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Leila Rachlin  

Firmwide Legal Education & Development Manager

Kirkland & Ellis

Past affiliations include associate, White & Case and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton

JD Fordham University School of Law; BA Cornell University

Court TV to Kirkland & Ellis = Law to Business

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How to move from practicing law to a business role within your firm

Value of the JD skillset in moving to any kind of business role

Full circle from in-house at court TV to managing firmwide legal education at Kirkland

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Full Transcript

ex judicata:  With us today is Leila Rachlin, who is Firmwide Legal Education and Development Manager for Kirkland & Ellis, the largest law firm by revenue in the world.  Thank you for joining us, Leila.

Leila Rachlin: It’s a pleasure to be here, Neil.

ex judicata:  Tell us about your job.  

Leila Rachlin:  It is an excellent role for me.  It is both very interesting and interactive, involving work with partners and associates across all practice areas.  I have been at Kirkland for over a year now, and it has been very busy throughout.  By the time the summer is over I’ll have been full cycle through all the major learning programs of the firm and then I expect it will be easier going forward.  Basically, I lead the New York LED department which stands for legal education and development. So, for example, one of the big projects my team is in charge of is running the summer associate learning programs.

It is a ten-week summer program starting in late May and there will be 12 learning sessions. I am excited because I had a big part in picking the topics and choosing the presenters.  This year we’re doing some new programs that have never been done before, such as artificial intelligence.

ex judicata:  How large is the summer class this year at Kirkland?

Leila Rachlin:  The program is 440 summer associates firmwide with over 100 in New York.

ex judicata:  On the 12 learning modules this summer, is it Kirkland partners that are doing the presentations?

Leila Rachlin:  Yes, we have the top people in the field doing the sessions. I’m very happy with the enthusiasm the partners have shown in participating. 

ex judicata:  Will that be done as asynchronous and/or as a webinar for each session?

Leila Rachlin:  It’s going to be in person this summer.  Each office will have its own local programming, including in New York.

ex judicata:  I believe you told me that as part of your position, you also have some CLE compliance responsibilities?

Leila Rachlin:  Yes, I’m in charge of CLE compliance for over 1,000 attorneys who have New York licenses across the world.  This summer there is a new cybersecurity CLE requirement.  During every biennial registration period, the attorneys need to take one hour of cybersecurity, either in the general or ethics categories.  I’m putting together several cybersecurity programs the attorneys can choose from.  We expect to have excellent attendance for these.

ex judicata:  Did you want to be a lawyer growing up?

Leila Rachlin:  I knew from the time I got to college that I wanted to be an attorney.  I was setting my sights on law school.  I was very fortunate to have been able to work as a legal assistant several summers during college at Sullivan & Cromwell. I got that position through the Cornell Connection program sponsored by a group of Sullivan & Cromwell partners who are Cornell alums.   

ex judicata:  What was your first job out of law school?

Leila Rachlin:  My first job was unusual as it was in-house.  It was with Court TV, which was very exciting because it was a startup and it really grew while I was there, to the point where it got spoofed on Saturday Night Live.  To show how I have, in many ways come full circle, a large part of my role at Court TV was doing continuing legal education.  It was a big deal then to have video recordings of programs and then getting them accredited with the various states.  Now it’s commonplace but at the time getting credit for watching something online was not easy.

ex judicata:  Talk a bit more about Court TV.  It’s so interesting.

Leila Rachlin:  I did additional things like editing videotapes for legal content and building in pauses for commercial breaks.  I also handled applications to televise trials.  I worked with the General Counsel and the Assistant General Counsel.  I really enjoyed that position.  When I was interviewing for my current job at Kirkland having that experience, even though it was so early on in my career, helped me land the position.

ex judicata:  After Court TV you went to work at Cleary?

Leila Rachlin:  Actually, before Cleary I worked for a couple of years at a 40-person law firm, Zeichner Ellman & Krause.  I had a great experience doing both litigation and corporate.  I got a lot of high-level litigation experience because it was such a small firm.  I was able to do depositions and go to court.  I had enough experience running corporate deals at the firm that when the Cleary opportunity came, I had the right experience.

ex judicata:  So, here as with CourtTV and starting off in-house right out of school, this too was quite unusual.  For an associate to go from a small firm to a large prestigious firm like Cleary.

Leila Rachlin:  Yes, it was an unusual but fulfilling path.

ex judicata:  Did you get the Cleary job through a recruiter?

Leila Rachlin:  No, it was a Fordham Law School connection.  There was a listing with the Career Office for a Fordham grad to do work at Cleary for two Special Counsels who specialized in state securities law and UCC law.

Leila Rachlin:  I split my time between the two, but also did some intellectual property and some M&A work as well.  Interestingly, during my tenure at Cleary the Special Counsel I was working for moved to North Carolina for personal reasons.  Cleary allowed her to work remotely, which was almost unheard of at the time.  So, basically, I ran the New York State securities practice for Cleary with her being available as a backstop and resource.

ex judicata:  Pretty extraordinary to have that kind of autonomy and responsibility.

Leila Rachlin: Yes. I was fortunate. 

ex judicata:  So, you were at Cleary for about 3 years and then moved to White & Case.  Was that through a recruiter?

Leila Rachlin:  Yes, it was through a recruiter.  So having come from Cleary, I had exceptional corporate experience.  White & Case was looking for someone to enhance the relationship with Deutsche Bank, the biggest client of the firm at the time.

The bank had a very big portfolio management group.  At White & Case, just like every other law firm, when deals closed, often post-closing work was put to the side for the next big upcoming deals. White & Case to their credit realized this and designated a new position to manage the relationship with Deutsche Bank’s portfolio management group which oversaw the bank’s post-closing work.

ex judicata: That sounds like an unusual job.  Were you still practicing law?

Leila Rachlin:  Yes. I was also in charge of making sure that all the collateral, the real estate mortgages, the promissory notes, etc. were all being done to the client’s satisfaction and in a timely manner.  I would meet with the associates quarterly to make sure all their deals were on track.  I developed a whole system for Deutsche Bank with status sheets and quarterly reports.  I did that full-time for about 3 years.

One by one, several White & Case associates moved to banks where they wound up being clients and giving work to the firm.  I then became the portfolio relationship manager for these other banks including Macquarie Capital, Jeffries Finance, and Bank of America.  I got up to 8 clients.  It was a lot of fun.  I had good relationships with these ex-White & Case alums.  I also got to meet a lot of new people.  So that was a very exciting role.

ex judicata:  In terms of your professional development were you on an associate track?  How were you compensated?

Leila Rachlin:  I came in as a mid-level associate specifically to be permanent, rather than on the partnership track.

ex judicata:  So, you are in this relationship manager role, quasi-legal, quasi-business.

There must have been a time then when your position becomes all business and you are not practicing law at all?

Leila Rachlin:  Yes, I was at White & Case for almost 20 years.  I would say the first ten years I was practicing and the last ten years it became more and more of a business role.  I was working a lot with the business development people to grow the client base, setting up meetings for partners through my contacts that I had made on the portfolio management side.  There was a synergy, and I was liking the business side more and more. I was also an active member of the Continuing Legal Education committee throughout my tenure at White & Case, which provided invaluable experience for my current role.

ex judicata:  Had you been looking to go to a 100% business role or is it another case where someone contacted you?

Leila Rachlin:  I wasn’t actively looking, but the opportunity presented itself.  I had a relationship with a White & Case attorney who became the General Counsel of Jeffries Finance and then moved to a law firm as a partner.  He recommended me for the position.

ex judicata:  The value of relationships.  So many of the positions you’ve had are through people who you met working at the different law firms.

Leila Rachlin: Yes.

ex judicata:  At ex judicata we’re all about building bridges between JDs that want to move to a new career and what we call the enlightened organizations that are hiring them for a variety of different roles.  To get these organizations to list jobs with us, we spend a lot of time with CHROs and Talent Acquisition heads explaining how the JD skillset can fit many different kinds of jobs besides practicing law.

It occurs to me that moving from the practice of law to a business role at a firm is considerably easier in that law firms have been hiring former attorneys in business roles for decades.  It is much more of a natural transition than, say, when we are talking with General Electric about how JDs can be good brand managers.

ex judicata:  You have a terrific job at Kirkland, obviously the result of all you’ve achieved for other law firms both as an associate and in a business development role.

How did you get the job?

Leila Rachlin:  I saw a listing for the role on LinkedIn and applied. I then contacted a Kirkland partner I am friends with who recommended me for the position. I was also working with a recruiter who did line up a lot of interviews for me on the business side of law firms.  At the end of the day, I was really choosing between a continuing legal education role and an opportunity in business development.  I had a lot of experience in both.

I really liked the education and development aspect of the role at Kirkland.

ex judicata:  You’ve had a successful career on the business side of law firms through leveraging relationships you built over a number of years.  How would you counsel, say, a 2nd or 3rd year associate who thinks they’d be a good fit for a business position at a law firm?  How do they go about getting that first nonlegal job?

Leila Rachlin:  I would say volunteer to do some work on the business side of their current firm.  It could just be a small amount while simultaneously continuing to practice law if possible.  Also, check the internal listings at the firm to see if there are openings.  That could be a great opportunity, even if it’s not to apply for the job, just to see if the department could use some help.  I realize most attorneys don’t have the luxury of time.  But if you can carve out a little and offer to lend a hand, it might help you land a full-time business position at the current firm or demonstrate to another firm your interest in the business side.

ex judicata:  You’ve had success as someone on the business side of a law firm several times.  How do you think your law school experience, your training, helped you as a businessperson?  

Leila Rachlin:  The rigor of law school really benefits being a businessperson.  You develop verbal and written communication skills that can translate to law or business.  I, also, think knowing the law and how it affects so many kinds of business decisions is a plus.  Having that legal knowledge is a huge leg up going into any kind of business role.

ex judicata:  One last question for you, Leila.  It’s an obvious one but I think it is always valuable to ask.  Is there any particular piece of advice that was given to you by someone who had been successful moving from law to business?

Leila Rachlin:  Yes, there was someone at White & Case who I met through a women’s initiative where I was provided one-on-one coaching.  And when I went from the law to the business side, she actually sent me a book on how to succeed in the first 90 days.  I found that very useful.  I would say to think going in no one has anything on you.  You can do the job as well as anyone.  I would advise not to be intimidated.  Those skills that you learned as a lawyer and in law school will put you in a good position for success in the business world.

ex judicata:  That’s great.  And a perfect place to leave it, Leila.

Thank you so much for your time and your insight into an area that a good number of transitioning lawyers do think about–moving to a business role within a law firm.

Leila Rachlin:  Thank you so much, Neil.  It has been a pleasure talking with you.

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