View from the Top - Beatrice OíBrienNew York based lawyer and founder of Attorney Placements International and New York & California Bar Review Quality Programs, Beatrice O'Brien, left Sydney eight-years ago to pursue her dream to work at a major Wall Street law firm. She realized this dream a few years ago, and along the way found a way to make it easier for ex-pats who have the same destiny in mind. She speaks with Matthew Smith about the semi-worn path for budding lawyers from Australia to Manhattan.
So what led you to New York in the first place?
I came to New York at the end of 2000 from Australia. I did it the hard way; basically I went around to every law firm [in New York] asking for a job I found it to be a very tough path, especially with kids, to practice in a Wall Street law firm. First of all I was lucky enough to get interviews, which doesnít happen with a lot of candidates.
And you finally got accepted to a firm in New York?
I got offered a position with Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft, which to me sounded perfect because I was interested in restructuring and reorganization. Rue Rinsky, who would have been, and probably still is, one of the top players in the restructuring world actually headed that department, and I worked for him so it was great experience. I spent two-years or so there and decided it wasnít really for me.
Then what did you do?
While I was working I had a lot of friends from Australia and elsewhere asking me what it was like [getting a job at a Wall Street law firm]. I always got the sense that people wanted to have experience working overseas, and that London was easier and New York was a little harder. So while I was there I started developing a side business to help Australians get qualifications in New York.
So what exactly do you offer?
I offer two things, I created something called the New York Bar Review Quality Program, which I started at the end of 2003 to train Australian law graduates to pass the bar exams in New York and California. Six-months later I started Attorney Placements International LLC because of the demand for candidates to join law firms after completing the Bar exam looking for job opportunities in the U.S. and London. There was clearly a need for foreign qualified candidates with common law degrees wanting to be qualified in New York or California.
How many graduates have you helped pass the Bar over here?
Since the end of 2003 Iíd say an average of 300 per year have completed the Quality Review Program. Sixty per cent of those are Australians, 25 per cent from the UK, the remainder from Hong Kong, with smaller proportion from places like Pakistan, India, Nigeria and Quebec. So far Iíd say a little less than 1,000 people in total.
Are Aussies known as quality candidates to partners at U.S. firms?
A lot of companies here didnít expect the quality, but I am finding they are very surprised.
Do you offer some sort of guarantee for passing the Bar for people who do your program?
If the person fails, which we hope they donít, we say you can sit the bar again, free of charge coming from our program. So if they fail, we basically give them the opportunity to repeat it. We have had some failures, but only because they havenít studied.
What arrangements have you made to in the US that enables you to offer this bar program?
I have exclusive agreements with various lecturers here in New York I am a member of the Committee for Legal Education andAdmission to the Association ofthe Bar of the City of New York. There are various universities that support this whole program, I am not comfortable going into any more detail there The most important part of this for me was ensuring the arrangements are exclusive, and then having the confidence when I went to Australia to market this.
What have been some barriers you have found marketing this program to Australians?
Iíve had to explain to candidates that a professional path to the US is not as hard as people have made it out in the past. I wanted to bring the attitude to Australian candidates that you can do this, you can work in New York and earn the dollars you want to earn, and why not? Thatís a real sort of American attitude I think, and I noticed it was a bit hard when I first went to Australia and started marketing this. From the first session there was a lot of students wanting to try it out for the sake of seeking what itís about, and now itís just inundation and we are really culling people who are not ready.
Where did you graduate law school?
I graduated from Bond University in 1998.
Then what did you do?
I went off to work at KPMG Legal, a consultant to KPMG, after working for Philips Fox while I was studying.
How intensive is the New York Bar exam?
The examination itself is two days, six hours each day.
Sounds like a blast.
Itís extremely rigorous and very taxing. Itís like a marathon, you really have to stick to it and I find there is a lot of had holding on our part. You find students that are very smart, and really know their stuff, and itís just trying to keep those candidates on the right path and keeping them positive.
Do you have a sense for the number of senior partners working in the US that are Australian?
There are a few I either know or I have placed at law firms including Freshfields [Bruckhaus Deringer], DLA Piper, Seyfarth Shaw. Recently I placed two senior Australians who had left Minter Ellison in San Francisco to join Seyfarth Shaw. In that example it was really an acquisition by Seyfarth Shaw with the two main guys leaving and bringing a good sized portable business.
Do you place people in firms outside the US as well?
Yes, Iím currently working with a high profile partner at the moment who is seeking to move out of the firm based in Tokyo, looking to move to a UK based firm. There is also a law firm in India wanting to merge with a UK based firm.
Youíve been here over seven years, do you intend to return to Australia?
Things are going well here. Iíd love to go back to live one day and I feel there is a place in Australia, especially because my husband [Timothy OíBrien] part owns a national pub chain back home [P J OíBrienís], I still see moving back as the end goal. But the way things are going it makes it pretty hard at the moment. I have three kids as well and we are enjoying New York.
Author : Matthew Smith