Using Your JD on Wall Street

By Michael Tenenhaus and Victoria Gokhman

On March 3, 2022, we moderated a panel for the New York City Bar Association featuring attorneys working at Wall Street firms. This article summarizes some high-level takeaways from the program as well as our own experience and industry knowledge.

An Alternative Career Path

A law degree offers the flexibility to work in numerous settings beyond the traditional law firm. The financial services industry continues to be a large source of hiring of both law students and practicing attorneys. Such employers include investment banks, private equity funds, hedge funds, wealth management firms, bond rating agencies and government regulatory agencies. These employers each present various opportunities for lawyers to utilize their training in legal, non-legal and hybrid capacities. For example, an attorney at an investment bank may work directly on the business side as an investment banker working on mergers & acquisitions and capital raises. Alternatively, an attorney may join the compliance division at an investment bank. Compliance jobs span across various divisions, including working with policies and procedures to ensure compliance with anti-money laundering rules (AML compliance) or working within a business line such as the fixed-income division in an advisory role navigating the regulatory environment. Additionally, attorneys work within wealth management divisions, providing guidance on tax, investment and estate planning matters. Law students and lawyers can actively take steps to position themselves for a career on Wall Street.     

How Law Students Can Best Position Themselves

While some students enter law school with a financial background, others do not know the difference between a stock and a bond. Both sets of students can actively position themselves for a successful career on Wall Street after graduation. Courses in corporate finance, securities regulation, tax, estate planning, financial modeling, and accounting for lawyers will provide a foundation. While interning at a Wall Street firm will clearly set one on the right path, excellent building blocks also include interning at a regulator, industry trade group or government entity such as the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), the Federal Reserve, FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) or a state department of financial services.

Lastly, consider taking a FINRA exam. While a Series 7 exam would require sponsorship, other exams such as the introductory-level Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) exam do not. Passing this exam can demonstrate knowledge and potentially increase your marketability in the financial services industry. 

Practicing Attorneys Looking to Enter Wall Street

For practicing attorneys who did not start their careers on Wall Street, there are a number of possible avenues they can take to position themselves for a career in finance. Whether you are a litigator looking to go in-house at a fund, or an M&A attorney at a firm wanting to pivot to investment banking, it is important that you are able to articulate your rationale for wanting to make a move, and do so in a way that is compelling to your future employer. During the interview, you will want to highlight ways in which the skills you honed in your current role can be applied to the new position, drawing from specific examples. For example, while an attorney’s day-to-day may look very different from an investment banker’s, a number of commonalities do exist: process management, client management, drafting skills, attention to detail and the ability to keep on top of fast-paced workstreams.

For those looking to make this change at a more senior level, it is important to note that there will be an expectation of a deeper understanding of the product knowledge of the role, and so for many it may make sense to accept a position at a lower seniority than their current role.  

Finally, don’t be shy about reaching out to people in your network for help and leveraging the relationships you have made on the job. In fact, attorneys often go to work in-house at their Wall Street clients. Informational interviews can go a very long way, and people are often more willing than you might expect to spend time giving advice and answering questions. There are many people who genuinely want to pay it forward.

How to Gain Knowledge about the Industry

Outside of taking the foundational law school courses listed above, there is a wealth of information available for those who choose the self-study route to gain a better understanding of the financial services industry:        

  • The Vault Guide to Finance Interviews is an excellent starting point for those looking for practical advice on preparing for interviews as well as in-depth sample questions and practice cases.
  • Keeping up with current business news with a Wall Street Journal subscription, or reading the business section of your preferred news source is another way to boost your knowledge base of the finance sector.
  • The past few years have seen a growth in social media content related to finance. There are YouTube channels dedicated to teaching viewers about financial literacy in an entertaining and easily digestible manner. Similarly, LinkedIn is another place where people share content and opinions on finance-related topics. It can also be used as a springboard for offering your own insight and growing your network.
  • For those interested in investment banking, “The 400 Investment Banking Interview Questions & Answers You Need to Know” is a helpful guide and is available online.

Finally, for those looking to break into the regulatory or compliance space, subscribing to alerts from regulators like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Federal Reserve, as well as the law firms that serve clients in this area, are great ways to keep abreast of the current regulatory landscape.

Michael Tenenhaus, Esq., Associate Director of Career & Professional Development, Brooklyn Law School

Michael joined the BLS Career Development Center in June 2017 following five years as a corporate bankruptcy associate at both Kasowitz Benson and Seward & Kissel. Prior to receiving his law degree, Mr. Tenenhaus worked in the Investment Banking division of Bear Stearns where he worked on M&A and corporate finance transactions. Mr. Tenenhaus serves as a member of the Career Advancement & Management Committee at the NYC Bar Association.

Victoria Gokhman, Esq., Senior Professional Development Manager, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

Victoria joined the Professional Development Department of Paul, Weiss in February 2017 after practicing in corporate finance for several years at both Debevoise & Plimpton and Clifford Chance. Ms. Gokhman serves as a member of the Career Advancement & Management Committee at the NYC Bar Association.