Past employment includes associate, Latham & Watkins
JD University of Pennsylvania
BA Cornell University
Choosing a different seat at the table
On how lawyers should interview for a job in banking
On the value of ex judicata’s financial fluency course
Listen to interview:
EXJ: With us today is Henry ‘Huck’ O’Connor. Huck is a general partner with Multiplier Capital. Thank you for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit about Multiplier and your role there?
Huck O’Connor: I am one of the founding partners of Multiplier Capital. We founded the firm in 2011 after a career in investment banking, and what we do is make term loans with warrants to sponsor back technology companies. We have about $1,000,000,000 under management across four funds, and my partners and I were doing this for another firm before we left to start our own shop again in 2011.
ex judicata: When you got out of law school, I was looking at your background and I see that you worked at Latham. Did you work at any other firms?
Huck O’Connor: Yes. When I got out of law school in 1991, I worked for Baker Botts in Washington, D.C. and then moved over to Latham Watkins. All doing corporate transactions work.
ex judicata: When you were in law school before then, did you know that you wanted a career in Wall Street? Did you know that you would one day wind up there?
Huck O’Connor: No, I didn’t. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but when I got out and started practicing corporate law, what I learned over time is that I liked doing deals. I didn’t necessarily like the lawyer’s role in the process and didn’t really realize until I got out and started working as a lawyer.
ex judicata: That’s then a few years into it, working at a firm. So then when does the light bulb go on? How do you then transition into a business position? What was the first business position that you had where you were no longer practicing law and how did you get it?
Huck O’Connor: As a lawyer, I did deals for a living, so I was working with investment bankers on literally daily basis. This is back in the days when you would actually get in conference rooms with people. So, I spent a ton of time with investment bankers and sitting around tables, I noticed that the clients were a lot more interested in what the investment bankers had to say than what the lawyers had to say. And frankly, I found myself a lot more interested in the issues that the investment bankers were tackling and doing their jobs than the lawyer’s role in the process. I think as valuable as the practice of law is, in most cases, it’s the businessmen or businesswomen, the finance people, who cut the deal. And then they take the deal, and they hand it over to the lawyers and say, paper it up and how quickly can you get it done? And I wanted to be more out on the forefront.
ex judicata: So, to get that first job in banking. Did you work through someone that had been across the table from you? How did you network into that?
Huck O’Connor: Yeah, it took a lot of work. I was an English major undergrad and then went to law school, so I had no finance background, so I did a few different things. Luckily, while I was at law school at Penn, I’d taken a couple of courses at Wharton in corporate finance, so I was able to point to that. I also audited an accounting course at Georgetown’s Business School. Fortunately, there was an evening course and I had some friends who were at the Georgetown Business School, and they introduced me to the professor teaching the course and he said, ‘Yeah, sure, kid, you can sit in the back’. And that kind of got me up to speed on the accounting side.
And then I really hit my college network hard. I had a lot of friends who were in investment banking and really, again, hit that network hard in terms of saying, okay, what do you really need to know? What do they really want to hear in interviews? How do you spend your days? That’s how I did it. It was a hard transition, Neil. It took a lot of shoe leather,
ex judicata: I bet. And it’s so interesting that you mention having taken an accounting course in corporate finance, because one of the things we’re doing, I’m not sure, if we mentioned earlier, is we are creating courses for JDs who want to move to business. The first one is Financial Fluency for Transitioning JDs to be taught by a Notre Dame law professor.
Huck O’Connor: I think it’s a great idea. I’m now transitioning to our current hiring practices at Multiplier, and one of my other two founding partners is also a former lawyer, so we don’t have bias. Columbia Law, he worked at Wachtell. We don’t have a bias against lawyers or people who don’t have finance backgrounds. As long as they can speak the language of finance, we can teach them the rest pretty easily. It’s if you’re starting from a dead stop where the candidate doesn’t know what Ebitda is and doesn’t understand things like leverage ratios, then that becomes a heavy lift at that point.
ex judicata: Was there a particular moment for you, where were you? What were you doing when you decided to make this major career change?
Huck O’Connor: It was really more gradual, Neil. And you had asked a question that I didn’t answer. From Latham I went to the media telecom investment banking group of Smith Barney in New York City, which became Salomon Smith Barney. But for me the change was probably more gradual. It was a few things. I would hear my friends up in New York talk about how much they love their jobs. ‘Oh, my gosh, I love my job. I love my job.’ And in the back of my mind, I was thinking, well nobody really loves their job, right? I mean, that’s why they must pay you.
ex judicata: To do it.
Huck O’Connor: It’s not fun.
ex judicata: It’s work that’s not fun.
Huck O’Connor: But I didn’t enjoy most of the practice of law. And that stuck with me. Should I be enjoying this more than I am? I had never held a professional job. I held gazillions of summer jobs, but I’d never held a professional job before I got out of law school, so I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel about my job. I guess is the way to put it.
The other thing, frankly, is what I was describing earlier about the lawyer’s role in the process and that I felt too much like the lawyer was a background player on the whole I didn’t like that. And then, of course, finally, I would be sitting in a conference room in Midtown Manhattan, looking across the table at my equivalent level investment banker thinking, that guy is not any smarter than me, he’s not working any harder than me. And he’s making about four times as much money as I am. I’ve got the wrong seat at this table. We need to fix this. And it wasn’t until I made the jump to finance, jumping back to my initial point where I would come home thinking, ‘Wow, that was really fun’. I enjoyed work today.
ex judicata: . So it sounds like in transitioning it wasn’t the money that was the prime motivator?.
Huck O’Connor: Yeah, that’s right. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have anything to do with it, the money, but that was not the driving consideration. I wanted a job that I felt mattered to more people than practicing law.
ex judicata: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. We have heard that before. And it makes so much sense. How do you think your lawyer training helped you in your business career?
Huck O’Connor: It was a big help. It helped me in two ways. I learned the deal process, a transaction from soup to nuts, and my law background still serves me well today in that regard. Every transaction does have a legal element. It may not be the driving element, but it’s an element. And being able to understand that is extremely helpful again and has been for my entire, almost 30 years now in finance. And then second, and just as important, Neil, it taught me how to work hard, you know, to have to burn the midnight oil and just get it done. And that is a skill in and of itself.
ex judicata: Interesting. interesting. So, when you were on that first interview, the transition to business, I’m curious if the person directly asked you, ‘well, you’re a lawyer, you know, what are you doing here?’ How do you think you can help us? Was it phrased that way at all?
Huck O’Connor: Yeah, it was a given that I was interviewing for investment banking jobs and they would look at my resume and see that I was an English major. There was a lot of focus on just quantitative skills. It is actually one for lawyers looking to make the jump into finance or some other quantitative job. A critical piece of advice I would give is.make sure that you’re thinking quantitatively, making sure you that you know how to think quantitatively.
And then finally, make sure you can demonstrate to a prospective employer that you can think quantitatively. So, in interviewing for that first job, Neil, I got a lot of ‘quick what’s eight cubed?’ My other favorite one was how many barbers are there in New York City? Let’s give your best estimate at how many barbers there are in New York City. How do you mean? And he got me started in terms of what he wanted, but he said, well, if you figure your average male gets a haircut once a month and there are 5 million males in New York City, and then how many heads can want a barber cut in a day? And did that quantitative driven analysis to come up with an estimate. And that’s part of what bankers and investors do.
ex judicata: So that’s got to be a hard question to answer in an interview?.
Huck O’Connor: Again, getting back to the thinking quantitatively never would have gotten a question like that in the law. You might get an equivalent open-ended question, but it would have nothing to do with the quantitative analysis. So that’s an important difference, I would say. Another difference comes up in this context of what I was actually saying in my first interviews. I had four, all with bulge bracket investment banks. And I went 0 for4 in terms of callbacks. And what I was doing was trying to go in and say. ‘I know how to do what you do; I’ve been across the table and I’ve picked up enough of it that I know how to do what you do’. And I had a very brash but blunt head hunter who I was speaking with, who kind of called time out in the middle of our chat and said, ‘Look, you need work, kid’.
He said, ‘You are not going to convince these people you know how to do what they do. You’re far better pitch is to say, ‘I understand enough about what you do to learn the rest’. And that I understand the basic process from a lawyer’s perspective. Give me a chance and I’ll learn the rest. And I went on 3 more interviews and got 3 callbacks. I don’t think that was any accident.
ex judicata: Wow. That piece of advice is terrific for young attorneys that want to transition. I know you said you networked. Did you have to have people send letters of recommendation before they even spoke to you, before they would have you in for an interview?
Huck O’Connor: That’s really where the college network helped a lot, because with these big corporations and with business being what it is, nobody is going to hire a friend to somebody anymore. But it makes an enormous difference to have, say, Lisa Stein,walk my resume down to the head of first year recruiting and say, ‘hey, here’s a good buddy of mine from college named Huck O’Connor. You’ll have to decide whether he’s a fit for Smith Barney. But I can tell you, he’s a smart guy and he’s a good guy. And here’s his resume.’ And I think that got me close enough to the top of the stack to get interviews, certainly to a higher degree than if I just walked in off the street, so to speak.
ex judicata: Makes perfect sense. I guess a last question for you, Huck, would be you’ve obviously achieved a significant amount of success. Is there anything that you would have done differently that would have made the process smoother in transitioning to business? Like to have left maybe a little earlier in your legal career?
Huck O’Connor: A good question, Neil. So, speaking strictly from a professional standpoint, I probably would have made the move 2 or 3 years sooner. I practiced law for 5 years and I left Baker Botts after 2 ½ years. And part of my thinking at the time was, well, maybe it’s not being a lawyer, maybe it’s the law firm I’m working for. Maybe that’s the problem. And I did spend time at two firms, but it solidified what I thought I knew after just 2 ½ years. So yes, I probably would have left earlier.
ex judicata: That’s a really good point that you brought up, because some young attorneys will have experience with just one firm. And it may be that the personalities in that firm make it such a difficult place to be. But that’s not dissatisfaction with the practice of law. So, it’s important to kind of separate that and maybe try a second firm or a different practice area. Only in this way can you tell if it was being a lawyer not the particular law firm that makes you want to transition to business. Of course, sometimes it can be both lifestyle and practicing law.
This is great. I mean, there is so much valuable information that you relayed that our readers would find useful.
Huck O’Connor: Absolutely. And I’m trying to think if I have any general advice for a lawyer making the move. Really, just what we’ve talked about. I would get yourself financially literate.
Take courses in accounting and finance if possible. I think that would be very useful for lawyers looking to transition to any kind of finance role. Because understanding the time value of money and all the principles that really spring from that notion is a pretty unique way of thinking that a lawyer just doesn’t necessarily understand.
ex judicata: Very good point.
Huck O’Connor: Yeah. And then just pound the pavement is what I would tell the Huck O’Connor of 1993 if he came to me today. Or the female Huck O’Connor.
ex judicata: Right.
Huck O’Connor: Get yourself financially literate and pound the pavement for sure.
ex judicata: Terrific. Really, it’s been such a pleasure. Thank you.
Huck O’Connor: Thank you, guys.