October 06, 2021

How I Made Partner: 'I Took a Longer and Less Straightforward Path to Partnership,' Says Esther Chang of Mayer Brown


How long have you been at the firm?

I joined Mayer Brown LLP towards the end of January in 2018. I was promoted to partner in November 2020, effective Jan. 1, 2021.

Were you an associate at another firm before joining your present firm?

I was an associate at Baker & McKenzie, September 2007-August 2013, and Greenberg Traurig, August 2013-January 2018.

What’s the biggest surprise you experienced in becoming partner?

I was most surprised about two aspects of partnership that I hadn’t really appreciated as an associate. First is the amount of collaboration amongst the partners that goes on behind the scenes, especially with regards to pitching for new matters and before prospective clients. Second is how quickly I was integrated into the partnership. I felt very welcomed and was quickly incorporated into a position to contribute meaningfully to the partnership during my very first week. Partners started reaching out to me as soon as the new year had passed in regards to new matters, connecting me with partners in other practice groups and in other offices that were looking for expertise in specific areas. While I was fairly integrated into the firm already, the introductions greatly facilitated my transition to partnership.

What do you think was the deciding point for the firm in making you partner?

As with all candidates, firms are looking for a variety of factors in deciding when and whether to make someone a partner. And as a woman of color, I believe that is even more true for women and minorities in the legal industry. In addition to ensuring that all of the “so-called” boxes are checked, as individuals certainly differ from one another, if there was one factor that stood out in my partnership promotion application, I believe that it would be my energy and interpersonal skills. I am often told that I bring a lot of energy to the table, whether at work, when volunteering at my alma mater or in my personal life. And so, while this may be simply one factor when evaluating “the totality of the circumstances”—harkening back to our time as law students—I am a naturally energetic and social person who has greatly enjoyed the practice of law, enjoy collaborating with my colleagues, and enjoy the learning and advising process involved in completing a deal for our clients.

Describe how you feel now about your career now that you’ve made partner.

I took a longer and less straightforward path to partnership than one would ideally follow. Each lateral move I made extended the path, and yet each were necessary in order to steer my practice in a slightly different direction. When it was time to put me up for partnership, I wasn’t sure whether partnership would be any different than my experience as an associate, at least in terms of my day-to-day practice as an M&A lawyer. And, in many regards, that has not changed. But, I did feel a renewed source of energy when I first learned that I was being elevated to partnership. And that source of energy has been so welcome as we continue to muddle through the pandemic. Additionally, I feel as if my experience, patience and perseverance have not gone unnoticed, and that feels very rewarding, more so than I had anticipated it would.

What’s the key to successful business development in your opinion?

There are two aspects to business development that I have found to be important in my career. The first is to develop the skill set that will serve as the foundation for my business development efforts (after all, as service providers, we are essentially selling our services), and the second is to develop and maintain a network of contacts from which to develop business. Both can be progressed even in the pandemic. By way of example, over the course of the past year we have seen a real emergence of deSPAC transactions (whereby a blank check company combines with a privately held operating company to become a publicly traded operating company). Many of the participants, from sponsors to their advisers (whether legal, M&A advisory or as placement agents) in this space have both developed and marketed their expertise in the midst of the pandemic. This very real-world and readily accessible example illustrates that it is both possible to develop a new set of skills in a pandemic and to market these skills in response to the market. Don’t be afraid to jump into different areas of the law, to reach out to colleagues to further your own education, and to become a resource for others learning more about a new and different area of the law. Or take this as a guide to leaning into your existing practice areas and to become a resource for clients and prospective clients alike. Being open to jumping into the deSPAC transaction space at Mayer Brown has given me the ability to develop an additional skill set during the pandemic.

Who had the greatest influence in your career that helped propel you to partner?

I am fortunate to have had a number of influencers throughout my career, each of which have been important to encouraging me to stay with my own path towards partnership. And as my career path has not been linear and has not been trodden at only one firm, I really could do no one justice and would do more than one person a disservice by naming only one person as having helped propel me to partner. Some of my mentors have known me since I was a summer associate (and yes, we still keep in touch regularly) and others I only met during my time at Mayer Brown. Each of my mentors has been invaluable in shaping me as a lawyer and in helping me along my path to partnership. For each of my mentors, I am truly grateful. I could not have done it without their example, guidance and support.

What advice you could give an associate who wants to make partner?

Find your mentors early and do so along each stage of your career. They are an essential part of your path to partnership. Ask your mentors for an assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. Your strengths will go into your business plan. Your weaknesses are areas to work on so that you can also strengthen your business plan. And, find clients that you enjoy working with and with whom you can grow your practice. Clients that want to support your promotion to partnership are clients who will speak out in your favor. Supporting reviews from unsolicited parties will not go unnoticed, and are immensely valuable.

Reprinted with permission from the October 6, 2021 edition of Law.com © 2021 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

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