Lawyer Limelight: Nora Jordan

Nora Jordan is one of the lucky ones. The Davis Polk & Wardwell partner managed to avoid the fate of most women lawyers who tried to 'have it all' – partnership and children. Her secret? Perseverance. “Don’t give up when it gets hard. Think about the long term and what you want for your family and your work life,” says Jordan, a mother of three girls.

It also helped, of course, that Davis Polk was one of the early adopters of “flextime” for women lawyers. When Jordan had her first child 23 years ago, the firm had yet to establish a part-time program but still accommodated her request to scale down her hours until her youngest child was in nursery school. Less than two years after she went back to full-time, she was made a partner, in 1995.

The firm since then has set the standard on part-time and flextime policy for lawyers, which allows attorneys to reduce their hours according to their needs and still be on a partnership track.

Jordan received her JD from Duke University School of Law in 1983. She now heads Davis Polk’s 50-lawyer investment management group.

Lawdragon: The private equity/hedge fund industry has seen a lot of new regulations and heightened scrutiny in the last few years. How has your practice changed and what issues are keeping you busy these days?

Nora Jordan: There has been a tremendous amount of regulatory activity in the private fund industry, in addition to a major increase in civil and criminal enforcement activity, and we have been busy advising clients on all elements of the changes, including all aspects of Dodd-Frank (new registration requirements, filing requirements, CFTC reporting issues, systemic importance issues, etc.). The regulations continue to be promulgated, so we should be busy on these for a while. There are more and more funds – both public and private – entering the market and fighting for investors every year so we have been working on a number of new and innovative products that will hopefully give a competitive edge to our clients, for example, a copper ETF that has received quite a lot of publicity, hybrid private funds etc. One of the areas that Davis Polk is known for is our expertise in M&A in the asset management area, which is very active right now and keeping us pretty busy.

LD: There are many high-quality law firms out there. What makes Davis Polk’s investment management  practice unique?

NJ: Davis Polk is one of the few firms with a high-end asset management practice that covers registered funds, hedge funds and private equity funds. Our clients tell us that our expertise across all three areas has been extremely helpful to them as they expand from being solely a private equity firm or solely a registered fund firm into other areas. Hedge funds, for example, are increasingly expanding into the registered fund space and understanding both sides of these businesses is crucial to avoiding pitfalls, particularly as they relate to conflicts. Private equity and hedge funds have also increasingly crossed over into investments in the other areas, and our clients benefit from our knowledge of all the relevant markets. In addition, private equity and hedge fund advisers now face an enormous increase in regulations, and our experience in the registered fund space, which has always been subject to extensive regulations, provides a tremendous body of knowledge to call upon when interpreting regulations and advising clients on their application. We are also one of the premier firms to hire for M&A in asset management because of our expertise across these areas.

Outside of the investment management group, Davis Polk has world-class expertise in M&A, capital markets, distressed debt, litigation, tax, IP and other areas that our clients have found extremely useful to call upon in connection with portfolio investments. Particularly as fund managers get larger, their issues become more complex and the ability to get answers to complicated questions on a real-time basis has been one of the reasons that managers have switched to Davis Polk from other law firms.

LD: How did you end up focusing on investment management? Did you imagine practicing in this area when you were in law school?

NJ: In law school there were no classes on asset management and it was not in any way on my radar screen when I came to Davis Polk. I joined Davis Polk’s capital markets group after doing some rotations and really enjoyed the group and the practice. I traveled to Europe, Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico and many other places in my first few years of practicing and I loved it. The work was exciting and interesting. After having my first baby, however, the travel lost its appeal. I had a second baby very close to the first, and when I was pregnant with the second, I was seriously wondering how this all was going to work. A partner outside of capital markets approached me and said that his group was looking for a mid-level associate to join, and if I would join his group, he thought he could set up a part-time arrangement for me.

Part-time was extremely unusual 23 years ago so I jumped at the chance — and then I asked what in fact his group did. It turned out to be a very small group that did some registered fund work for primarily one client — but I agreed anyway. As it turned out, the group ended up being one of the fastest growing groups in the firm and has evolved into Davis Polk’s current investment management group.

LD: The legal profession remains male-centric in terms of law firm leadership and being a woman partner and a practice group leader; you are a rarity. What did you do differently or what made a difference for you that allowed you to reach your position now?  What was your path to partnership like?

NJ: The path to partnership was not a straight one. As an associate, I rotated through practice groups, worked part-time for four and a half years, and took three maternity leaves that ranged from four to six months each. I think what made the difference though, frankly, was that I persevered. I liked Davis Polk and I liked working and so I did not leave. As they say, half the battle is showing up. I hope that women do not leave the profession because they think that having both a great family life and a great work life is impossible. Like most interesting full-time jobs, it is not always easy to combine work and family — but it definitely can be done.

LD: What advice would you give to women lawyers just starting their legal careers? 

NJ: Persevere. Some women may want to stay home and may not want partnership but they shouldn’t say they don’t want it because they think it is unattainable or too hard. Lots of men do it – so clearly women can too.

LD: You’ve been practicing for 30 years, do you ever regret not taking a certain class in law school? If so, what would that be? What law course or subject do you think prepares law students the most for legal work?

NJ: At the risk of annoying my great professors at Duke Law School, I think the most important attributes of our best lawyers are great judgment and the ability to clearly articulate advice, orally and in writing.  We hire the best and the brightest from law schools around the country but clients don’t ask us any questions about things we learned in law school. They hire us for the questions that have no clear answer. They want our advice on what to do or how to solve a problem. So, good judgment is key. And of course, the result of applying that good judgment has to be clearly articulated to the client or it is useless.

LD: What’s the most recent book you’ve read or most recent movie you’ve seen? 

NJ: My mother/daughter book club recently read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and with my husband and two of my daughters I recently saw the movie Lincoln.

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