Valentine Bleicher, transactional attorney for Mayer Brown LLP
What is your background at Sciences Po?
I joined the Sciences Po Law School (“Ecole de Droit”) in 2009. It had just been created. I was in the Economic Law specialty and, as part of my second year, joined the Global Business Law and Governance program created by Horatia Muir Watt. It is a joint program with Columbia Law School and Paris I – La Sorbonne. We spent the first semester at Columbia Law School in New York and the second semester at Sciences Po and La Sorbonne in Paris.
Why did you choose to work in the United States?
I worked three years in France prior to moving to the U.S. The work environment is different in the U.S. It offers more opportunities. Based on my experience, if you are willing to work hard, you are given more responsibilities than you would in France at a similar age. Promotions can happen more rapidly. Of course, it is also a more challenging environment; if you do not perform at the level expected of you, it is easier to be let go. So there is a trade-off; there are more opportunities but more risks.
Describe your work environment
I work in the Chicago office of a large global law firm, Mayer Brown LLP. Mayer Brown has offices in 27 locations, including Paris, and its original and largest office is the Chicago office. We are about 400 lawyers in the Chicago office and over 1,700 lawyers worldwide. I am an eighth-year associate working in the Corporate and Securities practice group.
What do you do at work? What are your activities, missions and objectives?
I am a transactional attorney. I focus my practice on mergers and acquisitions and private equity. My work consists of advising clients on general corporate matters as well as complex business transactions such as mergers, stock and asset acquisitions and divestitures, majority and minority equity targeted investments, joint ventures and strategic alliances. I work both on purely U.S. transactions and cross-border transactions in particular, transactions involving French and other European clients investing in the U.S. and U.S. clients investing in France. For example, I recently advised Dutch pension fund manager PGGM in its $601 million acquisition of a 20% minority stake in SUEZ Water Resources Inc., a subsidiary of French public company SUEZ S.A. specializing in the water and waste cycle management business in the Northeast region of the U.S.
More specifically, my work involves responding to clients’ questions regarding legal matters that arise in the course of their business, advising them on the optimal legal and tax structures for the business transactions they contemplate, and drafting and negotiating contracts to implement these transactions.
I also devote up to 200 hours per year to pro bono work. For example, I recently led Mayer Brown’s cross-practice, cross-office team representing ARZU Studio Hope, a women’s empowerment not-for-profit organization in the U.S. and an international NGO in Afghanistan, in its asset divestiture to Turquoise Mountain, a U.K. NGO founded by HRH The Prince of Wales. ARZU is an innovative model of social entrepreneurship that helps Afghan women weavers and their families to break the cycle of poverty by providing them with steady income and access to education and healthcare through sourcing and selling the rugs they weave. It was very exciting to work on this project, knowing the impact that our efforts would have on these women and their families’ lives.
What do you like the most?
What I like the most about working in the U.S. is people’s positive attitude. When faced with a problem, people’s spontaneous reaction is to look collaboratively for a solution. “No” is rarely the first answer you get.
What do you like the least / are the difficulties you encounter?
The work culture is very different, to an extent that I was not expecting. Also, I find that there are less opportunities to get to know your co-workers outside of work than in France. Other than for business meetings, people do not typically take breaks for lunch or go for after-work drinks with colleagues. It makes it harder to build relationships with your co-workers, and makes the workplace more impersonal that what I have found it to be in France.
Is this experience part of your (mid/long term) professional project?
I did not have any specific professional project in mind when I moved to the U.S. I enjoy living and working here and do not have any plans to go back to France any time soon.
What does it bring you?
Working in the U.S. has given me the opportunity to get more responsibilities at a young age. This has allowed me to become more mature and gain more experience at my job than I would have had I stayed in France.
Also, my workplace is very diverse. I collaborate with people from all cultural and social backgrounds, and I have to navigate both the common law and the civil law systems. It has taught me to become a more versatile professional, better able to develop solutions to new problems as they arise.
A message to current Sciences Po students and Young Graduates?
Sciences Po is a wonderful school and offers a tremendous network of alumni. Use the 3A year, Master’s years or a gap year to study or work abroad, join the alumni network after you graduate, and keep in touch with one another. I have made some of my greatest friends and some of my greatest work connection thanks to Sciences Po.