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Rising Stars: A Paralegal Does Private Equity

By Lucas Laursen

Valery's interests in international relations and law may seem like an unlikely background for finance, but that just makes her a good example of how diverse the field is. She spent a few summers as an analyst at a commercial bank and now works as a corporate paralegal at a law firm, advising private equity firms.

Name: Valery
School: Wellesley
Major: International Relations
Years Out of College: 0-2
Title: Corporate Paralegal

First Steps

Valery's first exposure to finance came from what at first seemed like "throwaway" summer jobs at a commercial bank. "I reviewed residential mortgage applications. I filled out paperwork, pulled credit reports and called employers to verify applications."

The job wasn't hard, but she realized that she wanted a different atmosphere. "You had no privacy: everyone was out on the same open floor. I also realized that most of the managers were men and most of the others were women. It felt like the men were always giving the orders." With her education, she knew she had options. "I think that most people working there felt they didn't have the education to get out. A lot of them felt trapped. The managers played favorites--singling me out in front of people. I wasn't comfortable with that."

From Then to Now

Valery majored in international relations and had always had her eye on law school. She decided to work for a law firm before starting graduate studies. "I applied at a New York law firm for a paralegal job in litigation, but they asked me to do corporate law because I knew a lot of languages" She was able to put her college training to use, but she was also surprised to end up back in finance, specifically private equity. "That's one of the most interesting things I've learned. Corporate law isn't just legal advice. There's a lot of business advice. We offer 'alert memoranda' on changes in the law in places like Delaware and Cayman. These are bullet point summaries of laws and their practical consequences for businesses registered there."

Challenges Faced

Valery emphasizes that people skills matter. And getting on your manager's good side can make all the difference. "Usually the worst thing is people. You have to get used to that or learn to work around them. Working in a big firm lets you avoid some people, especially once you get to know the managers. I was invited to go on a work trip, but it would have been with a co-worker who has basically done everything short of grabbing me. When I brought it up with my managers, they let me off the hook."

My Experience

A day in the life of a paralegal isn't always predictable. Over the course of a busy day Valery may do anything from translating documents to interviewing new hires to reviewing tax forms and drafting incorporation forms for mergers or acquisitions her firm is supervising. The part she loves the most? "I don't have to be there until 10am!"

Valery also has some other favorites: "I love the meetings. I can walk into a partner's office and have substantive conversations. My firm is really schmoozy, unlike [the commercial bank I used to work for], which was very micro-managed and officious. I work a hell of a lot more now but I feel a lot more comfortable."

"I also like the business aspects. And people are so willing to talk to you about it, especially if they see you as 'bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.' It reminds them of why they went to law school. The firm is sort of a continuation of college because you have partners, like professors, and associates, like grad students, who actually train the paralegals."

Next Steps

Moving up in law is a little less open-ended than business, since law school is pretty much a required step in order to practice. As for post-school plans, Valery originally had in mind some kind of international non-profit, but "now that I know that corporate law is so international and pays so well and because the firm sponsors externships at non-profits, I'll probably come back, at least for a while."

Did I Ever Think I'd End Up Here?

Valery's work experience was in commercial banking, her training in international relations, and her ambitions in law. So she's just as surprised as anyone else that she's found her way to private equity: "I never thought I'd be working in private equity. Consistent with most private equity firms, they don't just hire. You have to know what private equity is. That's not as funny as it sounds because few entry-level people do. If you're looking at this website and know you want to do private equity, you're way ahead of most people."

Advice for Others

"Corporate law" and "private equity" may bring to mind briefcase-carrying sharks, but Valery has been surprised. "I think the people I've met at my firm have convinced me that really good people are in corporate law. Really nice people."

As for her original intention to get into non-profits, "There's a real bias against people with heavy corporate backgrounds in non-profits. It's sort of like you can't intern for a senator from one party if you've already interned for one from the other party."

That still doesn't mean she's going to work for a bank: "I've sometimes felt that if I'm doing this much commercial stuff, why don't I just get paid twice as much and work at a bank? But I think banks are more conservative and it's money for money's sake."

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