The alumni program is a perfect medium for Kirkland & Ellis lawyers and alumni to connect and enhance professional and personal relationships. - Jeffrey C. Hammes, P.C., Chairman, Global Management Executive Committee
Watch our "Alumni Minute (and a Half) Journeys" to see some of the remarkable things our alumni are doing.
Alicia Davis / University of Michigan
Soraya Rudofsky / Walmart
Brandy Kuentzel / San Francisco SPCA
Carolina Paschoal / Kate Spade & Company
Jackie Sloan / The Children’s Ranch
Jon Shepard / First Ascent Climbing and Fitness
Lee Reichert / Molson Coors Brewing Company
Matt Revord / Potbelly Sandwich Works
Comedian, Writer, and Senior Director of Legal Recruiting / Lateral Link
From practicing M&A law in Kirkland’s New York office to pursuing comedy in Los Angeles, Kirkland alumnus Matt Ritter has had quite the creative career journey since leaving Kirkland. He currently works as Senior Director of Legal Recruiting at Lateral Link, hosts a top rated legal themed comedy podcast “Legally Insane” and recently hosted a business podcast “Safe for Work”. He also tours the country as a stand-up comedian and has had great success writing and producing television shows. While he no longer practices law, he’s found a way to weave his legal background across his career.
Early Interest in Law, Comedy and Writing
Growing up in a family of lawyers, Matt says he always had an inkling for practicing law but also an interest in comedy, writing and performing.
“Maybe it was middle child syndrome but I was always the kid doing skits, the class clown,” he jokes. “Comedy and writing was always in the back of my mind, I just never thought I could make a career out of making people laugh.”
Following a management degree from Binghamton University, Matt attended law school at University of Pennsylvania and started his career at Mayer Brown. He eventually followed some of his teammates and joined Kirkland’s New York office where he worked in the Private Equity practice.
Outside of work he continued his love of comedy at open mic nights across New York City.
“At Kirkland, I worked for about two years on all different aspects of M&A and finance for different industries,” said Matt. “I worked with great people and learned a lot, but really missed focusing on my creative side and needed to make a change.”
Launching an Entertainment Career
After leaving Kirkland, Matt moved to Los Angeles to pursue writing and standup – ultimately taking some of his legal background to the stage.
“Starting out, I quickly realized that being a lawyer was an advantage – no one else was doing anything like that when it came to comedy material for the lawyer audience,” said Matt. “So, I leaned in and started the world’s first and only legal comedy group ‘Comedians at Law’ with a few other lawyers. We’ve performed at law schools, firms, bar associations, and comedy clubs across the country. It’s been a lot of fun making people laugh – especially people who have shared a lot of similar experiences.”
Since moving to LA, Matt has found early success in television writing and production. He created and sold his own show for MSNBC called “Chained to My Ex” and produced shows including the Discovery Channel’s “Fat and Furious” and the award-winning “Duck Dynasty.”
He’s currently working on a few other writing projects, including optioning the rights to a best-selling book about big law, continues to travel the country doing comedy at all types of venues, including hosting a recent improv workshop for new associates at a firm, and runs a monthly show at the legendary club, The Hollywood Improv.
Recruiting Top Talent
In 2015, Matt was approached to join Lateral Link as senior director of legal recruiting – a career he’d never considered but really enjoys partnering with both firms and candidates.
“I like helping people find the right opportunity and I think my experience at large firms like Kirkland helps provide perspective,” said Matt. “I’ve been in their shoes and want to help them make the right choice.”
“As a recruiter, I was surprised and excited to learn that Kirkland is offering programs to help employees transition or explore a future career better aligned to their interest,” said Matt. “You don’t usually see that kind of long-term investment from a company but it makes sense for the firm and the employee.”
Offering Workplace Advice
In one of his recent ventures, Matt leaned into his background in comedy and recruitment as co-host of the business podcast “Safe at Work.” The top-rated Wondery podcast humorously tackles tough topics and offers advice to help listeners make the most of their work life.
“The podcast creators approached me about working on the show – I’m basically positioned as the funny guy your friends ask for advice while my co-host is the veteran with 30 years of experience,” Matt jokes. “It’s been a lot of fun sharing what I’ve experienced in my career and learning from our guests.”
“I feel really lucky and grateful for all the experiences I’ve had that have come together to build to what I’m doing now,” says Matt. “It’s been a pretty crazy path and nothing I could have ever planned for or predicted but I really enjoy it. I recently decided to move on and shift my focus to my law podcast ‘Legally Insane’ because frankly, there’s no one tackling everything going on in law from a fun perspective and I felt that I was filling a much-needed hole in the podcast market.
Keeping the Kirkland Connection
While a lot has changed in Matt’s career journey since leaving Kirkland, he still stays connected to many former colleagues and appreciates the lessons they’ve instilled in him along the way.
“Kirkland is shorthand for excellence,” said Matt. “I think I took for granted how excellent everyone was in their craft – there were so many great training programs and I was working with the best people out there.”
“Holding yourself to that same high level of quality Kirkland encourages stays with me in whatever I pursue.”
Kirkland is proud of Matt and looks forward to following his career journey and continued success.
Michael Meltzer / Director of Strategic Ventures, DraftKings
Every day, alumnus Michael Meltzer puts his game face on and works at the intersection of sports, media and technology at DraftKings. As Director of Strategic Ventures for the world’s leading skill-based Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) platform, Michael negotiates partnerships and navigates regulations and media channels so users can compete in online fantasy sports contests. Since joining, Michael has been part of DraftKings’ rapid growth and applies the early lessons he learned at Kirkland to his current role.Legal Training Ground
At an early age, Michael knew he wanted to study law. Growing up in Long Island, New York, in a family of lawyers, he heard a lot about the strong foundation law school provided and was determined to gain that skillset. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in political science, he moved back to New York to attend Cardozo School of Law.
While at Cardozo, Michael followed his interest in sports and interned at Major League Baseball. He made his first connection to Kirkland at Cardozo as a student in a class taught by Kirkland partner Henes. After learning more about the Firm, Michael joined Kirkland in the fall of 2011, spending almost four years in the restructuring practice.
Kirkland Lessons Lead to New Opportunities
“Kirkland is a true meritocracy, and I appreciated that there were always opportunities to build relationships, accept new challenges, take ownership of tasks and demonstrate your value,” said Michael. “Much like my current position, the projects in the bankruptcy group were often complex, high profile and required adapting and understanding the intricacies of various businesses and industries.”
Michael credits the restructuring group for instilling the value of networking and building great relationships across the Firm and within the overall restructuring community—skills he relies on every day.
Michael also applies the complex project management skills he learned while working on large bankruptcy cases. “Due to the nature of our work we were often counseling in crisis and tasked with tight timelines. It was critical to stay organized and follow a streamlined strategy,” said Michael. “Developing my skill set in that environment has been instrumental in my current role at DraftKings, a fast-paced company that is constantly optimizing its product and business model.”
Part of an Innovative, Fast-Moving Game
After meeting the founders, Michael jumped at the opportunity to join DraftKings in July of 2015—right as the company was raising a significant funding round and partnering with media companies and professional teams and leagues.
“As much as I loved Kirkland, I couldn’t pass up the chance to work at a promising start-up that is changing the way fans engage with sports,” said Michael. “One of my first tasks when I joined was overseeing a large-scale partnership with ESPN, which included product and marketing integrations across all digital and television properties. The core skills I developed at Kirkland, including negotiating contracts, building relationships and managing complex assignments were essential.”
Since joining the company, Michael has hit the ground running—negotiating deals and partnership agreements with teams and athletes in sports ranging from the NFL to NASCAR. As a company operating in an innovative space, DraftKings has been thrust into a regulatory environment that has required it to lobby for legislation in states throughout the country. Drawing on his legal background, Michael has helped DraftKings navigate the industry’s newly regulated environment and has met with state politicians across the country to discuss DFS’ legality.
Right now, Michael is focused on growing the user base and transforming DraftKings into a sports and entertainment destination. This includes exploring and executing strategic partnerships, creating live events, launching an e-commerce platform and further developing the company’s content offerings, including series featuring some of the biggest names in sports like Odell Beckham Jr., Draymond Green, Rob Gronkowski and Marshawn Lynch.
“This job has been more exciting than I ever imagined—it’s been a really interesting path” said Michael. “Similar to Kirkland, if you can prove yourself, there are endless opportunities to quickly develop and advance.”
Kirkland is proud of Michael, and we look forward to following his career journey and continued success.
Shima Baradaran Baughman / Professor, University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law
From lawyer, to professor, to author, Shima Baradaran Baughman has built an impressive career. Although her titles may have changed, one thing remains constant: Her passion for giving back and helping others.
Becoming a Lawyer
Shima didn’t always know she wanted to become a lawyer. But after excelling at her writing-intensive courses at Brigham Young University (BYU), she decided to pursue a law degree. She went on to graduate first in her class at BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School. She then clerked for Judge Jay S. Bybee of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, before joining Kirkland’s New York office from 2005–2008.
Kirkland Experience and Influence Shima fondly recalls knowing she wanted to work at Kirkland right out of the gate. “When I was interviewing, it seemed like a place I wanted to be. The lawyers I met with were more upbeat and dynamic than I had seen elsewhere.” Shima also says she witnessed exceptional lawyering at Kirkland, “people were so careful with every email and every filing… I was so happy to be working with people that were so good at what they did.”
Currently hailed as a national expert on bail, after writing her book The Bail Book: A Comprehensive Look at Bail in America’s Criminal Justice System, Shima credits her passion for prison litigation to her time spent as an associate at Kirkland. “One of the things I thank Kirkland for, is that all our billable hours were counted even if they were pro-bono. In fact, we were encouraged to take on pro-bono work,” she reflects. “My colleague and I took on a prison litigation case for a Rabbi who wanted a clean area to conduct his prayers. They eventually accommodated him and this case went on to receive national press for its role in prison reform litigation,” she proudly recounts.
Growing Interest in Bail
After leaving Kirkland in 2008, Shima applied for and received a Fulbright Senior Scholarship — a prestigious American program that provides merit-based grants for international educational exchange. As part of her scholarship, she researched pretrial detention in Malawi and lectured criminal law at the University of Malawi. Shima says her experience while in Malawi reinforced her passion for reforming prison litigation in the U.S. “Initially, I became interested in pre-trial detention seeing how bad things were in Malawi and realizing we weren’t too far ahead in the U.S. Bail is low-hanging fruit in reforming criminal justice, and the last time anyone wrote about it was in the 90s. I started writing articles, which gained momentum and eventually led me to writing [The Bail Book]” she explains.
Motivated by her Past
Shima and her siblings grew up in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. She recalls hiding in the basement with her family, shrouding their faces with towels as bombs went off outside their house. “We were able to apply for asylum in the U.S. given my mom’s political activism. We were so fortunate to escape such a horrible situation, and now we have all the opportunities in the world.” Shima left her law career behind to become a law professor because she feels a deep obligation to do her best to improve the American criminal system. “I’ve always felt a duty to give back to this country for all that it has given me” she says. “I also really enjoy teaching and writing.”
Kirkland’s Influence on Teaching
Currently a professor at the University of Utah’s SJ Quinney College of Law, Shima says she applies the litigation skills she learned at Kirkland to her teaching, all the time. “At Kirkland, I had the opportunity to argue motions in court, conduct depositions, and argue real jury trials... All of this litigation experience has helped me to create mock trials and arguments for my students in class...improve my use of the Socrative method in questioning my students, and to feel confident in presenting material in class and at legal conferences,” elaborates Shima. “I overcame any lingering fear of getting up in front of an audience and making a legal argument because of my experience working at Kirkland. I do this daily as a law professor and I'm grateful for the excellent training I received.”
As a proud member of the Kirkland Alumni, Shima keeps up with several of her former colleagues. She is constantly on the lookout for alumni events that coincide with her New York trips.
Shima’s passion for teaching coupled with her unwavering commitment to bettering the American criminal and judicial system make her an unstoppable force of positive change. Kirkland is fortunate to call her one of our own.
Lindsey Oken / Senior Law Clerk, New York Court of Appeals
Alumnae Lindsey Oken’s Kirkland career journey began as a 2012 summer associate and led to an exciting path as a Kirkland litigation associate and her current role as Senior Law Clerk for the Honorable Michael J. Garcia, Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, who is also a Kirkland alumnus.
Following an Interest in Law
Growing up in a medical family, Lindsey’s parents always joked about her determined arguing skills and encouraged her to pursue a law career. Turns out they were right. After attending the University of Delaware and graduating with a degree in criminal justice and political science, she decided to apply to law school.
After evaluating several schools, she chose Georgetown University Law Center. “For me, it was hard to find a better place to learn and begin my law career than Washington, D.C.,” said Lindsey. She made the most of her time in D.C. and pursued internships including the United States Department of Justice, the D.C. Court of Appeals and Georgetown’s prestigious Appellate Litigation Clinic.
Learning from the Best
When planning for the summer of 2012, Lindsey started looking into summer associate programs and received multiple offers. Between the connection she made with her interviewers and the recommendation from her counselors, she ultimately decided on Kirkland where she could focus on litigation.
“I loved that Kirkland’s summer associate program focused on integrating you both personally and professionally into the Firm,” said Lindsey. “Not only did I get a chance to learn about the litigation group, I had an opportunity to build relationships with my classmates in other groups – many who are still friends today.”
Upon graduation, Lindsey was excited to accept Kirkland’s offer and join the New York office’s litigation group. In addition to her client work, she enjoyed being part of several Kirkland Institute for Trial Advocacy (KITA) programs, which culminates into a two-day jury trial where Kirkland partners act as judges and instructors.
“Kirkland has such a strong reputation for litigating rigorously from beginning to end,” said Lindsey. “I really appreciate that the Firm makes such a substantial investment to ensure we all got solid training. There were lots of opportunities to learn from the best and apply that valuable feedback to client work.”
“I enjoyed the opportunity to really delve into the client work and take on new matters – learning from partners and fellow associates along the way,” said Lindsey. ”Kirkland has a work hard/play hard atmosphere that made working fun.”
Keeping the Kirkland Connection
Lindsey’s Kirkland colleagues definitely took note of her hard work. In February of 2016, after a few years of working together on several cases, Kirkland alumnus Michael Garcia was confirmed as a judge for the New York Court of Appeals and asked Lindsey to join him as clerk.
“I was honored to be asked to join Judge Garcia,” said Lindsey. “I really admired the work he led within the Government and Internal Investigations practice. I had also heard so many great things about clerking. While I knew I would miss Kirkland, I jumped at the chance to continue learning from Judge Garcia in a new role.”
In her current role as Senior Law Clerk, Lindsey enjoys the variety of cases the Court of Appeals sees and the opportunity to really dig into each case.
“I think the strong litigation background and practical knowledge I got from Kirkland really helped prepare me for my role as a clerk. It allows me to better understand each party’s position,” said Lindsey.
Aside from the Kirkland connection with her current role, Lindsey keeps in touch with mentors and friends she made as a summer associate and associate.
“During my time at Kirkland, I met so many great people who impacted my life personally and professionally – it’s so important to me to maintain those relationships.”
Kirkland is proud of Lindsey and we look forward to following her career journey and continued success.
Sudwiti Chanda / Counsel for Civil Rights: Office of the Solicitor, United States Department of Labor
As Counsel for Civil Rights in the New York Regional Office of the Solicitor for the U.S. Department of Labor, Kirkland alumna Sudwiti Chanda works to ensure the nations’ labor laws are forcefully and fairly applied to protect workers.
Passion for Public Service Paves the Way for a Career
If you look at Sudwiti Chanda’s resume, you immediately notice a common thread – a passion for protecting people and making a difference. As an undergrad at Cornell University, she started as a biology major with an eye on becoming a doctor, but decided she was more interested in understanding what drives human behavior and how policies can make a positive impact.
Knowing she wanted to end up in policy law, she moved abroad to attend the London School of Economics where she received her master’s degree in public policy and administration; followed by attending law school at NYU, where she interned at the United Nations and volunteered with the International Human Rights Clinic.
After graduating law school, Sudwiti joined Kirkland’s London’s corporate practice in 2001 and transferred to the New York office three years later to change her focus to litigation. Sudwiti devoted much of her time to the Firm’s pro bono work to protect human rights and received the Kirkland & Ellis Pro Bono Service award for her leadership. “I feel like my Kirkland experiences really set me up for a successful career through client work, pro bono opportunities and training,” said Sudwiti.
In 2010, she decided to leave Kirkland to follow her passion for employment law and public service and began working as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor to enforce federal labor laws related to discrimination, workplace safety, and federal contract compliance. After five years as a trial attorney, Sudwiti was appointed Counsel for Civil Rights and now oversees her regional team and also works with national policymakers in Washington, D.C.
“I love the fast pace and connection to our core mission to protect workers’ rights. I still get that adrenaline of researching in the field but also get to interface with the national office,” said Sudwiti. “The politics are interesting and it’s meaningful to see how policies can change into directives that make a difference in an individual’s life.”
“Understandably, working for the government is very different from a big firm as our resources are limited, so we often have to triage and creatively address problems,” said Sudwiti. “I feel like my experiences at Kirkland have helped bring a new perspective that shows the team there are different ways to be innovative and successful versus always doing what we’ve done before.”
Full Circle: Bringing Her Career Advice Back to Kirkland
Earlier this year, Sudwiti was invited to be on an in-house panel and share her career journey story at Kirkland’s In-House Insider Experience, an elite opportunity for 30 Kirkland attorneys and alumnae to gain perspective that deepens current client relationships or prepare for a future career transition in-house.
“I hope I helped other attorneys view in-house in a new light and see how their skills can be applied outside of Kirkland, if that’s the path they choose to follow,” said Sudwiti. “It’s hard to consider that long-term career perspective when you’re in the depths of a deal or trial. I think it’s fantastic that the Firm offers current and alumnae attorneys the tools and space to reflect and think about what’s next.”
“Kirkland appreciates attorneys while they are at the firm and when they go on to pursue other aspirations – the skills and support you gain from Kirkland allow people to do just that and stay connected.”
David Breach / Principal, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Legal Officer, Vista Equity Partners
Rising to the very top of the legal world involves many things — determination, hard work, and a spirit that calls on you to jump at new challenges and opportunities. After a hugely successful career at Kirkland, alumnus David Breach now sits as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Legal Officer at Vista Equity Partners. Drawing on a well-earned reputation for closing some of the biggest deals in the world while at Kirkland, David now brings his unmatched energy and strategic insight into growing one of the premier private equity shops in the country. David’s tenacity and commitment to achieving the best results for his partners is a testament to the Kirkland spirit.
The Career Before His Career
David’s journey to Vista started in an unlikely place — rural Canada. Born to hard working and self-made parents, David’s father worked as a manager for A&P, the large grocery store chain. Working up the ranks at A&P, David’s father moved the family to Detroit when David was 13 years old.
Always verbal and bright, David started college at 16 years old. Attending classes and studying were not the only things on David’s mind while at college — David began working full time in food sales and finished his studies by taking night classes. David recalls “for as long as I can remember, I liked to work, and I liked to work hard.”
Following in his parents’ tradition of choosing a career and working hard, David quickly rose to become Vice President of a juice bottling company before the age of 25. Despite liking his work, David felt there were bigger things he could do with his drive and determination. He enrolled in law school, ultimately graduating magna cum laude at Michigan. “Since the time I was 8 years old, I always said I wanted to be a lawyer” David maintains. “I absolutely loved law school and have loved being a lawyer.”
Creating a Legacy at Kirkland
Given his propensity for verbal jousting, David always thought he would be a litigator. However, when starting his career at the top-rated Detroit law firm of Honigman, Schwartz and Cohn, David quickly saw that his business experience would be valuable in the world of corporate law. “My work experience helped me talk the language of business and helped me become a more persuasive negotiator. Corporate law was a perfect fit.”
After five years at Honigman, David was hired by Kirkland in 1999 and moved to Chicago. David was put on a team with Jeff Hammes and worked extensively on Bain Capital deals. “I loved Kirkland. It was such a fast-moving place with such great work. I believed then and I believe now — Kirkland is the best firm in the world.”
When Kirkland began considering opening a San Francisco office, David was approached about being part of the team to lead the new office. “I was amazed that the Firm Committee would ask me” David recalls, “but I figured this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I have to jump at it.”
David moved out to San Francisco in 2002 and, working closely with Jeff, David was part of the leadership team that grew the office from less than 10 to over one hundred attorneys. “Building the San Francisco office was one of the most professionally rewarding experiences of my life. To help build such a high-caliber team with such great clients remains something that I am really proud of.”
A New Challenge — Vista Equity Partners
In 2015 David moved from Kirkland, where he was a member of the Firm Committee, to Vista Equity Partners. In talking about the move, David says “I had one of the best legal jobs on earth and never thought I would leave Kirkland. I loved my clients and my colleagues. I got the one phone call that could make me rethink my future.”
David had been representing Vista since 2003. “The two co-founders of Vista, Robert Smith and Brian Sheth, had engineered a meteoric rise, built a terrific culture, and wanted me to have a senior leadership role in the continuing growth and future of Vista. It was an exciting opportunity for me and would provide me with a new set of professional development experiences.”
At Vista, David divides him time between leading the operational elements of the firm, advising on the business and legal aspects of Vista’s most important transactions, and developing Vista’s strategic planning and execution. “I am really enjoying Vista because I am involved in so many different aspects of the firm. My role here gives me new insights into being a lawyer.”
Forever a Kirkland-Man
David’s career is a testament to the Kirkland tradition of working hard and always jumping at new opportunities and new challenges. Having risen to become one of the top lawyers in the country, David’s new position at Vista allows him to bring the expertise he gained at Kirkland to a new forum. “I wouldn’t be where I am without the opportunities that Kirkland offered me. Kirkland gives young people the ability to take on responsibility and I am incredibly thankful for that.” We, too, are thankful to have David Breach as an alumnus.
Ben Ostapuk / Vice President, Director of Patent Litigation, Intel Corporation
Kirkland alum Ben Ostapuk recognizes the irony of a Philosophy major becoming the Director of Patent Litigation at Intel. Indeed, in a type of law known for its technical complexity, Ben’s decision in college to transfer away from Physics and into Philosophy didn’t make patent law an obvious career path. However, Ben’s multicultural family history and his innate listening and interpersonal skills, allow him to translate the complexities of patent law into an everyday language that is invaluable to his clients and business partners.
From Physics to Philosophy
Ben grew up in Tucson, Arizona in a family of high achieving lawyers. His mother, one of the first Latinas to enroll and graduate from the University of Arizona Law School, went on to become an Executive Director of a large non-profit and an Arizona State Senator. His father, a Polish-American with a deep reverence for the law, enjoyed a long and successful solo legal practice before becoming a magistrate judge.
Although Ben was raised by lawyers, he went off to Cornell to become a physicist. Ben recalls Cornell being “an incredible place. It was a place where everyone was smart and engaged and really interesting.” It was also a place where he “learned very quickly that I was not going to be the next great Noble Laureate for physics. The other people were just too smart.”
While humbled by the technical brilliance of some of his classmates, Ben realized that he was particularly effective in communicating complex ideas into digestible nuggets, and honed his writing and communication skills by pursuing a degree in Philosophy. It was not long after graduating that he decided to dive into the family business and head to Stanford for law school.
A Meandering Path to Kirkland
Evidencing an entrepreneurial spirit early in his career, Ben and some classmates cut out on their own and started a law firm after graduating Stanford Law. While an “enlightening experience,” Ben soon accepted his first civil-practice job at a small San Francisco office of a mid-size California firm. Soon after, he was recruited by the Palo Alto office of Skadden when they opened their Silicon Valley office in 1999. When their patent litigation practice didn’t take off as expected, Ben saw an opening when Kirkland opened its San Francisco office and decided to join the firm in 2003.
Joining the Kirkland IP Litigation Team
It was at Kirkland where Ben cut his teeth as a patent litigator. Joining Kirkland when the San Francisco office had only one partner and two associates (including him) on the IP team, he watched the San Francisco office transform into a large and important presence in the Bay area over the course of his seven years with the Firm. Ben remembers Kirkland always being an “education in excellence. Kirkland had some of the most gifted trial attorneys I had ever seen.”
Playing into his natural acumen for communicating the complex, Ben found that “the Kirkland IP team not only knew the science, it knew how to talk about it so that a judge and a jury would understand.” Beyond the top notch trial advocacy, there was “a sense that Kirkland attorneys were also important strategic advisors to their clients.” Amongst many others, Ben credits Greg Arovas for developing his IP litigation skills, and remembers Steven Johnson for mentoring him on professionalism and how to become an invaluable client advisor.
An Opportunity at Intel
In 2010, while on vacation in Japan, Ben got an email alerting him to an opportunity to join the in-house patent team at Intel. At first thinking this could prove an interesting client development opportunity, Ben took a meeting in Silicon Valley. On a perfect 75 degree California day, Ben had a great meeting, decided to plunge into the interview process, and was offered the position a few months later.
Having spent his first 4 years at Intel as a Patent Team Leader, Ben drew on his training at Kirkland to advise on litigation strategy and risk assessment. “Kirkland positioned me to have sound judgment on business risks and helped me develop my intuition on how to speak plainly to clients assessing the marketplace. In my years since leaving Kirkland it is all the more clear that my experience was really unique.”
Director of Patent Litigation at Intel
Recently promoted to Director of Patent Litigation, Ben now views himself as much a patent litigator as a “strategic business advisor.” Dealing with important issues in both Europe and China, the international scope of his work is something Ben relishes. “The personal nature of my work is really important. As someone who grew up in a multicultural home, having an ability to learn about another culture, to listen to people and understand their perspective — these things are really essential in my role. If you do not try to understand the people involved, you simply cannot be successful.”
Kim Taylor / Vice President and General Counsel, The University of Chicago
Kim Taylor is not someone who is afraid of change. Indeed, in a career of outstanding breadth and diversity, the one constant has been her willingness to face new challenges head on. From rising to be a top corporate partner at Kirkland's New York office, to a small practice in Cape Cod, and now as the General Counsel for the University of Chicago, Kim's career path may be unique, but her success has not been crafted alone. At each step, her career was also defined by the talented and dedicated colleagues that surrounded her.
Starting at Kirkland — A Great Group of People
After nine years on the west coast at The University of California, Kim began her career in Kirkland's New York office. Although in her 18 years at Kirkland she would see the office grow to over 350 attorneys, Kim joined the New York office in 1993 as the lone transactional associate in her review class, in an office of only 40 lawyers. What Kim remembers is that the office was "full of great people — smart, driven, scrappy people — lawyers who worked hard and gave their clients excellent advice, many of whom became my close friends." Early on, she was given significant responsibility and was expected to work hard and perform at a top level. "I loved it," Kim reflects, "Kirkland was an incredible place to start my career."
Kim remembers starting out on Citicorp Venture Capital deals with Steve Zide, Eunu Chun and Kirk Radke. While at Kirkland, Kim had the opportunity to work with many lawyers across several offices: Josh Korff, Kevin Treesh, Steve Fraidin, David Fox, Yosef Riemer, Scott Price, Patrick Gallagher, Linda Myers, David Eaton, Mike Edsall, Adrian van Schie, Walt Lohmann, Jennifer Morgan, Jai Agrawal, Vicki Hood, Markus Bolsinger and Ashley Gregory. "Kirkland attorneys are smart, strategic and commercial. We worked hard and we had fun. There was never a time when I finished a deal and wished that I worked for the firm on the on other side."
Despite consistently adding attorneys, Kim was always impressed with how Kirkland was able to grow the firm without sacrificing the culture that makes it unique. "Kirkland is a place where the attorneys become advisors and partners with their clients. There are no 'backroom' lawyers at Kirkland."
True to a spirit that takes on challenges, in her time at Kirkland, Kim became an influential attorney and leader. Not only did she become an important mentor to tons of junior attorneys, she also served in significant leadership roles, leaving an indelible mark on Kirkland's culture. Kim's legacy as a leader is significant — she served as the hiring partner for the New York office, a member of the Associate Review Committee, a member of the management committee of the New York Office and a co-founder of Kirkland's Women's Leadership Initiative.
A Move to Cape Cod and a New Opportunity
In 2009, after nearly 20 years of a fast-paced practice, two growing children, and a husband with a demanding career of his own as the Publisher for Town & Country Magazine, Kim's family changed directions. After years of traveling to Cape Cod and having family in the area, the family made the jump full time to the small beach community. "It was quite the transition to go from New York to this small vacation community" Kim recalls. "But, it was an important thing for my family."
The move did not mean an end to Kim's career. Instead, she joined a small, but sophisticated, practice at the firm Hilton & Bishop P.C. Kim continued to work with many of her clients, primarily from New York, on smaller matters that didn't warrant New York's billing rates. In several instances, Kim coordinated closely with her colleagues from Kirkland.
A retired deal lawyer from Boston met Kim on the Cape and asked her to represent the world renowned Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. Because of her deal background at Kirkland, the MBL asked Kim to operate as their in-house counsel as they went through the process of being acquired by the University of Chicago. Little did she know, the other side of the transaction foreshadowed a future opportunity. An opportunity that, once again, would demand Kim change directions and move her talents to a new organization.
The University of Chicago Comes Calling
In 2013, the University of Chicago began a search for a new General Counsel. Several months into the search the University reached out to Kim. The University was looking for someone who was not just an attorney, but could also act as a strategic advisor on a range of issues that spanned the University's international affiliations and government regulation of research, to student and medical privacy issues to environmental remediation and University litigation. Having seen her in action for the Marine Biological Laboratory, the University decided to call Kim.
At the University of Chicago, Kim has found a great fit. Advising on a range of issues, Kim says that she "draws on [her] time at Kirkland every single day." "At Kirkland I learned to parachute in to a particular situation and quickly get up to speed on the legal issues. I learned to collaborate with expert colleagues to assess the risks and put together a recommended plan for the client. I feel privileged to have worked with world class lawyers across broad range of fields."
Chicago is also an ideal home for her family. She and her husband and two children — now 13 and 11 — live in Hyde Park and the kids attend the Lab Schools. They all get to experience life in the University's community surrounded by new opportunities and new adventures.
Tony Richardson / Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge
“Adhere to the meritocracy.” This unique Kirkland philosophy spoke to Judge Tony Richardson when he decided to join Kirkland’s LA office in 1990. The idea that a lawyer’s success would not be defined by age or rank or background. The principle that if you were capable, worked hard and had unimpeachable character, you would be given an opportunity to prove yourself on any stage and in any company. “Adhere to the meritocracy”-- a concept displayed so brightly at the dawn of Kirkland’s LA office -- was what had defined Tony’s life as he rose within the legal profession. It also became an ethos that served as Tony’s North Star in shaping a career that has made a meaningful contribution to the legal world.
An Unlikely Beginning
Tony's improbable journey to becoming a Judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court started on James Island, South Carolina. Tony grew up in the segregated south, at a time where skin color was too often used to limit dreams and stifle potential. As one of fourteen children, Tony grew up in a family short on material means, but long on values and rich with love. It was also a family that revered education and sacrificed for its pursuit.
Tony's high school class was the first to be desegregated. Always possessing an innate intellect, Tony rapidly became a standout student. Winning oratorical contests and receiving grades that put him at the very top of his class, Tony remembers the mix of pride and pressure he felt in being a standard-bearer. The profound hope in proving that he was as capable -- more capable -- than anyone in the school; and the heavy weight of carrying a community's struggle on his young shoulders. But Tony did not feel alone. "I remember the teacher's -- black and white -- supporting me and pushing me and being fair to me."
One teacher in particular could see that Tony's talent needed to be challenged. Seeing Tony's deep reservoir of talent and ambition, Mr. Bennett demanded that Tony apply to Exeter Academy, the exotic Preparatory school in New Hampshire. Reluctantly, Tony applied and was accepted to a summer program. Over a summer at Exeter, Tony remembers "meeting people from all over the world and literally feeling the possibilities for my life expand in front of my eyes." Tony was soon accepted to the full-time program. While the choice to move his life to Exeter was painful because he envisioned standing on the desegregated stage as Valedictorian of his high school in South Carolina, he decided to "further my education" and moved himself to the Northeast.
The Law as a Calling
After graduating from Exeter, Tony was admitted to Harvard. After four great years, Tony knew that he had spent long-enough in the cold New England north, and was accepted to Stanford Law School. The choice to pursue a career in law was one made with conviction. "Growing up in the south everything was related to the law. The law was a powerful weapon -- it was through the law that one could be useful and could make changes." Following law school, Tony accepted a clerkship with Judge David Williams, the first black federal judge west of the Mississippi.
The Choice of Kirkland -- Mentors and the Meritocracy
Following what he calls "an incredible experience" with Judge Williams, Tony's choice of Kirkland, after working as an associate at two local LA law firms, was unlikely. Having just opened the LA office in 1989, Kirkland was a newcomer on the LA legal scene. But with "young, salt of the earth, and incredibly smart" attorneys like Jeff Davidson, Phil Swain, Cynthia Barnes, Alex MacKinnon, Mike Baumann, John Zakrinson, Martin Boles and Mary Blodgett, to name a few, the choice was clear. "They really believed in this notion of meritocracy -- that if you are capable, you should be given the opportunity. They also ingrained in me the notions of always treating people the right way and always representing myself and our clients with integrity."
Tony spent 17 years at Kirkland, having a successful litigation career and taking on several leadership positions within the firm. Tony thinks of Kirkland as "an amazing place that offers boundless opportunities for its people to fulfill their potential and for its lawyers, in particular, to grow into the best lawyers, professionals and people they can be."
Becoming a Judge
While being a trial lawyer was always a dream, Tony had long thought about being on the other side of the courtroom. With encouragement from his wife Diana -- an accomplished attorney and businesswoman in her own right and the person Tony credits for his success -- he began to express an interest in becoming a Judge. In California, however, one does not just "become a Judge." Indeed, the Governor himself has to appoint you, and Tony "didn't exactly have the Governor's phone number." But, Tony's work and reputation -- largely fostered during his years at Kirkland -- spoke loudly and echoed all the way to Sacramento. On Christmas Day, 2012, Tony got the call, telling him that Governor Jerry Brown had appointed him to serve as a Judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Being a Judge is Tony's "dream job." "Each person that leaves my courtroom should feel that I am interested in justice -- that even if a ruling did not go their way, I treated them fairly." In his three years as a Judge, a highlight has been when he was asked by a fellow Kirkland alum, Erin Brady, currently a partner in Jones Day's LA restructuring group, to preside over the adoption of their child. "What a glorious moment to be able to serve in that role for a friend," Tony recalls.
In a career that started on the distant salt water tributaries of James Island and has reached the heights of a Judgeship in Los Angeles, Judge Richardson reflects that "you really need only be limited by your own ambitions. You can rise above inequality. You need others to join you on your journey, but we really do live in a country where you can shape the direction of your life, notwithstanding your circumstances."
Lance C. Balk / Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Six Flags Entertainment Corporation
Lance Balk might be the only top executive in the theme park business with an undergraduate degree in philosophy. Who else among his cohorts brings a healthy dose of Nietzche and Kant to the thrills and spills of roller coaster rides?
The former Kirkland New York-based partner has been with Six Flags, the world's largest regional theme park company, since September 2010. With 18 parks in the United States, Mexico and Canada, the company boasts $1.1 billion in annual revenues.
After spending his childhood in the Toledo, Ohio area, Balk graduated from Northwestern in 1980. He went on to receive a prized joint J.D. and M.B.A. from the University of Chicago (1984).
Balk worked as a summer associate before officially joining Kirkland in 1984. Though his summer work was litigation, Balk soon found himself under the wings of "two exceptional leaders" in the corporate and private equity field, Glen Hess and Jack Levin. These two transactional giants were to have, Balk adds, "a monumental impact on the trajectory of the Firm," and on Balk's own career. Balk's career prospered under the tutelage of both men and their protégés such as Karl Lutz, and by 1989, he had been promoted to non-share partner.
Riding the market roller-coaster
His big move at Kirkland took place in January 1990, when Balk joined Glen Hess in helping to open the Firm's New York office. It was, he remembers, "quite a change, going from this large and cozy mothership in Chicago to these small and new offices in the First Boston Building at 52nd and Park." The timing turned out to be not entirely auspicious, for, as he recalls, "the buyout market went to hell just about then," driven by the downfall of Drexel Burnham Lambert.
So difficult was the prevailing market that Balk — along with future Kirkland senior litigation partner Joe Serino — was asked to help with the new office's bankruptcy work. Those pioneering days passed quickly and soon Balk had "not only a bundle of lifelong friends," but also some major clients, including Bain Capital. After serving as general counsel at Dade Behring and Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, Balk found himself recruited by one of those lifelong friends, Jim Reid-Anderson, "the CEO of a Bain Capital portfolio company," and Balk's future boss at Dade Behring and Six Flags.
A firm foundation for success
Lance credits Kirkland for giving him the best preparation possible for his job at Six Flags, beginning with "the Kirkland culture of excellence, the highest standard of performance imaginable."
By the time he joined Six Flags, headquartered in Grand Prairie, Texas, Balk had acquired experience in "finance, board of director-level service, and in handling SEC filings." His client work for Bain Capital also helped prepare him for his Six Flags job: "I was already working as a generalist, effectively as the GC for a host of Bain Capital portfolio companies."
An "amusing" career
Lance's career is most certainly impressive and his work for Six Flags is more than just a job. "Hey," says Balk, "Six Flags is a fun place too. Heck, how can it not be? You're making people happy! How many lawyers get to say that?"
Balk and his wife, who met as summer associates at Kirkland, have three sons, a home in Lake Forest, Illinois, and a summer camp in the Adirondacks near Lake Placid.
Chad Gunderson / Senior Counsel, Los Angeles Dodgers
By the time baseball-loving lawyer Chad Gunderson left Kirkland to join the legal team at the Los Angeles Dodgers, he and his dad Ron, a retired postal worker, had completed their goal of attending regular season games together at every Major League Baseball park. It turned out to be an eight-year odyssey that would result in a video documentary and lead to their being featured prominently in the pages of The New York Times and on CNN.
("It is a huge continent," was how "Sports of the Times" columnist George Vecsey began his tale of the traveling Gundersons.)
In the course of their journeys together, the Gundersons, father and son, became stadium food critics of sorts, Ron favoring the beef sandwiches from retired Baltimore Orioles slugger Boog Powell's barbecue at Camden Yards, while Chad preferred the turkey legs at the Tampa Bay Ray's domed park. Both, however, loved the Dodger Dog and voted it number one in their video "Wiener Challenge."
How appropriate then that Chad would soon find himself a Dodger. Joining a team led by manager, and former AL All-Star first baseman, Don Mattingly — his childhood idol — and featuring young stars Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp, Chad is today focused on helping the Dodgers make a run at the title of 2013 World Champions.
It's been some ride, especially for a boy from Aberdeen, South Dakota (population 26,091). Fortunately, the boy from Aberdeen was born with baseball in his blood. Chad was a serious martial arts enthusiast from the age of 8 and an aspiring, if unfulfilled, baseball player as well. ("My arm couldn't get me to the majors," he laments, "so I had to take a different route.")
As befits a die-hard Dodger fan, when Chad finally left South Dakota, it was for Los Angeles, where he hoped to make his name acting in Tinseltown. Small parts in film and television and in commercials followed. By 2004, he knew it was time to settle down and start a family. That's when Chad began law school at UCLA.
After that, good things started to happen. A campus interview with Kirkland's Guy Ruttenberg led to a summer associateship and then a full-time job as a first year in the fall of 2007. There, he worked with Hamed Meshki and Samantha Good in corporate and debt financing.
Everyone at Kirkland LA knew that the energetic young associate was a serious baseball fan: "I wear my love for the game on my sleeves." Chad wasn't the only passionate baseball fan around either: So too were Guy Ruttenberg and the late Chris Almand ("albeit for the rival Giants"). Almand, in particular, became a role model for Chad: "Chris's work ethic and attention to detail inspired me. I don't know that I'd be here today without him."
It was Ruttenberg who had the connections that would lead straight to Dodger Stadium. Ruttenberg, it turned out, was good friends with Warren Leonard of the Dodgers legal department. When a job opened there, Leonard asked his buddy for a recommendation. Ruttenberg didn't have far to go: Chad Gunderson's baseball memorabilia-filled office was right next door: "Guy asked me if I was interested — and after I woke-up from passing out — I said, 'Ah-Yeah!'"
Needless to say, he got the job. Today as senior counsel, Chad works on a host of legal issues for the team including sponsorship agreements, license agreements, contracts, service agreements, purchase agreements for giveaways (Bobbleheads, team travel bags and the like), trademarks, and location agreements with movie production companies and television shows.
It's a lot of work, but as far as Chad Gunderson is concerned, "There is no downside to this job." This, after all, is a man who proposed marriage on his knees — in a ballpark during the fourth game of the World Series, accompanied by cheers from the bleachers.
His parting words: "Go, Dodgers!"