On Campus

Cold Call with Lauren Shohat and Tracy Branding

This week, Patrick Erker meets up with two friends from across the river, Harvard Law School students Lauren Shohat and Tracy Branding.

CPE: First, tell me a bit about yourselves—where you’re from, where you went to college, what you did before coming to HLS.

Tracy: I grew up in Libertyville, IL, which is about an hour north of Chicago. I went to Vanderbilt University where I majored in Communication of Science and Technology. At Vanderbilt I was captain of the Vanderbilt dance team and had a fantastic experience. College was great. Then I went straight through to law school and am now a third year at HLS.

Lauren: I’m originally from Miami, FL. I went to Duke for undergrad, and graduated in 2007. After that I moved to New York and worked in corporate marketing at JP Morgan. I worked on marketing projects that spanned across multiple lines of business. That was cool because I was exposed to all the different lines of business while I was there. And my role was sort of unique in that my boss lived in Baltimore while I was living in New York so I did a lot of independent work.

And then I came here because I found that the in-house lawyers at JP Morgan were some of the happiest people I’d ever met, and so I decided I wanted to be a corporate lawyer. I didn’t realize at the time that they were so happy because they had left miserable 24/7 jobs and now finally had normal hours at JP Morgan.

Tracy: They didn’t realize it was a long trek to get there.

CPE: You’re both taking Deals this semester. Since the class is split fairly evenly between law and business students, you have a good basis of judgment to compare—which school’s students are smarter? Or if you’d rather be political: how are they different?

Lauren: I will say, I’m mathematically challenged so when I watch somebody analyze a financial model and quickly run numbers in their head at lightning speed, I find it to be very impressive. I wouldn’t say that makes them more intelligent, but it’s skill I don’t have so I’m constantly impressed by that. I do think that, based on my experience at negotiation workshop at the law school—which admittedly is a little more focused on interpersonal skills and more touchy feely—comparing that experience with negotiating with law students to the negotiation course here, I would say that HBS students are much more willing to play hard-ball and much more strategy-driven and aggressive.

Tracy: In terms of who’s smarter, I would say that on average, and this is a big generalization, that HBS students tend to be a little more “people smart” in terms of social interactions. But at the same time, the law students are more detail-oriented and are better in terms of digging into the text of a document, whereas business school students are more experienced with numbers and the bottom line.

Lauren: Law students are more verbal. An HBS guy in our class said he thought 30 pages was a ton of reading, whereas for us that’s not too much at all. But also mentioned he finds it difficult to read and comprehend contractual provisions.  Law school students have honed those skills and are better at it. Just the same way that I’m amazed he can run numbers in his head quickly, he’s amazed that we can make sense of extremely dense legal language.

Tracy: The short answer to your question is that they’re both smart, but just in different ways.

CPE: Very political. More importantly, which school is better looking?

Lauren and Tracy (In unison): The guys are definitely better looking at the business school. No questions asked. Not doubt about it.

Lauren: I think the girls at the law school are much better looking than the guys at the law school, whereas here there isn’t a disparity between the two. I think the business school students dress better. I dress better for my HBS class.

Tracy: Yeah—I won’t wear sweats to class at the business school but I wear sweats and gym clothes to the law school occasionally.

CPE: What are the best and worst parts of being a law school student?

Tracy: Some of the best are that you meet really interesting people while you’re being challenged academically. So you get best of both worlds. The worst is that HLS is a lot of work and many people are very intense, which can be hard to handle at times.

Lauren: I would echo that. The best part is that we have a really interesting student body and that you are challenged. I like that at the law school you don’t necessarily have to have a career focus. It’s very interdisciplinary. The worst part is that it’s a lot of work.  Being a lawyer is hard in that legal work takes a really long time. There are a lot of details involved, lots of dense reading involved. It’s tedious.

CPE: What are your career plans? Any interest in being a big corporation’s in-house counsel?

Tracy: Not yet but maybe some time down the road. Next year I’m working at a firm, Jones Day, in Washington D.C. and I’m really excited to be there.

Lauren: I will also be going to a firm. I’ll be at Simpson Thacher in NY and I hope to someday be a big corporation’s in-house counsel. I would say yes to that. Not necessarily the general counsel, but in that office.

CPE: What do you think is the biggest misperception that people have about law school students?

Lauren: I actually think, despite our previous comments, it’s that law school students are all socially awkward. There’s this sort of blanket generalization that you must be an awkward nerd to be in law school.  Even if they are nerdy, most of the people can we go to school with are very articulate and express themselves pretty well. That’s an important legal skill, which cuts against the awkwardness. We’re less awkward than you might think.

Tracy: I think people think you have no free time and no social life in law school. We work a lot but we can still have some fun.

CPE: For the RC readers thinking about next year’s schedule—are there any law school courses worth dipping into as MBA students?

Lauren: I think there were quite a few business students in my Mergers and Acquisitions class with Chancellor Leo Strine in particular. I learned so much in that class. It was painful; there were about 200 pages of reading per class but I learned a ton. So I would recommend that. Also, if you’re going to go to the law school, go for having a totally different experience. It doesn’t necessarily have to tie into something business related, and there are a lot of great classes. For example, I loved Employment Discrimination.

Tracy: We had some b-school students in our negotiation workshop class in January and they seemed to enjoy it.

CPE: How have HBS students surprised you in class or outside?

Tracy: I’m always surprised when people speak up in class and have actual experience doing what we’re talking about. I’m so impressed that they’ve been able to accomplish that much at such a young age and have so much experience, especially compared to the law school where about one out of five people went straight through from undergrad.

Lauren: I’d have the exact same answer. It amazes me to hear, “When I did a similar negotiation three years ago, this is what happened.” The level of experience is definitely impressive.

CPE: I think there’s some inherent tension between business and law—we just want to sell stuff to make people’s lives better, you make all these complicated rules and increase the chances of us getting sued. How can businesspeople and lawyer types work together to make the world a better place for everyone?

Tracy: I think understanding the other side’s perspective can be extremely helpful. So if lawyers understand that business people want to know the bottom line, want to know what the risks are, and would be willing to take on those risks, that can be helpful. And it’s helpful when business people understand that there is not always a right answer, that the world is grey instead of black and white, and that lawyers may not be able to provide a precise answer. Understanding each other can be extremely helpful in creating successful companies and making the world a better place.

Lauren: I would agree. We all want to avoid being the lawyer that always says no. There’s this notion that business people have these great ideas and they present them to the lawyer and the lawyer has ten different reasons why they can’t pursue them. The important thing to do is to realize that you’re a partnership and what you’re trying to help business people understand is what the risks of various courses of action are. And that it’s really up to them oftentimes to decide what level of risk they’re willing to take on. We’re just helping them to do a better job of that. And as Tracy said there’s no clear answer a lot of the time. It is a very grey world. And when people ask “is this legal,” the answer is often

Tracy interrupts: is always,

Lauren: “Maybe. It depends.”

CPE: I think that’s a common answer in business school too. So—having seen what business school is like, if you had to do it over again, might you consider HBS over HLS?

Tracy: If I had to do it over again I think I would have done a JD/MBA, because I think law school taught me to be extremely detail-oriented and understand a lot about the framework of the world we live in, but business school is a lot of fun and teaches you different skills that are extremely valuable.

Lauren: I agree. I think I would have done a JD / MBA. I’m not sure whether I would go into law or business afterwards if I’d gone the JD / MBA route. But I can say that even if I did decide to practice law, despite having been here and having other options, I would feel like I could be a much better lawyer understanding the business side that much better. I think the JD / MBAs have a real advantage that way.

CPE: Lauren—I hear you were runner-up for Prom Queen at this year’s Tacky Prom. Is there anything you wish you had done differently so that you might have ended up in the winner’s circle?

Lauren: I had this grand plan that if I did win, I was going to crowd surf. So what I should have done is tell the people who were in charge of counting the votes that no matter what the vote count was, if they announced me as queen I would crowd surf. Then I think they totally would have ignored the actual results for the sake of the show, and I might have won.  But I’d probably be paralyzed right now. So it’s good I didn’t do that.

Tracy: Oh, Tacky Prom…

March 6, 2013
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