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Making Partner in a Pandemic: Akin Gump’s Jaelyn Edwards Judelson

April 12, 2021, 9:31 AM

Last year was to be my first full year “officially” residing in Los Angeles—a welcome reset from frequent shuttling between Washington, D.C., and California. I could focus on executing my business plan and, I hoped, promotion to Akin Gump’s partnership by year end.

As the full implications of the pandemic began to take hold, though, the delicate personal infrastructure that makes the multi-year partnership marathon possible for working parents—access to regular childcare and uninterrupted blocks of time to work—completely collapsed.

A Tumultuous Summer

Adding to the chaos of juggling Zoom schooling for two toddlers interspersed with dozens of our own meetings, the national reckoning on racial justice in June added an additional, and very personal, layer of complexity and depletion for our family. With some of the nation’s largest protests steps from our home in L.A., the unending and unnerving roar of helicopters added a dissonant chorus to the anguish I felt.

In July, we also lost my dear grandmother—always one of my greatest cheerleaders and personal heroes. With the immediacy of these weighty challenges at the forefront of my mind, the beacon lighting my path to partnership seemed dim and suddenly from a different, unrecognizable time.

Those who know me well understand it is not my natural disposition to wallow in self-pity or to focus my energy on why something can’t be done. When I have a goal, I am focused—often stubbornly so—on achieving it. It would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that certain weeks of the summer of 2020 reflected a personal nadir I had not previously experienced. But I drew strength from knowing these difficult times, too, would pass.

I did not take for granted my continued good fortune in so many areas—the good health and support of my family and continued demand for the legal services of our world class international trade team.

In my gratitude, I also felt a profound sense of duty to keep moving forward; to wake up each day, and to give my family and our clients everything I had to win, simply because I knew people who were fighting battles of their own needed me to do so.

Professionally, I knew to earn partnership I still needed to distinguish myself not just as a trade practitioner but also as a person who could win and grow our business. In the early months of 2020, I felt good about the healthy expansions occurring in my existing portfolio of work, but the pandemic choked away crucial opportunities to mingle at conferences, linger at client sites to brainstorm new work, and to generally be out in the world making new connections. However, the remote environment also generated new opportunities to connect with clients in ways I did not anticipate.

Deepening Relationships

By playing a key role in the firm’s dialogue internally and with clients about how we could increase diversity and inclusion in our business practices, I was simultaneously deepening relationships with those clients as they managed parallel efforts in corporate America and creating space to showcase the depth of our international trade experience.

Further, swapping commute and airplane time for more video conferences around the world actually buoyed my ability to support more clients, particularly those in China, Japan, and other regions with challenging time zone offsets.

Though there was no road map for partnership or legal practice in a pandemic, the enduring tenets of innovation, connection, collegiality and dedication to exceptional client work continued to shine through.

On the personal side, the ongoing and intense nature of the pandemic necessitated an entirely different approach to childcare for us in that we needed full time, live-in support. We were immensely fortunate that my mom retired and came to help manage remote schooling and keep the trains moving during the week.

As the pandemic approaches its second year with much remaining in flux, the “new normal” continues to present challenges. But, I have hope. I am honored to work each day with Akin Gump colleagues and clients globally who are intelligent, compassionate, and unwavering in their commitment achieving the best possible outcomes for their companies and clients.

It would have been gratifying to make partner in any year, but after surviving 2020, I truly know how deeply committed each of us is to the successes of our clients and to each other in meeting today’s challenges and anything that may lie ahead.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Jaelyn Edwards Judelson is a partner in Akin Gump’s International Trade practice based in Los Angeles. She focuses on how export controls and economic sanctions impact multinational software, technology, defense, and telecommunications companies.

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