Despite my family background—my father chairs the bankruptcy practice at a top Washington, DC, firm and my mother is a staff lawyer at the Securities and Exchange Commission—I did not grow up with the intention of attending law school. Although our family conversations often centered on law-related subjects, the underlying commercial business concerns that drove my parents’ work are what captivated me, not the legalities. I there- fore focused my education in a different direction.
After completing high school, I earned a BS with a concentration in finance from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton undergraduate program, where I excelled academically and was president of Wharton Women my senior year. My two most significant summer internships were both with Citigroup, first in Manhattan and later in Buenos Aries, where I deepened my finance knowledge while improving my already-strong Spanish language skills. When I graduated in 2009 amidst a grim job market, I was able to land a global banking analyst position in Citigroup’s New York office.
The summer before I began at Citigroup, I gathered with my family for the Fourth of July weekend at my grandparents’ cottage in Minnesota. With my Wall Street position not commencing until after Labor Day, I decided to remain at the cottage with my grandparents after the rest of my family had gone home, and planned to spend my days reading on their dock. One day, I picked up Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco, the famous thriller about the company’s hostile takeover in 1988, and found myself immediately engrossed in the story.
When I finished the book a few days later, my grandfather, who is a retired judge, asked me what I had thought of it—and especially of the lawyers in the story. Having read the story with my usual focus on the finance side of things, I replied that I had noted only that the lawyers were present in their “traditional supporting role.” We chatted about the book a little longer, and then, just as he was turning in for the night, my grandfather made a comment that changed how I viewed my new job—and even my intended career. He explained that most people see lawyers as technocrats who simply create a paper trail for their clients’ transactions, but then added, “In fact, a lawyer’s real job is to bring wisdom to the turmoil.” I lay in bed that night for several hours, mulling over the book from a completely new angle and totally reevaluating my original assessment of the lawyers’ role in the events it described. Although my grandfather and I did not revisit our conversa- tion again before I left to begin my job at the end of the summer, I never really stopped thinking about it, and I returned to Citigroup with some new perspectives stirring in the back of my mind.
Six months later, I was part of a group of overworked bankers, auditors, and lawyers who were still up at 3:00 a.m., frantically scrambling to close a major deal, when suddenly we hit a serious snag. Almost immediately, tempers began to flare. A significant piece of the deal hung in the balance, and the underlying reason for the transaction was severely undermined. Surveying the angry, chaotic scene, I noticed that the lawyers from both sides had separated themselves from the fray and gathered in the corner, speaking purposefully yet calmly. A few minutes later, the lead partner announced that the lawyers might have identified a solution. “Everyone go home and get some sleep,” he said. “We’ll have something for you by 10 tomorrow morning.” And they did. As a result, we were able to make just a modest adjustment to the deal and close as originally scheduled. My grandfather’s words again rang in my head: when everyone else had become overwhelmed and lost focus, the lawyers had managed to “bring wisdom to the turmoil.”
Since then, I have become more and more interested in earning a JD. I have had extensive conversations on the topic with my parents and my grandfather, and I have found myself working more closely with the lawyers on my transactions than with any of the other bankers—and thoroughly enjoying it. More than once, lawyers have told me that they have never met an investment banker as interested in the law as I am. After three years on Wall Street, I have truly enjoyed my career in finance, but I now recognize that I want more. In the short term, I want to join with others who share my enthusiasm for the law in pursuit of a JD and bring my collaborative nature and background in finance to the law school community. In the long term, I want my work to be imbued with wisdom, and this fuels my desire to earn a law degree. I may not have started out wanting to be a lawyer, but I have come to realize that this career path is indeed the right one for me, and I am eager to make the transition.
Jeremy Shinewald is the founder of jdMission, an admissions consulting firm that helps applicants get into law school. This article is excerpted from his book, The Complete Start-To-Finish Law School Admissions Guide.