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"I’m proud of making partner, particularly since I took a rather nontraditional path to partnership and made partner while working an alternative schedule."

Lei Shen, 40, Mayer Brown, Chicago

Practice area: Cybersecurity and data privacy; technology transactions.

Law School: Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, 2006.

How long have you been at the firm? 13 years.

How long were you an associate at the firm? 11 years.

Were you an associate at another firm before joining your present firm? No.

What year did you make partner at your current firm? 2018.

What’s the biggest surprise you experienced in becoming partner? There’s much more going on behind the scenes to keep the business running than I had realized as a younger associate. Partners spend a considerable amount of time doing business development and on administrative matters, in addition to regular billable work.

What do you think was the deciding point for the firm in making you partner? As is the case with most attorneys who make partner, there was not a single deciding factor for me. Rather, I believe it was a combination of my overall performance, my demonstrated commitment to doing business development and my subject matter expertise in a growing area. I have always been a very dedicated and hard-working attorney who received great performance reviews, but that by itself doesn’t get you promoted to partner. I think what made me stand out was the amount of business development I was doing as an associate and my expertise in data privacy. As I became more senior, I started getting my name out by frequently writing articles and doing speaking engagements. In addition, I took a risk early in my career and began focusing on data privacy. Data privacy was not a “hot” area at the time but was simply an area that I was very interested in and passionate about—it became an important area of focus for clients and the firm by the time I was up for partnership.

Describe how you feel about your career now that you’ve made partner. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to work in an area that I find so fascinating and that is complex and constantly evolving. I’m also proud of making partner, particularly since I took a rather nontraditional path to partnership and made partner while working an alternative schedule. I hope more working parents will have the opportunity to work an alternative schedule if needed and advance at their own pace.

What’s the key to successful business development in your opinion? It’s a combination of delivering excellent client service and building authentic relationships. Develop a reputation for providing solid, practical advice and excellent work product for your clients. Also, focus on networking and building relationships, but be genuinely interested in the people you meet. Don’t pursue relationships with only revenue generation in mind. While that may be a welcome byproduct of networking, that should not always be your immediate goal. You never know when the people in your network may recommend you to someone. In fact, a lot of my business has come in through referrals in addition to directly from the people I know.

What’s been the biggest change, day-to-day, in your routine since becoming partner? Although I did a lot of business development as a senior associate, I spend even more time on business development now as a partner, in addition to administrative matters. There has been a definite shift in focus from doing client work to also prioritizing the business aspect of the firm.

Who had the greatest influence in your career that helped propel you to partner? The greatest influence in my career has been Rebecca Eisner, who is a partner here at Mayer Brown and is now on the firm’s management committee. She has been an amazing mentor to me ever since I was a junior associate. When I became interested in data privacy early in my career, she was the one who encouraged me to pursue this specialty and guided me. When I had my children, she made sure I was able to balance being a mother and working at a large law firm. And when I was up for partner, she was my sponsor and advocate. She has been a wonderful supporter of working parents and for retaining high-quality attorneys at the firm.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give an associate who wants to make partner? Take control of your own career. Find a subject matter that you’re very interested in and become an expert in it. Learn all you can about it and take on all the projects you can in that area. But don’t pick an area simply because it’s a “hot” area. You will need to dedicate a lot of nonbillable time to developing a subject matter expertise, so if you’re not genuinely interested in it, it will be hard to devote the time necessary to truly succeed.


Reprinted with permission from the March 13, 2019 edition of © 2019 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited