CAREERS PODCASTS


Chimène Keitner
Alfred and Hanna Fromm Professor of International Law
UC Hastings College of the Law

Professor Keitner has had a “varied and unconventional” career path, as she puts it. She’s been a litigator in private practice, a counselor to the Department of State, and today is an international law professor. Last summer, she was a visiting scholar with Orrick, working with our lawyers on novel questions at the intersection of cyber, privacy and international law. In this podcast, Professor Keitner shares advice on how to chart a rewarding career in the law.

Professor Chimène Keitner

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Show Notes

Mitch:

Hi, it’s Mitch with another version of our podcast. I’m incredibly honored to have Chimène Keitner, the Alfred and Hanna Fromm Professor of International Law at UC Hastings Law School, with us this summer as Orrick’s inaugural visiting scholar. Chimène, whom many of you know as Professor Keitner, was introduced to our firm by Ellen Ehrenpreis, a partner in our Tech Company practice in Silicon Valley, who was leading our Orrick scholars program. Chimène, thank you so much for joining us.

Chimène:

Glad to have the chance to talk to you.

Mitch:

And thank you so much for being our inaugural scholar, we are grateful to have a visiting scholar program and we are really grateful you are willing to take the leap with us as we designed it.

Chimène:

Well it’s a really innovative program, and I enjoyed being part of it.

Mitch:

Glad to hear that. So, you’ve had a remarkable career in private practice, in academia and in government service. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you made your career choices?

Chimène:

I think the choices came to me rather than me doing it in any sort of deliberate way, which I think a lot of people will tell you about careers, especially one that are a little bit more varied and unconventional as mine has been. I think that the initial impulse for me to go straight into practice is one that I am sure you can identify with, which is wanting to roll up your sleeves and really engage in the practice of law and – especially coming straight out of law school – the opportunity to do that really teaches you a lot about law and the fabric of peoples’ daily lives, whatever kind of practice you have. Whether it’s in the private sector or the public sector, it’s great for me to spend a couple of years digging into cases, taking depositions, defending depositions, figuring out what that whole world was about…

Mitch:

And how long did you do that for?

Chimène:

Almost four years. And then I realized the parts of my job that I enjoyed the most were the writing and the mentoring, and as a child of academics it became apparent that that path would enable me to write more, mentor more, and also define the scope of my own inquiries more. So, of course, practice necessarily is client driven and that is an extremely important part of being in a service industry, and being responsive to client needs, but I think the flip side of that is of course you don’t have the time to really carve out as fully your own research agenda and to take the time to really probe questions in the degree of depth that I wanted to be able to probe them. So, for me the transition to academia was both somewhat natural as I said having you know, academics in the family and having picked up a PHD along the way during my education. So, so, writing definitely not a…

Mitch:

A scary thing?

Chimène:

A scary thing. Well, you know, it’s always painful but not scary. And then, again, really enjoying working with the paralegals and the younger attorneys in my office and wanting to do that more and here 11-12years later I can definitely say that teaching and mentoring is one of my very favorite parts of the job.

Mitch:

Interesting. And was it hard to find a school that allowed you to pursue your area of academic interest?

Chimène:

That’s a great question. You know, international law is really my passion although I have certainly taught my share of our courses in evidence and all these sorts of things, which are fun to teach, as well, because you’re really teaching students the language of law – I think, no matter what the subject matter is. U.C. Hastings has been great in the sense that it has got a very strong international law program and it historically always has – international and comparative law – and I think it’s been ahead of the curve in that respect because a lot of law schools, in the last decade or two, have come to the realization that equipping their students to analyze cross-border legal questions is really essential in this day and age. There are very few practices, as I am sure you have discovered, that are purely domestic, and even within United States – given that we live in a federal system – thinking across different legal systems, figuring out how those systems fit together or don’t fit together, how you can navigate issues for your clients that cross jurisdictional and even international borders, I think is a really essential skill. So, for me I think that that is the skill I try to impart to my students no matter what the particular flavor of international law course it is I happen to be teaching. And I teach a number of them and UC Hastings is extremely welcoming of that, which was a great opportunity for me.

Mitch:

That’s fabulous. You know I couldn’t agree with you more the importance of having a global cross-border perspective. It’s pretty interesting to me as I was talking with a CEO of a Finnish company earlier this year who was describing that practicing law in the United States must be like having a cross-border practice because there are fifty states with very different approaches, very different attorney generals, very different laws, and was very confusing in some ways to this CEO to think about how diverse the series of laws we have, and that it is not a uniform sort of approach that we take and, while federal law’s there, there’s very strong state advocacy in the country and that was a very foreign concept to this CEO.

Chimène:

Absolutely, and I think the Europeans have learned to navigate some of that of course with the European Union and the greater economic consolidation, but the idea of multilayered governance is one that we are absolutely very familiar with and have been since the founding.

Mitch:

Can you tell us more about your area of academic interest and how it’s evolved from more broadly in the cross-border international area to your current area of interest, and tell us a little bit more about what you’ve been working on during your time here at Orrick?

Chimène:

As I said, I started as really a sort of straight up public international lawyer. I’d done a degree in international relations, was very interested in sort of those higher-level questions involving state-to-state relations, and I think one way in which my interests have evolved over the years is recognizing how great a role private sector actors play in this global environment and, so, many of the questions that come up in international law these days involve what are the international legal responsibilities of private actors. Do corporations have, say, human rights obligations? What ways can companies inadvertently maybe stumble into areas of legal liability that they are not anticipating because they are performing roles that traditionally states performed and now more and more outsourced to the private sector? So, I think that perspective of recognizing again the multilayered and complex dimensions of international law and the ways in which those intersect with domestic law has been really fascinating. And the area in which I’ve been gravitating towards and looking at that more is the area of cyber law because that is a classic example of the ways in which capabilities are not the sole purview of nation states and in fact nation states often can be a little bit behind the curve in terms of what’s going on since so much of our information environment is actually controlled by the activities of private sector actors and they in turn are, I think, hungry for guidance from nation states about what they can and can’t do and the information-sharing obstacles that exist between the private sector and government can actually be extremely problematic when we get to situations like the Sony hack a number of years ago and so forth, where private-sector actors are actually the target of nation state attacks but don’t necessarily have all of the information or capability that they need in order to respond adequately to those attacks. So that’s an area that I have been investigating more in my own work and that I have really enjoyed talking to Orrick partners about. You’ve got, as you know, a really premier cyber law practice here and you’ve got attorneys on the front lines who are grappling with these questions every day.

Mitch:

Can I change gears here for a second and talk about something a little bit different? I think that we are both parents, and I know that you have thought about combining personal and professional roles and I think that you refer to that as “finding your disequilibrium,” and I would love to hear more about that.

Chimène:

One of the things that I have enjoyed here at Orrick this summer is seeing how much mentoring you do here and how much that’s really baked into the ethos of the firm and I was invited to speak as part of a career series that you do for Orrick lawyers and the woman who was organizing it suggested something about finding your balance. And that’s where I countered, well there is no such thing. And in fact, I wrote a short piece in The Atlantic, years ago, where I quoted a dance teacher of mine from when I had been studying abroad in Paris. He said that you need to find your disequilibrium. It sounded better in French, but the basic idea is that balance is really unobtainable in a way, and also the word to me evokes that kind of stasis that, for folks like us who are dynamic and energetic, is actually neither achievable nor really desirable necessarily. I think the idea of disequilibrium, which again was not original to me, but what I took from this dance teacher is the notion that we are all constantly in movement and our priorities are constantly shifting and the demands on us are constantly shifting, the world around us is constantly shifting as we just discussed.

Mitch:

I would love it if you could share some advice for law students about how you think they should think about planning their careers and obviously you had a career which has involved private practice, it has involved government, it has involved academia. What advice would you have to prepare folks for a career like yours or for a rich and rewarding career, whether it follows the diversity of your career of not.

Chimène:

It is important to be open to doing things that may not be sort of at the top of one’s list. To have that kind of open-mindedness, I think is really important. I think that it is also great to find places that you will build your skill set and as I mentioned one of the really great opportunities for me in going into practice from law school was the opportunity to acquire skills that I do think prove useful even if you end up after a couple of years deciding to do something else. And a great example of how that sort of came full circle is when I was interviewed for the position of Counsel on International Law at State, the legal advisor at the time found it extremely valuable that I had four years in litigation. So I think that acquiring skills in whatever context, even if it’s not the context that you necessarily originally envisioned, being as flexible geographically as family circumstances permit, understanding that of course some people are more flexible than others and really trying to make the most of each professional opportunity in the terms of building your network, getting to know people, getting to know what people do in different career paths that may not have originally occurred to you. I think the other footnote on that that is really to be entrepreneurial and getting yourself out there. I think that all campuses have these on-campus interview programs and there’s a tendency to bring employers to the students. We also really need to encourage students to go out to employers, the ones who maybe don’t come to the OCI programs or are just a little bit farther afield, but I also think that students should not be afraid to take risks. And, again, without being too naïve about what both finances and family circumstances permit, it’s really amazing the kinds of work that they can do if they venture a little bit off the beaten path as well.

Mitch:

Such valuable advice. Professor Keitner, thank you so much for sharing your perspectives with us and for also being out inaugural visiting scholar and if there’s one thing that I would love to emphasize on what you just said is that concept of adaptability. I’m pretty confident that legal problems that our clients in big law have will be very different five years from now from the ones we have today and their emphasis and the areas, in particular, disciplines will change. The specific legal questions that will be top of mind in only a few years will change, but the ability to adapt to those and to have a skill set to be able to adapt, without a question is going to be something that we need from our lawyers and for all of us who want to be playing some role, whether it’s in big law or elsewhere, in terms of solving client needs. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective and thank you so much for investing your summer with us.

Chimène:

It’s been a pleasure.

Mitch:

Thanks so much.