At last year’s holiday party for Latham & Watkins’ New York office, first-year associate Marie-Joe Abi-Nassif stunned her colleagues with a rendition of the famous Christmas carol “O Holy Night.”
“Very few knew I was a singer, so it took them by surprise,” she joked. This year, however, Abi-Nassif’s performance space will be quite different.
On Friday evening, the M&A lawyer at Latham will make her recital debut at Carnegie Hall, the storied concert venue near Central Park in midtown Manhattan. She will perform songs and arias from works by Bellini, FaurÉ and Rossini, to name a few.
“I’m less stressed than I thought I would be,” Abi-Nassif said. “I’m actually more excited than nervous.”
Her upcoming performance is a testament to Abi-Nassif’s dedication to the mastery of musical artistry, which, in her case, needed to be honed and crafted while living the 24-hour work life of most Big Law associates.
“It takes a lot of drive and discipline to do it and it also takes a lot of organization,” she said.
Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, Abi-Nassif attended law school at the city’s Saint-Joseph University. While she has been singing most of her life, she did not begin professionally training until she moved to Paris in 2010 to get her masters in corporate law from PanthÉon-Assas University. For the two years she lived in the city, Abi-Nassif trained with soprano Mihaela Mingheras and maestro Denis Dubois of the OpÉra National de Paris.
In 2012, she moved to New York City and began working as a paralegal in the capital markets and M&A group at Latham, while continuing her vocals training at The Juilliard School. After two years at Latham, Abi-Nassif enrolled in the LLM program at Columbia Law School. Upon graduating in 2015, she returned to the firm, where she is poised to become a second-year associate.
But balancing her two passions—the law and music—does not come easily.
“When you work at a firm like Latham, you need to be responsive to the clients and the supervisors … but I try to manage my musical schedule according to my availability from a work perspective,” Abi-Nassif said. “Sometimes I have to cancel my trainings because I need to be at the office late, but this doesn’t prevent me from studying when I go back home.”
She practices daily, taking advantage of whatever down time happens to creep across her calendar, whether it be a 15-minute vocal exercise or reading sheet music like a book in her apartment, which is conveniently located next to the firm’s New York headquarters in the landmark Lipstick Building. (Abi-Nassif noted that the time she saves from commuting helps her practice.)
Abi-Nassif believes that what she has been able to accomplish musically is a reflection of the support that Latham has given her. Most of her colleagues will be sitting in the front row at Friday’s performance, including Michèle Penzer, the managing partner of the firm’s New York office.
“What’s great about what I do is that I can be the master of my music schedule and just decide that today I have to cancel,” Abi-Nassif said. “And that’s O.K. The next day [I] try to make up whatever I couldn’t do.”