Making it Big:
Say "corporate lawyer" and ask people to conjure an image. Generally along with "nice office" and "good view," they also think buttoned down, long hours, and briefcases bulging with contracts outlining the details of mergers and acquisitions, partnerships, and other business arcana. No wonder hit television shows like Law & Order and The Practice usually stick to profiling the lives and loves of more glamorous criminal lawyers.
But corporate law covers many job categories and prepares one for a variety of careers. Cardozo graduates in corporate law work for leading firms and private businesses, use their degrees and experiences to start their own companies, litigate high-profile cases, run entertainment firms, and even lead a major league sports team. Those working as corporate or general counsels have found creative and challenging aspects in their career choices as well.
Even those who have strayed furthest from a traditional law practice, however, emphasize the importance of internships, clerkships, networking, and law-firm experience during law school. All identify at least one professor at Cardozo who helped shaped their careers by offering support, advice, and academic grounding. As in most samplings of Cardozo graduates, a surprising number have backgrounds in the visual and performing arts, and all stress the importance of finding a job that one can be passionate about.
Barbara Kolsun '82 is general counsel for Kate Spade, heading up the legal department for the $70 million New York-based handbag maker. Because Kate Spade bags are so often copied and then sold at home "purse parties," flea markets, and shopping mall kiosks, she devotes much of her time to anticounterfeiting work: calling police departments and firing off cease-and-desist letters to fraudulent retailers. Her efforts have earned her media attention recently, including a November 2002 The New York Times profile headlined "A Pit Bull Who Lunges at Brand Counterfeiters."
"It's stealing," Kolsun says simply of counterfeiting. "Kate Spade is someone who started a business from nothing." She can cite dozens of other reasons why buying a fake Kate Spade bag is not a victimless crime--among them, that "a $20 counterfeit bag is made under conditions you wouldn't want to know about. Anyone who cares about the issues of child labor and sweatshops should not buy counterfeit."
Kolsun, 53, came to the legal profession after years as a struggling singer and actress, playing in regional theaters and touring in Broadway shows. At one point, tired of the travel and the financial instability of acting, she decided to give law a try. The teacher of her prep course for the LSAT, Rosemary Byrne '80, talked her into applying to Cardozo. "I just fell in love with it. Even though it was new, it felt like a very alive place, a good choice for me."
During Kolsun's third year at Cardozo, things really fell into place when she took the Criminal Law Clinic. "It changed my life and gave me confidence," she says. "Barry Scheck is just a beacon in my career. He's a wonderful, generous human being."
After clerking for the US Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, Kolsun taught at Fordham Law School for three years. Her first job in intellectual property was at a law firm doing anticounterfeiting for Ralph Lauren, and there she found her niche. After that she was in-house intellectual property counsel to Calvin Klein Jeans and Westpoint Stevens, the home textile giant. She finds parallels with her career in theater: "I was a creative person, and I found myself in a job where I'm representing creative people. I love my job, the product is beautiful, and Kate Spade is about as nice a company as you could work with."
Kolsun's company frequently hires Cardozo students and graduates. Five of her six interns are from Cardozo, two are current LL.M. students. "They're dying to work here," she says of intern applicants in general.
Kolsun says she paid her dues to land at Kate Spade. "Lawyers who go directly in house working for a corporation are limited. I spent almost 10 years in law firms. That's how I became a generalist. I know how to look at a lease, an advertising problem, corporate law, mergers and acquisitions--you have to know a little of everything."
Making the transition from the legal to the business side of one of the country's largest corporations is Stephanie Mudick '81, who has been a rising star at Citigroup since the mid-'90s. Mudick was recently named executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Citigroup's Global Consumer Group. She was previously co-general counsel of Citigroup.
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Her new role puts her in charge of the infrastructure side of Citigroup's largest business, with more than $8 billion a year in earnings and 130,000 of Citigroup's 260,000 employees. The Global Consumer Group includes Citigroup's global credit cards, retail banking, and consumer finance businesses. On its own, Citigroup's Global Consumer Group would be one of the largest companies in the United States.
"Moving into a business is exciting, and moving into a business with two of the world's leading franchises, cards and consumer finance, is particularly challenging," Mudick says. "I'm really looking forward to it."
After Mudick graduated from Smith College in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in politics, the idea of becoming a lawyer "developed by default," she says. Mudick, who was notes and comments editor of the Cardozo Law Review, landed a job after graduation as a litigator at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. She then spent several years as a general corporate and M&A lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. In 1993, Mudick joined one of Citigroup's predecessor companies and has since then worked in a number of roles in the legal department, including general counsel of the Global Consumer Group and deputy general counsel of Citigroup. Along the way, she has earned a reputation as an accomplished manager.
"The management challenge in a large company is figuring out how to make decisions relatively quickly and inclusively. At Citigroup we encourage entrepreneurial thinking and want our people to feel that they're making a difference," Mudick says.
Citigroup, which employs more than 1,000 lawyers, hires its share of Cardozo graduates, she says. But internships at Citigroup are relatively few because, as a business, it hires mostly experienced lawyers.
But for Mudick, legal and business success must always be balanced with her personal life. Mudick, 46, takes advantage of her company's family-friendly environment by working at home one day a week to spend more time with her 3-year-old twin daughters, Lily and Dahlia, and her husband, David, a photographer.
Practical experience--internships and work opportunities--"really makes a difference," she says. "People create their own opportunities. To some extent, the opportunistic, risk-taking ones are those who will direct their own careers successfully."
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For David P. Samson '93 , president of the Florida Marlins baseball team, sudden opportunities have led to some surprising career twists.
Samson took over the baseball club in February 2002, about the same time spring training began. The fourth Marlins president in 10 years, Samson, 35, has inherited the problems of guiding a team with sagging attendance, huge financial losses, disenchanted fans, and negative press coverage, as well as six consecutive losing seasons after its 1997 World Series championship.
"When I lived in New York, I rarely missed a Knicks game," Samson says, admitting that when he started with the Marlins he was a bigger fan of basketball than baseball.
Becoming a baseball team president after starting his own business and then working at an investment bank just means he's following his own advice to law school grads: "Opportunity will knock for everyone. You just have to recognize it when it comes along."
After failing to get a coveted job with the Manhattan district attorney's office, and knowing that he didn't want to be a corporate lawyer in a big firm, Samson pursued an idea he developed while on a high school summer vacation in Europe. He started News Travels Fast, the first company to deliver The New York Times to Europe the day it is published.
Three years later, successful but weary of being a "one-man show," he joined Morgan Stanley, the investment bank in New York. Then his stepfather, Jeffrey H. Loria, asked him to put together a deal to help him buy the Montreal Expos. In 1999, Samson became the club's executive vice president. Less than three years later, Loria sold the Expos and bought the Marlins, and Samson became the Marlins' president.
Beyond daily business operations, Samson also oversees sales and marketing: to achieve improved attendance and fiscal stability. "Every day, legal issues come up in a company that's so public like this--lawsuits, contracts, real property issues, every type of law. Having a legal background lets me properly interact with our counsel to make the big decisions."
He deems the real-world experience he gained at Cardozo, especially through his work in the Criminal Appeals Clinic, invaluable. He tries to return the favor by mentoring Cardozo students and graduates, fundraising, and participating on panels about sports and business law.
"A law degree opens up every door to you," Samson says. New graduates should not despair, as he once did, about not getting the perfect first job. "I believe you can do anything during law school, during your summers and after. The most important thing is you have to outwork everyone else. Then outperform--by outperforming you will succeed."
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Joining a large law firm can be a means to an end as well, says Alan Baral '87, president and co-owner of New Wave Entertainment in Burbank, CA. After graduation, Baral worked for Cahill Gordon & Reindel in New York, where he specialized in corporate finance and real estate.
"A big-firm practice is like boot camp," he says. "It's a regimented, disciplined, and high-energy experience that provides training. I worked with some of the smartest people I have ever known. When I first got into the entertainment business, the pedigree of law school and a big-firm practice eased my acceptance into that world."
New Wave is a diversified multi-media company that has become the entertainment industry's largest creator of DVD added content--the games, behind-the-scenes looks, and commentaries by cast and crew at the end of a DVD or on a separate disc. New Wave also has a theatrical advertising division that produces movie trailers and television advertising for movies and television, as well as a print division to create movie posters, and billboard and newspaper advertising.
Although he doesn't practice law now, Baral, 46, says his legal background helped him tremendously when he and his partner, Paul Apel, bought New Wave in 1993 and then expanded it from 17 employees to 200. In 1999, they bought their current building, gutted, and renovated it. "Without that experience, we wouldn't have had the sophistication to do some of the deals," Baral says.
After earning his B.A. in 1979, Baral worked as a cartoonist and magazine writer. At Cardozo, he intended to pursue entertainment law. He dedicated himself to his studies, joining the Law Review and becoming an Alexander Fellow, clerking for the Second District Court. "I was working with a very experienced, brilliant judge. I would recommend anyone who has the opportunity to do it."
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Also deeply involved in the entertainment industry is Lawrence Barth '84, a litigation partner in the Los Angeles office of Munger, Tolles & Olson. With 130 lawyers in Los Angeles and 25 in San Francisco, MTO is a legal force on the West Coast beyond its numbers. Since joining the firm in 1985 on the recommendation of Monroe Price, then Cardozo's dean, Barth has represented plaintiffs and defendants in jury trials, bench trials, and arbitration proceedings.
"My work is all over the map in terms of clients," Barth says. "In the last few years, I've represented entertainment companies in all manner of disputes, some newsworthy, some sexy, some business disputes, and everything in between."
Barth brought what he calls a "funny, checkered background" to law school. While still an undergraduate design student at The Cooper Union, he got an offer to be an art director at The New York Times, which led to similar jobs at magazines. After a few years, he considered law school. Most of those he contacted told him to save his application because he lacked a bachelor's degree--but not Cardozo.
"They took a chance--they were young and adventurous," he says about the school's faculty and staff. They must have seen beyond Barth's missing B.A.: he received the Samuel Belkin Prize for ranking first in his class each of his three years and served as articles editor of the Law Review. After graduation, he was a law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.
"The work on the Law Review for two years was probably most helpful in terms of preparing me for clerkships and then practice," he says. The Law Review's "demanding and exhausting" duties helped him become a generalist, Barth says, which is what he enjoys most about his current job.
"I might spend one year learning about processing video signals and cost overruns in the acquisitions of a defense contractor, and the next year have to become an expert on atomic force microscopy and 15th century Dutch paintings."
Barth enjoys the courtroom as well. "There's nothing like trying a case in front of a jury in terms of experience. It's wonderful. It's dynamic, it changes every five minutes, and calls for judgment every 30 seconds."
Barth has a special interest in the visual arts and represents photographers, artists, publishers, and galleries regarding First Amendment rights and copyright and trademark infringement. "The arts occupy about 5 to 10% of my time [on the job] and about 50% of my interest. The firm has been great about indulging me in it."
He encourages young lawyers to find ways to synthesize their special interests with their law practice. "That's the way to stay engaged."
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Averlyn Archer '93 has combined her interests in the Internet and art to carve out careers in both.
Archer is a manager at Advance Internet, a technology support provider for online news and information sites. She describes her role as that of a troubleshooter who is a sales manager for consumer sales and classified advertising programs for more than 30 newspapers nationwide and 10 affiliated Web sites. NJ.com is one of the sites, drawing news and classified ads from publications including the Newark Star-Ledger and the Trenton Times.
That's her day job, anyway. Archer, 39, is also passionately interested in art, and was an Internet pioneer of sorts in 1996 when she cofounded Genesis Art Line Inc. (www.genesisartline.com), an online art gallery and resource for Web surfers interested in African-American art. At the time, it was the largest Web site devoted to images by black artists. She and her husband, Donald Clayton, operated Real World Gallery for two years from their apartment in Harlem, mounting a weekend show every six months. Archer also has started a business representing artists and helping them with legal and accounting services. "I've had an interest in art for a number of years," Archer says. "For me, it's like breathing."
After earning her bachelor's degree from City College and a law degree from Cardozo, she worked for two years at a New York City law firm in corporate securities and transactions. In her current job, she does some contract review, but values her law background for its general aspects. "The neat thing about a law degree is that it trains your mind to be open to various possibilities," Archer says. "I would do it over again in a minute."
At Cardozo, Archer had internships in bankruptcy law and banking law. She represented unemployment claimants for a year: "You can make an immediate impact. When people who are unemployed have representation, they have a better outcome in their cases," she says.
Her best advice to students and new graduates is to network. "I know the word is overdone," she says, "but I have networked into more jobs--it's amazing. You just have to keep making contacts, going out to the bar association and bar groups. Keep your expertise fresh; stay on the cutting edge."
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The Cardozo network is alive and well at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York, where Paul Brusiloff '91 is one of several alumni who are partners there.
Brusiloff comes from a musical family "going back to my great-grandfather," who was a professional violinist. After earning a B.A. from Harvard in 1986 and taking jobs in a brass quartet, pickup orchestras, and a blues band, his musical ambitions began to wane. He picked Cardozo, though, because of its strong program in entertainment law and its influential Arts & Entertainment Law Journal.
"As I made it through law school, I discovered that rather than use the degree to go further in the music industry, I found I had a passion for law," Brusiloff says.
He was editor in chief of the AELJ and thrived with guidance from professors and advisors, including Suzanne Stone, Eva Hanks, David Rudenstine, and Paul Shupack. After graduation, he clerked for two years for the US Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.
Brusiloff, 39, joined Debevoise as an associate in 1993, doing equipment finance work. Eventually he developed his practice in finance and securities offerings, which he finds challenging and demanding. "You have to have a commitment to top-quality advice and accessibility to clients. It's fascinating and complicated."
Debevoise employs 550 lawyers, including 450 in New York. Bill Regner '94 and Rebecca Silberstein '93 are also partners there and several Cardozo graduates are associates. Debevoise recruits each year at Cardozo, and its large summer associates program hired four Cardozo students last year.
"I have found myself in an institution where mentoring and collegiality are important," Brusiloff said.
Susan Schwab '00 is an associate at Debevoise, where she does corporate transactional work for the insurance team. She was a summer associate in 1999, and recently finished a clerkship in New Jersey District Court. The clerkship and her stint on the Cardozo Law Review were especially helpful to her, Schwab says.
"My experience at Cardozo helped me adjust easily into a large, corporate firm, partly because of my journal experience. The clerkship really increased my reasoning skills. I got to see how judges reason and how public policy plays into the decisions judges make."
Debevoise was ranked first in New York for pro bono hours and sixth nationwide in 2001. Brusiloff encourages new graduates to pursue public service throughout their careers: "It's part of the Cardozo philosophy, and an important part of every professional's career." But mostly, he says, "I would tell a student just entering school to seek out parts of their education that they are most interested in and to enjoy it. To those just graduating, I would say be passionate about what you are doing."