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A word of caution for this season’s law school grads from GCs who have been in your shoes: Follow your interests — not just the money — to save yourself from the associate blues. Great poetry it’s not, but it is sound advice, say the in-house attorneys we spoke with this month. Some, like Don Liu, recall being so hungry for their first “big fat paycheck,” that they didn’t always take note of interesting or unconventional career choices. Others, like Mark Egert, stress the importance of balancing work and play, noting that the “eat-what-you-kill” life at law firms can be traumatic for new recruits. DON LIU Senior vice president and general counsel, IKON Office Solutions Inc. The legal department: Malvern, Pa.�based IKON — which reported revenue of $5.3 billion in 2001 — has branched out from the photocopier market into other business communications fields, such as computer network design, e-business development and copy center management. The graduation: Television anchor Ted Koppel’s inspirational speech at Liu’s 1986 graduation from Columbia Law School wasn’t enough to distract the young attorney from his own romantic conundrum: “I was extremely interested in a first-year NYU law school student, but I was facing a summer of studying for the bar,” Liu recalls. “All I kept thinking at the [graduation] ceremony was, how can I pass it — and not lose her?” But the couple passed the bar in both respects: Liu and girlfriend Jin tied the knot two years later, just as both were beginning their careers at top New York firms: Liu at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and his new wife at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae. Advice for this year’s grads: “I think most law students have too much of a fixed path designed … . You need to be open to new and different opportunities.” DANIELLE SAUNDERS General counsel and vice president of business development, Primus Telecommunications Group Inc. The legal department: McLean, Va.-based Primus, a phone service and Internet provider, connects more than 25 countries in North America, Europe and Asia. The 3,000-employee company posted $1 billion in sales last year. The graduation: After receiving the royal treatment as a summer associate at Washington, D.C.�based Hunton & Williams, Saunders — a 1990 graduate of George Washington University Law School — couldn’t wait to join the business world. Working as a summer associate, “was like being at a country club — there were happy hours every day, and they kept asking how we were enjoying our assignments.” Things changed when Saunders joined Hunton & Williams’ permanent ranks: “Instead of it being about where you want to go to lunch that day, it was all about billing your hours.” Saunders began in M&A, but soon found she was fascinated by the telecom industry, which has a hub in Northern Virginia. She went in-house in the mid-1990s and hasn’t looked back: “The most important thing I’ve learned is to follow what really gets you excited.” Advice for this year’s grads: “Go into your new job with realistic expectations, and keep your eyes open to new things that might interest you.” MARK EGERT Chief legal officer, ABN AMRO Inc. The legal department: From his New York office, Egert oversees a 20-lawyer team at Chicago-based ABN AMRO Inc., the wholesale client sector of Amsterdam banking giant ABN AMRO Bank N.V. The graduation: May 1987 was a good time to be a law school grad, says George Washington University Law alum Egert, whose first job was as an associate at New York’s Shearman & Sterling. That mind-set changed five months later, when Black Monday saw the stock market plummet — along with the prospects of young corporate lawyers. “The Friday before the crash, I was doing due diligence on one of my first big deals,” Egert recalls. “By Tuesday it had fallen apart.” He was fortunate enough to keep his job. But by the mid-’90s, the pace of law firm life had caught up with Egert. He met his future wife, a singer and piano player at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, when a colleague convinced him to “leave work early one night” — at 10 p.m. So grueling was Egert’s associate schedule that “sometimes I’d work straight through for two days and only head home for a shower.” That was fine, he laughs, until he fell in love, and realized “that wasn’t the balance I wanted.” Advice for this year’s grads: “It requires a sacrifice sometimes to switch jobs … but it could make you much happier in the long run.”

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