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Spotlight Luncheon on Finance and Banking

Bruce Czachor ’87, J. Keith Fell ’79, and Mark J. Ashenfelter ’85, presented three very different views of careers in banking and finance at the Spotlight Luncheon on Finance and Banking on November 9, 2006.

Mr. Czachor, a partner at Shearman & Sterling, represents companies and investment banks in a very broad range of industries, including software, biotechnology and medical devices, telecommunications, cable, entertainment, energy, forest products, and mining.

He said that he works “sometimes with big sexy companies like TimeWarner and sometimes for small companies you never heard of at all.”

“I like what I do. It’s a hectic job and it’s very demanding,” Mr. Czachor commented.

Mr. Czachor described the requirements for this kind of very diverse practice as flexibility and a knowledge of how to manage clients.

“It’s goal-oriented work,” he noted.

Mr. Czachor added that he enjoyed transactional work more than litigation because transactional work involves different parties working together to find a solution, as opposed to acting as adversaries.

“It’s a win/win situation,” he said.

J. Keith Fell, CEO and President of Hilton Capital Management LLC, admitted that he was drawn into the world of finance and banking by the lure of high salaries and bonuses.

“I had some friends down on Wall Street who were making a lot of money,” he recalled. “I thought, maybe I’ll give this a whirl for a while.”

Mr. Fell discovered quickly that he also enjoyed the work. Mr. Fell went into a training program at Paine Webber and then moved to Merill Lynch & Co. and later Dresdner Bank. Mr. Fell reminded the students to remember that “there’s opportunity everywhere and anywhere.”

He said the need for lawyers in investment banking has “exploded” because of the complexity of structuring deals due to regulatory and compliance rules. There is, however, one drawback for attorneys in investment banking.

“We look at the lawyers as non-producing assets,” Mr. Fell said. “We need them, but not at bonus time, but that’s kind of the way the world works. The producers get the rewards.”

Mr. Fell also does a lot of the recruiting work at his company. He told the students that he has developed a set of criteria that help him measure how a person thinks about issues and problems and the extent of that person’s ability to digest a lot of information. He pointed out that these are skills developed in law school.

“Lawyers just breeze through a lot of these things that others may struggle with,” he commented.

“It’s great to be a lawyer,” he added, “but it doesn’t preclude you from a business career.”

Mr. Fell said that expertise in tax law was incredibly valuable and urged the students to think about business in a broader, more interdisciplinary way.

As Senior Vice President of Haebler Capital, a private equity investment house, Mark J. Ashenfelter works for just one family.

Originally when he joined his first firm, Cravath Swain & Moore, Mr. Ashenfelter was given a choice of “litigation or litigation.” Circumstances changed, and he was assigned to the Trusts and Estates Department. When he moved to Cadwalder, Wickersahm & Taft, the family whose work he handled at Cravath Swain followed him to the new firm. Eventually, the family hired him away from the firm.

“It helped very much that my boss and I were the exact same age and began our careers at the same time,” Mr. Ashenfelter said.

His work is extremely diverse and often unpredictable.

“I never know what I’m going to do on a particular day,” he commented. “Some days are boring. We’re a small office, but overall, it’s very rewarding.”

At the end of the panel discussion, Dean Richard A. Matasar noted that alumni serve as role models for students, and their stories are important to show all the things people can do in the practice of law.

“Stories are an important way of marking what a law school is all about,” Dean Matasar said. “These stories show the importance and the value of a law school education and also illustrate the entrepreneurial spirit and self-starter nature that characterizes New YorkLawSchool students and graduates.”