Shaping Firm Culture

Vol. 39 No. 9

By

Leslie A. Gordon is a secret lawyer who has been working as a freelance legal affairs journalist for more than 10 years.

When Maja Hazell graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 1998, her immediate goal was to join a large law firm.

“I wanted to gain lots of experience,” Hazell recalls. “I was interested in labor and human resources and I saw myself going in-house eventually.” Working at New York’s Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP for seven years, Hazell first handled employment litigation and then took on advice and transactional work in the executive compensation and benefits group.

 

In 2005, her career took a marked turn when she joined Pace Law School as assistant dean, running the Center for Career Development. “I didn’t want to service clients any more, but I enjoyed advice work,” Hazell says about her decision to take the job. “I’d also become involved in firm administrative departments, including the recruiting, personnel, and diversity committees. I enjoyed that work and had been considering administrative paths where I could use my law degree.”

She knew she’d face a substantial pay cut leaving the firm for a university job. “But I’d been vigilant about paying off student loans, which I did by my fifth year of practice,” says Hazell, who’d also interned during law school for Georgetown’s career services department. “Plus, I was passionate about lawyers and law students.”

Two years later, though, she was “not at all looking to leave,” Hazell received a call from a head hunter with “an offer I couldn’t refuse”—to become director of diversity and inclusion at Fried Frank in New York. “My long-term goal was to work in a corporate or firm setting in the diversity field.” She was especially attracted to the firm’s culture and the structure of the position, which had her reporting directly to the chair and managing partner.

Leading an independent department that oversees firm-wide diversity initiatives, her focus at Fried Frank is achieving equal opportunity for women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBT lawyers, and lawyers with disabilities. Her job is divided into three primary tasks: recruiting (“It keeps me in touch with law students, whom I adore, even when they drive me crazy,” she quips.); professional development and retention (which, she says, is akin to the advice and counsel work she loved in private practice); and business development and client relations.

Though she no longer practices law, having gone to law school gives Hazell “a certain level of credibility with law students and lawyers. We speak the same language. I can relate to their experience.” Her legal education also provided her with “a level of mental discipline and attention to detail and organization. I learned analysis and problem-solving, which serve me well in an administrative space.”

According to Hazell, law school also teaches how to communicate, how to tailor a message to the audience, and how to break down a problem.

“My worst day here is still better than my best day of practice,” she notes. “But I needed every second of law practice to be successful in what I do here. I get to shape firm culture. I am absolutely contributing to the bottom line even though not billing.”                 

 

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