Alyssa Gallot, Partner, Baker & McKenzie
How long have you been working for your current company?
I joined Baker & McKenzie in 1998.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
After completing law school in the United States (Marquette University, Wisconsin), I was in-house counsel for Value Merchants, a retailer listed on the NYSE and parent company of "Toy Liquidators" and "Everything's A Dollar, Inc.", operating numerous retail outlets throughout the United States. After Value Merchants filed for Chapter 11 and was subsequently liquidated, I took a position as in-house counsel for Catalyst International, a warehouse management software developer with operations in the United States, the UK, the Netherlands, Italy and France. During my time at Catalyst, I began working with Baker & McKenzie as my international law firm. I subsequently moved to France in 1997 for personal reasons and worked in Catalyst's French office. In 1998, I decided that I wanted to relocate to Paris and find a new professional challenge and spoke with my Baker & McKenzie Paris contacts to investigate other in-house career possibilities. As it turns out, Baker & McKenzie had a need at that time for a US Securities lawyer and after applying for the position, I was hired. My practice then developed much more on the M&A front and less on the Securities front until it became almost exclusively M&A, with a focus on cross-border acquisitions for industrials and private equity funds, as well as on joint ventures, strategic partnerships and venture capital work in the biotech sector.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Passing the French Bar to become an "avocat" and being made partner in a country that is not my birthplace but has become my home, both of which were great challenges but provided personal and professional satisfaction.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
M&A is largely a male-dominated area, so being respected as a lawyer playing on the same level as my male counterparts is a consistent challenge. I try to overcome this challenge by staying feminine and using notably female skills such as the ability to reach consensus and compromise in negotiations. One of my clients once called me their "secret weapon" because the first time that they came to the negotiation table (which was surrounded by only men) with me, it destabilized the adverse party and they didn't know how to behave!
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
When I started doing M&A, I knew that there would be periods of time during which I just wouldn't have a life! I try to remain connected to work even when I am not physically in the office and try not to be a slave to the office when I do not have to be, even if I know that when a deal goes live, all bets are off! Electronic means of communication allow one to stay connected and spend a bit of time at home now, as compared to when I first started practicing. Of course, the downside of this is that one is rarely entirely "free"… I generally believe that women are more talented than men at multi-tasking and I believe that this, together with my sense of organization, is a help to me in the work-life balance. Of course, I should say that I don't have children, so I cannot really speak to how having and raising children changes the work-life balance issue.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
I was fortunate to have worked in a law firm the year before I started law school, doing "runner" type work and general research and administration tasks; the partners I worked with offered me a clerkship in my first year of law school, so I was able to see the practical and business side of law very early on. I don't know if I'd say that I had a mentor per se, but I worked with some great young lawyers that showed me that law didn't need to be stuffy and boring and could also be a lot of fun.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
I'm never convinced that women initiatives are as effective as they should be, because I sometimes feel that by singling women out, these initiatives somehow alienate us from the rest. We see increasingly high numbers of women graduating from law schools and filling associate positions, yet these numbers are not reflected in the partner population in law firms, so I don't think we're there yet. I don't really know what would be the most effective way to make this happen but I think that as women, we need to recognize that we still have a way to go to effect a real change...
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
There is no particular point in time that I would say it was a particular advantage or disadvantage. I am a woman who did make it to partner, so I cannot say that my career was blocked at some level due to my sex. I do find that being a woman does sometimes make developing new clients more difficult, especially when a lot of our potential assigning GCs are men - when I was younger, I remember feeling like I always need to overcome being viewed as someone's daughter (or worse, granddaughter!), instead as a potential legal advisor.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
I cannot think of any changes in the legal industry that I would attribute as being "for women"! As I mentioned above, I see a change in the way we do business generally due to the increasing use of electronic means of communication, which on the one hand allows us much more flexibility in the organization of our time and on the other hand, means that we are always "on". Electronic means of communication has also made communication with clients a bit less formal, and created an expectation of immediacy in response, which I am not always sure is a good thing. Again, I do not think that any of this is unique to women.