to serving on a board, not only at Cardozo but for many years at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where I did a number of litigations.
    The firm does a lot of pro bono work, including organizational and charitable activities as well as specific kinds of litigation. For instance, we represent charter schools pro bono. Itís not litigation work but corporate governmental representation of entities that are trying to run schools that provide a different kind of quality of education. As a firm we decided that itís worthwhile contributing valuable lawyer time that would otherwise go to paying clients. From my point of view, in this kind of practice itís very important because you tend to lose your sense of the world when you spend your life representing companies like IBM and Xerox. People aa0 talk about big firm work as being immoral; itís not immoral, itís amoral. There is no underlying issue of social justice when it is a battle of corporate greats. If you donít fill your life with things that steer your moral compass, I think you begin to forget your own sense of right and wrong.
Bonnie Steingart
Davis: What would you like to accomplish or contribute as a board member?
Steingart: I would like to help involve other alumni in more regular giving to the School. I think people believe that when theyíre asked to give they must contribute a lot, or that if they give one contribution they are going to be asked to give all the time. I would like people to understand that giving shows a commitment and an involvement and helps the institution and the publicís perception of the institution, which is important to those of us whoíve graduated. The act of giving to oneís alma mater is a symbiotic kind of giving.
    People have to realize that they can start small and build. No one has to give more than they can afford.  They can skip a year if they are not having a good year. In general, though, alumni should make giving to Cardozo part of their regular charitable activity. If everyone did, it would mean that the School would develop a meaningful endowment that could be used to make Cardozo a real factor in legal education.
    I would like to organize these efforts, and those that will help Cardozo grow on a professional level in New York. I would like to see a Cardozo graduate on the federal bench. There are a number of grads who are in the right positions to be appointed; itís time; and we have enough influence to see that it happens.

Davis: Weíre delighted that you decided to spend part of your time as a member of the Cardozo Board.
Steingart: And Iím delighted to be on the Board. Itís an exciting time for Cardozo: I think Paul Verkuil is a great dean, and I think the School is ready to take the next step. Iím honored to be helping.


If you donít fill your life
with things that steer your
moral compass,
I think you begin to forget your own sense of right and wrong.

 
  0