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Alumni discuss law careers


Binghamton University alumni Owen C. Pell '80, a partner at White & Case LLP in New York City, right, and Adam E. Wactlar '03, an associate at the same law firm, speak to roughly 25 students about legal careers during a panel discussion held Oct. 23 in

If you want to be a lawyer, you need to challenge yourself as a writer and a thinker during your undergraduate years, lawyers Owen Pell ’80 and Adam Wactlar ’03 told students during a panel discussion last week.

Pell, a partner with White & Case LLC, and Wactlar, an associate with the same firm, took questions from students and from Heather Struck, director of pre-law services. “To be an effective lawyer, you must be an effective writer,” said Wactlar, who majored in English at Binghamton. “Be involved in putting pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard.”

Pell, who majored in political science, said he expected to pursue a doctorate and become secretary of state one day. Instead, he went to the University of Virginia School of Law and began a career that has taken him to places ranging from France to Russia.
He has represented clients in cases tied to the collapse of Enron and in others related to apartheid-era South Africa and Holocaust-looted art.

“There’s no particular class that prepares you for law school,” Pell said. “That’s one of the beautiful things about law school. You can major in anything and decide to be a lawyer.”

Pell and Wactlar spoke with enthusiasm about their jobs, but were also frank with the students about the challenges of legal careers.

“I’ve been outside of my comfort zone 364 days out of the last 365 — and I love it,” Wactlar said, describing his first full year as an associate after graduating from Hofstra University School of Law in 2006.

The job has had glamorous moments, including a trip to South Korea just months after he joined the firm, but the hours are long and the work is demanding, Wactlar said.

“We make money by selling our services by the hour,” Pell said. “You have to work hard. You have to be there for your clients. … My clients pay $900 an hour for my time. They don’t bring me simple problems.”

Struck asked the panelists for a parting piece of advice.

“Do what you love,” Wactlar said.

“Intellectually engage with something,” Pell said.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08