Catching Up With JD/MBA’14 Alumna Amber Lam
By: Jasmine Godfrey
JD/MBA’14 alumna Amber Lam graduated from Osgoode and Schulich with a Hennick Medal for Academic Excellence, which recognizes the top graduating student of the joint program, as well as the Schulich School of Business Silver Medal. Today, Amber is an Associate in the New York City office of Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP. During the 2016-17 academic term, Jasmine Godfrey, JD/MBA’19, was matched with Amber by the Hennick Centre’s Alumni-Student Mentorship Program. Enjoy the read, as Jasmine places Amber in the Alumni Spotlight to address some pressing questions on every JD/MBA student’s mind.
Jasmine: What was your most memorable academic experience during the JD/MBA program?
Amber: Although I didn’t appreciate it as much at the time, my most memorable academic experience was the notorious “601”. Working in a large group of people (more than half of whom I didn’t know in advance) was at times frustrating—not only in terms of the administrative burdens, but also in finding a way to complement our work styles and personalities. Compared to a regular class, the 601 gave me the chance to learn increasingly essential “soft skills” and to complete an extended and more thorough study of a company in the real estate industry, one of the only non-legal fields I could have seen myself going into at the time.
Jasmine: Did you find any specific classes to be of most significance to you post-graduation?
Amber: Securities Law and Business Associations on the Osgoode side are essential courses that gave me a solid foundation in corporate law on which to build. The Valuation class at Schulich and other finance classes (such as Real Estate Finance) were also particularly helpful for my first year of practice. Being able to digest financial statements, comfortably discuss common financial terms and implications, and understand valuation principles, are fundamental corporate law skills that I would have otherwise had to acquire quickly and without the leisure of a classroom environment.
Jasmine: Were you involved in any student organizations or clubs while in the JD/MBA? If yes, did these add any value to your overall success?
Amber: In my first year of the program, I cast my net wide and signed up for organizations primarily to meet people with similar interests. One such club was the Schulich Real Property Students’ Association (SRPSA) which, occasionally with its alumni chapter, organized competitions, conferences, speaker events, site tours and even a trip to New York City, among other things. The events calendar was full, the community was lively and the people were just plain fun! My involvement undoubtedly added to my overall success by improving my teamwork and leadership skills.
But I didn’t become a member of or assume a leadership position in the SRPSA because I thought it would look good on my resume. I was just interested in the topic and liked what the club offered. I will always revere the SRPSA and the community of people I met through the club, and I still keep in touch with them today. I believe that if you invest effort in extracurricular activities you genuinely enjoy, the benefits will be more meaningful and enduring.
Jasmine: What was your experience like getting your position at Cravath?
Amber: I think Cravath’s interview process is not necessarily more difficult than others; it is just different. After the standard first-round interview process in Toronto in late August, I flew to New York for an in-firm interview. The night before the full-day interview was actually relaxing: I couldn’t really do any additional firm-specific preparation because Cravath doesn’t provide or even have a predetermined list of interviewers. The interview schedule is made to be flexible based on both lawyer availability and the applicant’s expressed interests.
I recall becoming a bit anxious toward the end of my first interview when I realized that it had gone on for almost two hours and when Legal Personnel (the interview organizers) started calling and then knocking on the partner’s door. There is no time limit to each interview (except for any constraints in the lawyer’s schedule), but the duration was probably atypical. I also remember mentioning to Legal Personnel in the morning that it would be great if I could meet with a real estate partner, and so I was pleasantly surprised when they made it happen for my second interview. I spent about an hour with one of the real estate partners, and the conversation turned to new development projects in the city when he realized that I had an interest in the area on the business side. After lunch nearby with two associates, I then interviewed with one other partner and a couple of associates thereafter. At the end of the day, the corporate hiring partner made me an offer.
It was a long process (my interviews ran from 9:30 a.m. to about 6:30 p.m.), but it felt more informal and comfortable than I had imagined, even in the partners’ offices.
Jasmine: What would you look for if you were in the position to hire new graduates from the JD/MBA program?
Amber: In general, good grades and some interesting professional or extracurricular experience will get an applicant considered. I think it’s also important to demonstrate perseverance, a good attitude, and the ability to work collaboratively and imaginatively. And good judgment—something that is difficult to demonstrate, but easy to identify when it is lacking—will set an applicant apart from the many others in the same position.
Jasmine: If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Amber: I have no meaningful regrets about my academic or professional career so far, but choices always involve some sacrifice. If I could tell my younger self one thing it would be to be more open-minded to opportunities and resist being a slave to a “life plan” (which is not to say that one should have no plan at all). I grew up in Toronto, had never lived or studied abroad and, after getting into law school, thought that I would work in private practice in Toronto for the rest of my career. I hadn’t looked into New York recruiting prior to Osgoode sending out an email on New York firm resume collections. I sent in my applications on a whim, thinking that it would be interesting to spend a summer in New York City and gain some international experience before eventually returning to Toronto. I ended up splitting my summer internship between Cravath’s New York and London offices, and enjoyed both working and living abroad so much that I returned as an Associate after graduating. I have now been at Cravath for almost three years and have no plans to leave or return to Toronto. What matters is that I continue to enjoy what I do (and that I am only an hour’s flight away from family!).
Jasmine: How have you utilized the alumni network both as a student and/or as an alumna?
Amber: I adopt a bit of a proactive and reactive approach, both then and now. I was more proactive when I was a student. I reached out to a fair number of alumni just because I thought they had an interesting career path (and because I thought I would be more likely to get a response from them if I played the “student” card!). I still reach out now to Osgoode or Schulich alumni for the same reason (particularly those in New York City since I co-coordinate Osgoode and Schulich alumni events here), but on balance it feels a bit more reactive since I mentor JD/MBA students and alumni transitioning to work in New York.
Amber leaves us with some wise words of wisdom:
Don’t get too comfortable early on in your career; constantly improve yourself by taking on challenging assignments that keep you motivated and your mind stimulated. The more effort you put in at the beginning, the more fulfilling the reward.