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Path finders: four lawyers who bypassed law firm training on their way to an in-house career.

Very few lawyers make it to the corporate world without first spending several years at a law firm. While a handful of large companies are starting to train in-house lawyers directly out of law school, most in-house attorneys without law firm experience had to forge a path to the law department door. The following profiles tell the stories of four attorneys who went straight from law school to corporate jobs.

Jack Rossi, JetBlue

Jack Rossi was on a military leave from Brooklyn Law School, serving in Iraq with an aviation unit of the New York Army National Guard, when he met an officer whose civilian job was at JetBlue.

Rossi's goal was to work in business law in the aviation industry, so when he re-turned to law school in January 2006 his Army friend arranged for him to meet JetBlue's general counsel, James Hnat.

"We hit it off right away, and he offered me a law internship that spring," Rossi recalls. "They made it clear right away that the internship was not designed to be a recruitment tool. They had never hired an intern, and had no intention of doing so. "

But Rossi made himself invaluable, jumping in to pick up work for which the attorneys either didn't have time or interest. As a result, his internship was repeatedly extended. Although Hnat encouraged Rossi to apply to law firms and follow the traditional route to an in-house career, as graduation approached in 2008 he offered Rossi a job.

"Some of it was hard work and networking, and some of it was luck that I found a place that was a good fit culturally for me," Rossi says.

Because the company had never hired someone straight out of law school, it had no training program. Instead, Rossi rotated around the department to learn all practice areas from the dozen or so attorneys. When the attorney who handled corporate real estate and airport affairs moved into a business leadership role, Rossi had the experience and contacts to step into the job on the interim basis, and eventually as a permanent assignment.

Rossi understands why GCs don't want to train law school graduates. Even Hnat views Rossi's case as a unique situation and hasn't hired other interns.

"There is no arguing with the fact that you put more work into them than you benefit from short term," Rossi says. "But my case proves that if you find the right person and invest the time in them, and they invest the time in the company, it can really pay off."


Mary Ann Hynes, Corn Products International

Almost all general counsel trace their career paths back to law firms where they worked after law school.

But Mary Ann Hynes is an exception. The day after she graduated from John Marshall Law School in 1971, she joined legal publisher CCH as a law editor. CCH didn't have a GC or a legal department--its CEO handled legal and business affairs at the same time.

After receiving her LLM degree in taxation, Hynes sought out special assignments with the company's business units where she could put her legal skills to the test. So when the CEO stepped down and a marketing person took the helm of CCH, Hynes was well-positioned to represent the company on legal issues, first as assistant secretary and counsel. One year later she was named CCH's first general counsel, becoming the first woman to hold the GC position in a Fortune 500 company.

Hynes had to chart her own course. "I made it a point to train myself, to stay up on issues and learn different fields of law," she says. She also earned an MBA degree, which has helped her successfully handle the GC's dual role of legal and business adviser and positioned her for exciting career opportunities.

Since her path-making role at CCH, Hynes has been general counsel at Wolters Kluwer, Sundstrand Corp. and IMC Global Inc. Her current title is senior vice president, general counsel, corporate secretary and chief compli-ance officer at Corn Products Inter-national. Throughout her long career in diverse industries, she says she has never encountered another GC who didn't first work in a law firm.

"It was an extremely unique career path," she says, but one about which she has no regrets. "I loved the way I did it."


Cesar Alvarez, HP

Cesar Alvarez was working as a journalist in San Francisco when he became fascinated with the privacy issues of a wired society. He enrolled in the University of California Berkeley School of Law intending to specialize in IP and cyber law. Specifically, he aspired to work for a technology company producing consumer products that would use privacy as a differentiator.

When the Berkeley Technology Law Journal website ran a recruiting ad from Hewlett-Packard's law department, he knew right away this was his dream opportunity.

"It was right up my alley," he says. "It would allow me to go straight to a high-technology company instead of working in more general law first and then trying to get into a technology company later on. I went for it as hard as I could."

HP was recruiting at Berkeley and other law schools in fall 2009 when the weak economy had law students scrambling for jobs, so there was lots of competition. But Alvarez was one of four students chosen to start work in September 2010 as part of HP's pioneering hiring and training program.

Alvarez works with commercial attorneys on contracts and transactions. The program is designed to give him maximum exposure to the business, so he can accept assignments from any product group. His training has included live and online courses and several boot camps featuring speakers from HP businesses around the world. As he got integrated into the department, the level of work ramped up quickly.

"Work I thought I wouldn't do for two years I was doing in six months," he says, including leading the sales negotiation with a large financial client. While that and other assignments have been a challenge, he says he always gets the resources and support he needs.

"What has impressed me is the amount of time the attorneys have put forth for our education," he says. "A lot of the people are really busy, but no one has ever said, 'I don't have time to explain this, just do it.' Every assignment is given with a context and war stories attached."


Pritesh Patel, Advanced Scripts

Pritesh Patel fully expected to follow the traditional path of spending several years at a law firm before reaching his goal of working in-house. By his third year in law school, he had a job lined up at a firm where he had been a summer intern.

But a few months before he graduated from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 2008, the law firm dissolved, and Patel started scrambling for a job. Linder Legal Staffing in Chicago, which handles contract attorneys, offered him a temporary stint in Corn Products International's legal department.

Patel's contract job was helping with due diligence on a merger that fell through, but through hard work and persistence he parlayed what was supposed to be a six to eight-week assignment into a three-year stint, gaining experience in many aspects of in-house legal work.

With just five attorneys at Corn Products' headquarters, Patel realized there wasn't time for much hand-holding.

"They were really busy but were always open to questions, and I had a ton of them," Patel says. "Sometimes they were so wrapped up that I had to be independent and self-sufficient. Google was my best friend."

He realizes he missed out on valuable training that law firms offer, and attributes surviving this "trial by fire" to self-motivation. "I constantly wanted to prove my abilities not only to my colleagues but also to myself, and it was a driving force behind my tenure there, " he says.

While Corn Products GC Mary Ann Hynes feels it's impractical for a small legal department to hire a recent grad, "taking someone on a temporary basis [as she did with Patel] may change your mind. He had a real spark, and he did a great job."

Patel was just starting to feel comfortable at Corn Products--"it was close to my dream job," he says--when another opportunity fell into his lap. An investor he had met through networking asked him to help with legal work on a startup, which turned into an offer to be president and chief legal officer of the new specialty pharmaceutical services company, Advanced Scripts. He started in August 2011, just three years out of law school.

"It's surreal to think about some-times," he says of his rapid career trajectory.

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Title Annotation:Straight from the Source
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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