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Making Partner in a Pandemic: Reed Smith’s Nicole Soussan Caplan

March 15, 2021, 9:41 AM

When our offices closed in March 2020, it took a few weeks for the gravity of the pandemic to set in. Ever an optimist, I presumed we would be back in the office after a brief hiatus from regular life.

Almost a year later, I recall with precision when the enormity of what we were facing sunk in. As hospitalization rates rose and oil prices fell, the world became unrecognizable and our collective concerns omnipresent.

While the health and safety of my family and loved ones was and remains paramount, professional questions were not far behind. How would I evolve my practice in order to continue to provide seamless services to our clients facing the same uncertainty? How deeply would the health crisis affect the economy? Would I really figure out how to take a deposition over Zoom? And, if I did, how would I keep my dogs and toddler off the record?

Also important to me was my own career path. As a senior associate, I could not help but wonder whether a global crisis might impact my opportunity to make partner—a goal I had been working towards since the start of my legal career.

Fortunately, Reed Smith’s senior management team committed early on to maintaining its longstanding promotions process, which was incredibly reassuring. That allowed me to focus on my work, our clients, and the challenges ahead with renewed vigor and hope for the future.

As 2020 continued, I felt empowered by Reed Smith’s commitment to the promotion process and knew that through all of the challenges, I would need to continue my push for partnership, relying even more on my champions and mentors. I would also need to continue to deliver, regardless of the challenges of working remotely.

Adjusting to the New Reality

Our new stay-at-home reality challenged me to take more initiative and be more courageous. Making partner takes a village, but when you can’t run down the hall to seek advice, a lot of my village felt, and literally was, farther away.

I was fortunate to participate in the firm’s inaugural Women’s Initiative Mastermind program, which brought together a group of women from across Reed Smith’s U.S. offices who were focused on promotion. With the support of this group and my mentors, I felt empowered and emboldened to make connections remotely, share my goal with firm leadership, and ask for guidance.

Because Reed Smith has an international footprint across four continents, I already was accustomed to working with clients and colleagues remotely across multiple time zones and jurisdictions.

But, because everyone’s schedules and work situations were similarly impacted, I found it was important to be particularly intentional, purposeful, and succinct when reaching out. With key conversations not happening organically, and essential in-person networking and community opportunities on indefinite hold, I had to make sure I knew exactly what I needed to say and make the most of my opportunities to say it.

‘Build Your Village’

After 2020, I would advise attorneys who are at the start of what will be hopefully long and brilliant careers not to let external uncertainty distract them from their personal goals. It is important not to let your vision get clouded by fear or doubt and to meet each challenge as a learning opportunity that will further your ambitions.

Most importantly, build your village and share your ambitions with those in your corner. Over the last nine years, I have not been shy about my intention to make partner. By being open and direct, and sharing my goals, the mentoring I have received along the way was especially timely, with great teachers and champions helping me learn what I needed when I needed to learn it.

The road ahead from junior partner to senior partner will no doubt be a challenging path, but I look forward to it and embrace the uncertainty. I am excited to be there for our clients—to deepen our relationships with them, help solve their problems, and deliver positive outcomes.

I enjoy both teamwork and mentoring, and I am enthusiastic about the opportunities to come—even if they involve Zoom. In case you were wondering, I did indeed figure out how to depose someone over Zoom, and I have learned to embrace my toddler’s occasional presence in remote meetings.

In a year of so much misfortune, when so many have struggled professionally or suffered illness and the loss of loved ones, I feel incredibly grateful to have been promoted to Reed Smith’s partnership, and I am thankful to the firm that our partnership class’s years of hard work were not undermined by the pandemic. I am also grateful to be a part of a professional community that values promotion and progress, regardless of the unique personal challenges we are all facing.

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

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Author Information

Nicole Soussan Caplan is a litigation partner in Reed Smith’s global Energy & Natural Resources group. She represents energy industry clients in complex business litigation as well as disputes arising from exploration and production in U.S. shale plays. In addition to her energy litigation practice, she has significant experience in commercial disputes and mass tort litigation, representing clients in the construction, life sciences, services, transportation, and manufacturing industries.

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