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The ATL Interrogatories: 10 Questions with Larren Nashelsky of Morrison & Foerster

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Larren Nashelsky is the chair of Morrison & Foerster. Prior to becoming chair, Mr. Nashelsky focused his practice on U.S. and international restructurings, including Chapter 11 reorganizations, workouts, restructurings, secured financings and distressed acquisitions and investments. Larren is a graduate of Hofstra University School of Law.

1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next 5 years?

To constantly demonstrate to clients the value of high-end legal services. In doing so, Biglaw needs to continue to push itself to better understand its clients’ business, culture, work style, industry, and markets. Then we need to use that information and knowledge to provide clients with, what in their eyes, is value.

2. What has been the biggest positive change to the legal profession since the start of your career?

Renewed focus on our obligation to provide quality legal services to those who need help but cannot afford it. This has been on my mind lately because our Senior Pro Bono Counsel, Kathi Pugh, will be retiring this summer. When Kathi started running our program 25 years ago, she was one of the first full-time pro bono attorneys in the country. The model Kathi built at our firm has since been replicated by nearly every large firm. Professionals like Kathi pushed us to constantly focus on our obligation to the profession and our communities.

3. What has been the biggest negative change to the legal profession since the start of your career?

The drive for short-term financial success that has dominated the profession, sometimes with tragic results. Even where firms are financially strong, competition among Biglaw causes many good firms to lose their focus on the profession, their culture and their communities.

4. What is the greatest satisfaction of practicing law?

Being trusted with and solving a client’s most difficult and complex problem. As a restructuring lawyer, I regularly am faced with companies with challenging futures. Being able to counsel them to the best possible business and legal outcome is incredibly gratifying.

5. What is the greatest frustration of practicing law?

The struggle to control the time demands of the practice and my family life. I have an amazing, long-suffering wife, and four boys aged 8 to 15. I strive to be both the best possible attorney I can for my clients, and, more importantly, the best possible husband and father I can be for my family. As everyone in Biglaw knows, that is no easy task.

6. What is your firm’s greatest strength?

Our people. And I don’t just mean the excellent service they deliver to our paying and pro bono clients every day, though that’s critical. I mean the character of our people – respectful, inclusive, collaborative, positive, engaging and supportive of the profession and our communities.

7. What is the single most important personal characteristic for a successful lawyer in your field?

Without question, being really smart. Of course that doesn’t get you far without humility, a sense of humor and resiliency.

8. What is your favorite legally themed film or television show?

A Few Good Men (affiliate link). I can recite too much of it from memory. The line I still want to work into a meeting is when Tom Cruise’s character says to Demi Moore’s character, “Oh, I’m sorry, I keep forgetting. You were sick the day they taught law in law school.”

9. What is your favorite legally themed book (fiction or non-fiction)?

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (affiliate link), by Jeffrey Toobin. Yes, I enjoy gossip as much as the next person — especially Supreme Court gossip.

10. What would you have been if you weren’t a lawyer?

General Manager of a professional sports franchise. Well, that’s what I would want to be doing anyway.

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