Students gain insight into building satisfying careers at annual ESQ business law symposium

March 31, 2017Duke Law News

The Business Law Society’s 14th annual ESQ Career Symposium offered students a chance to network with alumni and other attorneys in a range of practice areas, businesses, and entrepreneurial ventures.

Through a series of panels and breakout groups, students learned what it’s like to work in areas such as litigation, private equity, and M&A, and got one-on-one advice during an evening reception and speed dating-style networking lunch held at the new President’s Suite at Wallace Wade Stadium.

“Students had a surprisingly broad range of very thoughtful questions, ranging from whether the current administration may impact the economics of law firms and their ability to hire in large numbers, to how to make an impression as a first year working on a deal,” said Gitanjali Workman LLM’02, counsel at Paul Weiss.

Linton Mann III ’07, a partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, took part in an opening panel discussion on strengthening the legal profession through diversity and inclusivity and was impressed by the students’ engagement with the topic.

“I was looking at a room that had greater demographic diversity than when I was at the law school and I was encouraged by the progress the Law School is making in that area,” he said. “But also there were so many people who you wouldn’t necessarily think, demographically, are going to be interested in that issue — particularly Friday night on a game-day weekend. But everyone there was engaged and that was very meaningful to me.”

Kirkland Hicks ’97, executive vice president and general counsel for Lincoln Financial Group and a member of the Duke Law Board of Visitors, delivered the keynote address and spoke to students about his move from a law firm setting to a position as in-house counsel. He stressed the importance of sticking to your beliefs when making decisions that could alter your career path.

“You will face disruption in your careers. There will be moments of great disappointment,” said Hicks, who told students to focus on the quality of the experience and the relationships that could come from it when evaluating opportunities.

“Will I get from this company the kinds of experiences I want to get? Will they take an interest in me,” he asked.

In a panel discussion on corporate litigation, Jackson Eldridge ’13, an associate with Sullivan & Cromwell, told students who want to go into that field not to worry too much about specializing when they’re in school.

“Students entering private practice at a firm should not feel pressure to be experts on any particular subject on day one when they join the firm,” Eldridge said. “If a student knows that they are interested in corporate litigation, I strongly suggest learning as much as they can about the business and financial world. Pick up The Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal and read about what’s going on in the financial markets. It’s an easy way to build a broad knowledge base about the type of work we do in a corporate litigation practice.”

Leah Shen ’11, an associate with Simpson Thacher, said that advice she received and likes to pass along is to always reach for the best career option you have in front of you.

“Don’t give up on something because you think you won’t get it or because you’re planning for the kids you don’t have yet,” she said. “I think every student is more capable than they know. If you cut yourself out of the race at the very beginning, you’ll never get the opportunity to try.” 

Shen said that events like ESQ are as important to students’ growth as the classes they take during law school.

“A well-known secret to success in life after law school is that mastering small talk at a corporate event, which tends to be both awkward and uncomfortable, can only help — no matter what career path you choose,” she said.

ESQ was sponsored by Simpson Thacher, Sullivan & Cromwell, Cadwalader, Clifford Chance, Cravath, Kirkland & Ellis, Paul Weiss, Weil, and White & Case. Business Law Society co-presidents Abby Frisch ’18, Evan Glustrom ’18 and Kevin Walton ’19 headed ESQ with Career Center staff.

“The fact that it is a hybrid alumni and career event means that the professionals who attend are more closely connected with Duke Law than other recruiting events on campus,” said Frisch. “They are genuinely interested in getting to know the students and providing their support and guidance, and the students are able to test the waters of the legal market in a friendly setting.”

And alumni clearly enjoy paying forward the assistance they received as students.

“Events like ESQ helped me secure a job during my first year of law school and it’s only fair that I give that same opportunity to current students,” said ” Eddy Leal ’15 T’12, a corporate associate at Kirkland & Ellis. “And after living in Durham for seven years, I never pass up an opportunity to visit.”