Pamela Chepiga, Partner, Allen & Overy LLP
How long have you been working for your current company?
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
A law school professor told me that I should follow in his footsteps and become a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York (SDNY). An internship there in my third year of law school confirmed his diagnosis.
I arrived at the SDNY US Attorney's office following a clerkship and a two-year stint at a law firm. My first week there I was assigned to assist Jed Rakoff on the trial of a securities fraud case. I loved it and have specialized in the securities/financial fraud area ever since. In 2003 I came to Allen & Overy with a former colleague from the SDNY and have set about building a financial institutions practice focused on regulatory, civil and criminal work – and the interstices between.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Being named Chief of the SDNY's Securities and Commodities Fraud Unit – big shoes to fill and a great group of colleagues.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
Challenge: Convincing potential clients that a great global law firm like Allen & Overy is also a great "local" firm in New York.
Overcoming this challenge: Grow the practice with New York partners like David Esseks and Michael Feldberg, and emphasize my "Brooklyn accent".
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
Juggling the work-life balance led me to teaching law for a number of years. The academic world offered a sane pace and real summer vacations. However when my "kiddies" were older I eagerly jumped back into the fray. Even the brightest students are no match for opposing counsel and judges in keeping one sharp.
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?
Judge John E. Sprizzo was my evidence and civil procedure professor. He was my first mentor and pushed me to the US Attorney's Office. Early in my career I was fortunate enough to also be mentored by Judge Amalya Kearse, then the only woman litigation partner in any significant New York law firm, Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy for whom I clerked and the legendary Robert B. Fiske, Jr., who as US Attorney hired me and many other women in an office where women had historically been excluded.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
Corporate diversity initiatives are an excellent way to open the door. Once opened, however, chemistry, drive and talent will dictate whether the initiative takes hold.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
Being a woman litigator is both an advantage and a disadvantage. It plays out differently every day in every case.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
The most significant change has been in the number of women pursuing a legal career.
Pamela Chepiga is a ranked lawyer in the Chambers USA Guide.