Skadden Arps partner Karen Valihura discusses her distinguished legal career, public interest work and personal interests.
Name: Karen L. Valihura
Practice Areas: Corporate, Securities and Commerical Litigation
Law School: J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School, 1988 (Law Review)
Undergraduate: B.A., Washington & Jefferson College, 1985 (Valedictorian; Phi Beta Kappa)
Quotable, on advice to first year lawyers: “You must work hard to achieve anything great in life. These days, however, you also need to have a good understanding of your client’s business and what their needs are.”
Lawdragon: Is there a case in your career that stands out as a “favorite” or one that is particularly memorable?
Karen Valihura: My favorite deal litigation was Norfolk Southern’s takeover fight with CSX over Conrail, resulting in Norfolk Southern’s acquisition of a substantial portion of Conrail. It was a classic hostile fight among the Class I railroad titans: Norfolk Southern (represented by Skadden), Conrail and CSX. It involved a multitiered, front-end loaded transaction spanning three preliminary injunction hearings, as well as appeals to the Third Circuit over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. I greatly enjoyed working with and learning from Morris Kramer and Steve Rothschild, who were both legendary Skadden partners; and my fellow senior associate on the matter was Eric Friedman, who is now our firm’s Executive Partner. It was Skadden at its finest.
LD: How has your practice changed since the early part of your career?
KV: I have always focused primarily on corporate, securities and complex commercial litigation matters, including mergers and acquisitions; and corporate governance matters, including shareholder derivative and class actions. I have had the opportunity to serve as national litigation counsel to a provider of online travel services in multiforum litigation on a variety of complex commercial issues. This experience was extremely additive to my Delaware corporate litigation background; it afforded me the chance to work in many different state and federal courts and develop relationships with counsel all over the country.
LD: Where do you see your practice headed?
KV: I see myself continuing to represent clients in high-stakes disputes involving corporate governance issues in complex deal, corporate and commercial litigation matters. My experiences — not only in Delaware but also around the country — have positioned me to address a wide range of adversaries, including the typical plaintiffs one encounters in class and derivative litigation, as well as governmental entities. No matter the forum or nature of dispute, I will always enjoy the analytical and procedural challenges in getting a client to where they want to be. In addition to serving clients, I continue to devote time to assisting with the strategic priorities of my firm. For example, I recently became a member of Skadden’s Policy Committee, the firm’s governing body, and I chair the firm’s Counsel Committee. My involvement with these committees has been truly enriching; I’ve gained a more intimate familiarity with Skadden’s broad array of talent across many platforms and geographies.
LD: What are some of the challenges you or your clients face?
KV: My clients continue to struggle with the costs associated with discovery and particularly electronic discovery. In deal litigation, clients also have to contend with the proliferation of multiforum litigation.
LD: Are you involved in any pro bono or community activities? Tell us what you find meaningful about them.
KV: I always have been involved in the community because I feel it is important to try to give back in different ways. For example, I chair the Delaware Supreme Court’s Permanent Advisory Committee on the Delaware Lawyer’s Rules of Professional Conduct and recently completed eight years of service on the Delaware Supreme Court’s Board on Professional Responsibility, where I served as board chair for the last six years. I have served as president of the Delaware Bar Foundation and president of the Delaware Special Olympics. In addition, I served on the Corporation Law Council of the Corporation Law Section of the Delaware Bar Association for eight years, and I am on the advisory board of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance.
LD: What advice do you have for law students and lawyers who are just beginning their careers?
KV: You must work hard to achieve anything great in life. These days, however, you also need to have a good understanding of your client’s business and what their needs are. Those needs may change over time, so it is important that you not become so rigid and set on a particular path that you cannot be nimble when you need to be — whether that means being receptive to a slight adjustment in your career focus or, if worthwhile, a more substantive change.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
KV: Many people who know me probably are not aware of how much physical work I do outside (mainly for enjoyment and exercise). Last year, for example, with the help of a few friends, I built a patio at the top of my six-acre wooded property, which borders on a nature preserve, and carried heavy bags of cement and flagstone to the area that my Polaris Ranger could not reach. I also cut a nature trail through the woods and used wood chips from dead Poplars to mulch the trail. I have designed a lot of the gardens and planted much of it myself. I also learned to use my Ranger to plow heavy snow. Being close to nature has always been important to me, as has staying in shape. My interests have combined the two.
LD: Who were your childhood heroes?
KV: My family members have been and continue to be my heroes. My younger brother Kenny was born with severe brain damage, profound mental retardation and cerebral palsy. He has never been able to speak and needs assistance with all aspects of daily living. To this day, he inspires me with his smile, his love of his family, his grace and gentle spirit. My second hero is my mother, who refused to believe the doctors who told her that Kenny would never survive. Instead, she organized a group of neighbors who provided physical therapy to Kenny every day for two years when he was 3, after which he took his first step at age 5. My third hero is my older brother Kevin, who is a forensic chemist who specializes in DNA analysis with the Philadelphia police department. He is a year and three days older than me, and Kevin set a great example early on by working very hard and getting straight As in school. I learned from my family that no great rewards come without hard work and commitment — whether the reward is taking that first step or arguing a case before a court.