Law Practice Today | April 2013 | Disaster Prep: Special Issue
April 2013 | Disaster Prep: Special Issue
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Katy Goshtasbi, JD

Interviewed by Carol Phillips

  • Tell me how you got started along the path that has led you to this place in your career.

I practiced as a securities lawyer for about 15 years.  I practiced as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill, at the SEC, at a law firm and in-house as investment counsel to a large corporation.  One day I realized I was no longer happy.  I decided I wasn’t making a difference anymore, and pursued my natural talent/gift in business development/brand management- a skill I found out is not taught in school and many attorneys lack, but desperately need. 

  • Was there something that influenced you in college or law school to move into the area in which you are currently working?  If so, what was it?

I became a securities lawyer because I loved my law school securities classes, and in addition my undergrad degree is in finance, and I always loved following the stock market and trading.  I just knew, oddly enough, that I wanted to be a securities lawyer.  As I practiced more, it became clear that I wanted to be a mutual fund lawayer.

As for my second career running a personal branding company for professionals, as a lawyer I was always getting told that I was good at business development and standing out as a lawyer in Washington DC, where I practiced. So I finally listened to my fellow lawyers.  It was all about being brave enough to take a risk.  I haven’t looked back since.

  • Tell me about how you found your first job after law school.

I knew I wanted to be a securities lawyers, so I held out (and passed up big firm jobs!) until I found the position as a lawyer within the Indiana Securities Division - it hardly paid anything, but it was the stepping stone to my career in Washington, DC.  I knew enough to sacrifice salary for experience and future opportunity.

  • How did you get your next job/opportunity?

My boss at the Securities Commission of Indiana knew I wanted to move to DC and practice there. So he told me about an opening for an associate counsel position within the trade organization for state securities regulators.  So I applied (along with 35 other lawyers!) and got the job! Looking back it was all about personal brand management -I knew the substance but also understood how to self-promote without bragging or running over other people.  I just stood out from the crowd.

  • What helped you early in your career to become more knowledgeable/gain skills/experience success?

I was curious about everything and asked a lot of questions and wasn’t too afraid of being “junior,” plus I trusted my intuition and studied people. I developed a fascination with why people do what they do and how they think.   So I tried to understand people from a basic place.  This way of interacting with people led me to be able to learn from them and respect their opinions.  This way of thinking also led to the personal branding business, which is really a study of how we all think and the decisions we make as a result of our emotions and relationships.

  • What have been some of the critical turning points in your career including both successes and disappointments?

Getting my job at the Securities and Exchange Commission was very calculated on my part.  I knew I wanted to grow and be a fund lawyer.  Getting into the SEC was, and still is, very competitive.  So while working at the trade association I worked with many of the SEC attorneys and staff on long term projects so they could see how well I worked.  Then I was top of mind to them when an opening became available and they asked me to interview.  I got the job!

My biggest disappointment became my largest success. In my last legal job as in-house at a major company, my boss was very difficult. No one wanted to deal with her, including the CEO.  So everyone dealt with me.  Finally she got to be too much and I stopped to re-evaluate what it was all worth.  That’s when I realized I wasn’t happy and had to make a critical decision to change my career path. I still thank my difficult boss every day!

  • Have you ever stepped off your career path for a period of time during your career, or made a significant career change?  What was that change, and how did you do it?

See all of the above about my personal branding career. I am the poster-child for change.  I tell all my lawyer clients: you will always be a lawyer. No one can take that away your education and experience.  But, if you are unhappy, don’t be afraid to use your skill set as a lawyer elsewhere.  We are very adaptable as lawyers - if we allow ourselves to be.

  • What kinds of things have you done to develop clients for your practice?  What has been most successful for you?  What advice would you give to a junior attorney trying to develop his or her client base?

I cultivate clients by making sure I get to know them as people first.  I just went into this field with the notion of getting to know people, not getting clients.  My advice: 50 percent is the substance of your work, the other 50 percent is how unique you are and our perception of you as a PERSON, i.e., your personal brand. There are lots of lawyers out there- figure out how you are unique and what you can really provide for your clients.

  • How has the practice of law changed in the time that you have been practicing?  How has it impacted your particular area of practice and your own work?

My practice area has become terribly regulatory in nature - to the point where all we do is damage control.  You have to constantly be on top of it all.

  • How do you use technology to assist you in your work?  What recommendations do you have for others in best uses of technology?

Don’t let technology replace your interaction with clients.  Otherwise, you run the risk of becoming numb, stoic and one-dimensional: all things forgettable as a lawyer and as a personal brand.  Human interaction will always be critical to getting business and retaining it. 

  • If you were advising a young attorney today who was entering your field, what advice would you give them about how to find a job, how to develop their expertise, and how to be successful?

Make sure the practice of law is your passion and purpose.  Even if you think you are desperate for a job, don’t take one in a practice area you may not like - you could find yourself stuck in that same practice area 20 years from now and unhappy and not helping anyone- including yourself. Just go out there and meet people.  Let them know the real you- good, bad and ugly, i.e., the real you.

  • What are some of the biggest challenges that you see facing new lawyers today?

Their lack of ability to communicate with clients and to even interact with their peers.  Also, their lack of genuineness and interest in giving to their community as lawyers.

  • What recommendations do you have for someone to be ahead of the curve when it comes to dealing with possible changes in the profession?

Be flexible. Understand and know you are more than a lawyer.  You are an interesting person with many skills.  Go out there and figure out how you are unique and what your other aptitudes are besides practicing law, so you can adapt and shift when the legal landscape changes. 

  • If someone were to have offered you some advice about your career early on – what would you have wished that they would have suggested to you? 

I wish they would have asked me “Why do I want to be a lawyer - truly? Is it my passion and purpose?  Can I use my law degree elsewhere to help others and myself?”

  • What role have mentors had on your career?  What advice do you have for new lawyers about mentor relationships?

 I adore and am so grateful for both my mentors. They have been critical to my success in so many ways.  Every lawyer needs a mentor- at any level of their career. Have a mentor(s) and be a mentor. You learn what you teach.

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