Dean's Roundtable connects alumni and students

December 6, 2010Duke Law News

Two Duke Law alumni who now run businesses discussed their respective career paths and the challenges and rewards of applying a law degree in the business world with students on Nov. 17.

Patricia Song ’98, president and chief operating officer of Home Paramount Pest Control, and Mark Fishman ’78, president of Fishman & Tobin, a children’s apparel business, were the latest guests in the Dean’s Roundtable series. Since 2006, the Dean’s Roundtable has facilitated interactions between alumni in specific areas of practice or business and small groups of selected students who share similar career goals.

Song said she chose to pursue a law degree because of her affinity for argument and a love for expressing herself. While at Duke, she determined that she did not want to work for a law firm long-term. After working as general counsel for a company, she became president and chief operating officer of Home Paramount Pest Control, one of the nation’s largest pest control operators.

Fishman spent his 1L summer at a law firm but chose to work for his family’s business, Fishman & Tobin, after graduation; he succeeded his father as president in 1985. Law school offers an excellent background for business, he said, because of the reliance on problem solving and scenario-planning skills that are a consistent part of the curriculum.

Observing that the business world “is changing really quickly,” and becoming ever more globalized, Fishman encouraged students to learn about international practices, including currency exchange and trade laws as well as pacts enforced by foreign governments.

Song said she made a strategic decision to limit the geographic area her business serves in order to effectively manage elements of quality control and implementing standard protocol throughout the company. While businesses typically pursue acquisitions and expansion growth strategies, Song said Home Paramount instead strives to provide more and better services in order to grow as a company. Her company’s mission, she said, is “identifying people who want these services and making sure [Home Paramount] is the customer contact.”

Both Song and Fishman identified financial literacy, from reading a balance sheet to comprehending budget numbers, as essential to working in business. Song said the loss of confidence in banks as partners has resulted in a greater need for management to understand the financial elements of their business. Fishman added that business is ultimately about money and understanding how to balance numbers is at the heart of effective management.

Asked for words of advice for students, Song stressed that a good lawyer must understand a client’s inquiries according to their goals, and that no lawyer can provide effective counsel without listening to and understanding the client. Fishman encouraged all students to take risks as a way of learning and to try different and innovative things.

“In this economy, it is more important than ever to take risks,” he said.
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