M. Janine Jjingo at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; New York
Practice area: Banking.
Law school: Columbia Law School, 2005.
How long have you been at the firm? 13 years.
How long were you an associate at the firm? I was an associate until 2013, at which time I became counsel.
Were you an associate at another firm before joining your present firm? No.
What year did you make partner at your current firm? 2018.
What do you think was the deciding point for the firm in making you partner? I understood from the start of my career how important it is to consistently perform well over a sustained period of time in order to earn the complete confidence of my clients and colleagues. Ultimately, you want to be viewed by both as a trusted adviser, and over time your reputation as such enables you to attract the kinds of opportunities and visibility that help position you for advancement.
Describe how you feel now about your career now that you’ve made partner. I actually feel it is just starting, in a lot of ways. I definitely feel as if I have reached a milestone, but there are so many next steps to consider in terms of shaping the more nuanced parts of my practice, including learning how I can use the platform in ways that make sense both for me professionally and for others rising in the ranks. As I’ve moved up the Big Law ladder, it continues to be important to me to teach and mentor associates and law students. While progress has been made, it is important that firms continue to focus on ensuring that equitable access to opportunities exists for women and diverse lawyers to progress and contribute in Big Law.
What’s the key to successful business development in your opinion? There are three things I try to focus on in business development. First, building relationships over an extended period of time and creating continued touch points with contacts to strengthen those relationships—you cannot have the expectation that business will always (or ever) follow after one interaction; instead, as in all relationships, it is creating and maintaining the trust and confidence in you and your team’s abilities that leads to getting work.
Second, finding ways to build your network and develop business in a way that comes naturally to you—there are some people who can walk into a room and strategically work and charm the room, and there are others that function better in smaller settings or are more comfortable writing articles or presenting at conferences as a way to get their name and brand out there. I think finding an authentic way to present yourself is key to being successful in business development.
Third, being able to clearly articulate the type of service you will provide. For me and at Skadden, that would mean articulating that unwavering dedication to our clients, being strategic and extraordinarily thoughtful about how to meet the goals that our clients have, and being creative and innovative in our approach to solving problems, big and small, that may arise over the course of a transaction.
What’s been the biggest change, day-to-day, in your routine since becoming partner? There have been a few changes in my day to day, though none of them are entirely surprising. Certainly there is a heightened emphasis on business development and business generation. There also is more in-depth managing of client relationships—making sure that things are running smoothly, the client is happy, and the deal team is presenting information to, and framing deal points and issues that arise for, the client in a clear and thoughtful manner.
Being approached by junior lawyers as a mentor—both within Skadden and outside of the firm—for guidance about career development also has become a more regular part of my day to day.
Who had the greatest influence in your career that helped propel you to partner? I have been fortunate to have a number of partners who have had such a wonderful and deep impact on my career. Several were instrumental in teaching me the building blocks in my early years, while others coached me in the moments I needed to step outside my comfort zone. Some recognized gaps in my skill set, gave me the feedback and helped me fill in those gaps, and still others gave me opportunities to flex and were my champions in closed-door meetings where decisions were made. Associates who are rising through the ranks need each of those types of mentors, sponsors and champions. It’s important to recognize that the same person may not be able to play all of those roles over the years.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give an associate who wants to make partner?
- Become as good as you can possibly be—know your deal, know your documents, become a critical and essential member of your practice group and each of your deal or matter teams.
- Be a sponge—watch and listen well, soak up as much knowledge and information as you can, in as many settings as you can.
- Thoughtfully build your “brand”—consider what you want to be known for and be consistent in your delivery of those elements both internally and externally.
- Be bold—seek opportunities, make asks, follow up. This is your career and being timid about it, or waiting for someone to open doors for you, will not guarantee the outcome that you want.
- Don’t go it alone in navigating your career—put in the time and energy to cultivate relationships with colleagues and senior members of your team. Think intentionally about ways you can add value beyond what is asked of you, and deliver. You will often find people will want to help you develop and succeed.
- Lastly, be persistent, but also be patient. Sometimes getting to the finish line takes a bit longer than you might want, but if you stay the course, maintain consistency and keep honing your skills, it should all come together.
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