Hannah Lee is an Assistant Vice President and Counsel at Deutsche Bank. We recently sat down with Hannah to discuss her career trajectory, her experience as in-house counsel, and her views about cultivating talent and promoting diversity in the legal profession. The opinions and views expressed in response to our questions are Hannah’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of Deutsche Bank.
Q. How did you start out in an in-house position directly from law school?
It was a little bit of luck and a little bit of willingness to take a risk. I was lucky that this opportunity was available when I was looking for a position and lucky that Deutsche Bank took a chance and hired a recent graduate. After I interviewed, but before Deutsche Bank made me an offer, I was offered another position elsewhere that required me to provide a response before I heard back from the Bank. It was a risk declining the other position before I had an offer, but I knew Deutsche Bank was a better fit for me and my career and so I took the step anyway. Although it was a very steep learning curve when I started and it was definitely trial by fire, I think learning through experience was a great benefit because it required me to learn and adapt very quickly to get up to speed.
Q. What advice would you give to those considering going in-house directly from law school?
I would say do it! It’s a great experience. I would also tell all law school students to be open to different opportunities. Law students are often set on the process of going through summer recruiting for law firms, but there are so many other positions and roles out there, including government, public service, and of course, corporate legal departments. I think the legal profession would be strengthened by lawyers with more diverse experiences and career paths.
Q. Have you experienced any challenges practicing as a woman and a person of color?
I think there are still numerous challenges remaining in the legal and financial services industries. For example, the last time I attended a securities class action hearing, there were approximately 60 or 70 attorneys in the room. I was one of only a handful of women and people of color there, and all of those individuals were sitting in the gallery. That’s a challenge for many reasons. There is still progress to be made, but we should not shirk away from this challenge. We should not be afraid to pave the way. It is important to remember that we’re not just fighting for our generation, but we are making a difference for those to come.
Q. If you were not happy with how a firm staffed a trial team, would you ask them to diversify?
Yes, I would make that request and I have. It may only impact one team, but I’m a firm believer that, no matter how small you think your impact or what you’re doing is, everything helps to make a big difference. Diverse teams benefit everyone. It’s not just a matter of enhancing diversity and promoting minorities; different experiences, viewpoints and perspectives improve the quality of the advice. Clients don’t want or need an echo chamber that reflects one view; we are looking for innovative, creative solutions to the complex legal issues we face and diverse teams facilitate that.
Q. What role do you think mentorship plays in developing female attorneys?
I think mentorship that is paired with sponsorship plays an important role in career development. It’s important to have someone who will advocate on your behalf and put you in positions where you will have the opportunities needed to advance your career. I have been fortunate enough to have people at Deutsche Bank do that for me by advocating for me and giving me the opportunity to take on higher risk cases. I think when individuals in senior positions—men or women—are able to advocate on your behalf, it makes a big difference.
Q. What do you consider to be good client service?
Good client service means a lot of things, but one of the most important things is not being afraid to take a stance. We need our outside counsel to provide advice. We don’t need someone to tell us what all of the options are. We need someone to say that, given the sum of all things, this is what we think is the best path and this is what the Bank should do. We need our outside counsel to present the analysis, to explain how they reached that conclusion, and to stand by it.
Q. Do you have any strategies to accomplish work-life balance?
My first strategy is to acknowledge that finding work-life balance is hard. It’s not something that comes naturally to those in the legal profession but it is something that we all need and can greatly benefit from. Those who choose this profession are generally all driven, ambitious, and used to being the best at whatever it is they do, so it’s against our nature to say no, to stop, or to not give 110% on everything we do, but it’s important to accept that it’s not possible to do 110%. That’s not mathematically possible. You only have 100%, and you need to make choices to divide that 100% to do what’s right for you. The balance is different for all people, but being the best lawyer is not just about doing the job.
My second strategy is to know when to say no. You can’t say yes to everything or be all things to all people, so it’s important to know what your boundaries are and to stick to them. Often, we hear that we can have it all, and we can to a certain extent, but we can’t have all of everything all the time and that’s okay.
Q. If you had one extra hour in each day and you couldn’t work or be with your family, how would you spend that hour?
I would gather all those hours and travel the world. I would love to travel for more than a week at a time and to places I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to go. An African safari or Antarctica would be at the top of my list.