Brian Forman spent the last eight years as a member of the Structuring Group within BNY Mellon’s HedgeMark, a managed account platform provider for large institutional investors in New York City, before returning to the law firm world last August as a partner at Morrison Cohen. In this episode, Brian shares a little about his own experience building a career in corporate and investment management practices, transitioning back into a law firm in the midst of a pandemic, and his advice for future and fellow lawyers looking to build their careers in today’s market.
For Brian, corporate and investment management law just made sense.
“As junior associates, we didn't have a ton of control over what we wanted to do,” said Brian of his early years as a lawyer at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. “That said, if you had things that you were interested in, they would try to staff you on those things and give you exposure to it, which was great.”
Writing disclosure documents and learning about the investment strategies of his client was enjoyable for Brian. “It made a lot of sense to me,” said Brian. “And when something clicks like that, you just want to keep doing it and learning about it.”
After a few years at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, Brian went over to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld to focus on investment funds. “I thought that the partners I met with over there would be fantastic to learn from,” said Brian. “I had the ability to focus exclusively on hedge fund formation and private equity fund formation and regulatory matters that are relevant to both. I'm sure people will laugh, but there is some real creativity that's involved with putting some of these structures together and describing it on a page to potential investors and an audience in a way that's clear and that multiple people could read it and have the same idea about what's happening - which is really the key.”
As for advice for young lawyers looking to get into the investment management practice area, Brian says that it’s important to always be knowledgeable about industry updates. “There are so many resources out there, free resources, for you to learn about regulatory updates or industry updates that I try to benefit from,” said Brian. “I set myself alerts from the SEC website, from the CFTC website, from the NFA, from ISDA, from all of the various regulatory bodies and associations that touch my practice area. And when there are new rulemakings or updates or enforcement actions or things that are important for me to know about, I read them right away so that I'm the one that's telling clients about them before other lawyers or other publications do.”
As a junior associate, Brian says that even though you may not have the same type of client exposure, you can demonstrate to the senior associates you’re working for that you are interested and have initiative, which is something he would be thrilled to have in a young lawyer. “My advice is just to immerse yourself; get into it and learn as much as you can because ultimately clients are paying a lot of money for real advice,” said Brian. “And when you get more senior, you're going to be the one that's giving it. And it's really something after you've been practicing for a long time to realize how much you've learned, and to know that you can provide legitimate value for the fees that you're charging.”
Transitioning back into the legal space
“We really built an incredible business in those eight and a half years,” said Brian of his time at HedgeMark, where they grew a managed account platform to over $25 billion from nothing. “And the question is why would you want to leave after accomplishing something like that, right?”
The answer? Brian was planning for his future. Brian began thinking beyond his current work, about how his talents could be best utilized at this phase of his career. “Obviously the two main choices for me were either going back into private practice or to another in-house job as general counsel somewhere,” said Brian. “And ultimately I decided that it would be better as I go into this stage of my career to be a revenue earner for a business, as opposed to a cost.”
When Brian began contemplating his career pivot, he had no idea what the world would look like in the months to come, or that he would ultimately begin his partnership at Morrison Cohen from his own home. “My last set of interviews were actually on March 12, which was the first day that we were quarantined at BNY Mellon,” said Brian. “[Morrison Cohen] called me in the middle of the day and said, let's do this over Zoom. So that was a telling prophecy for the months to come.”
As with most things during the COVID-19 pandemic, his transition was delayed, but finally joined Morrison Cohen in August.
“I've literally been to my office one time,” said Brian. “I've never been face-to-face with colleagues aside from initial interviews.”
Still, Brian works hard to get connected with his colleagues, and to look for ways to make himself known virtually. For example, after helping a new colleague with an issue, Brian realized that there might be other people he could help as well, so he sent out a firm-wide email to share more about his expertise and offer advice. “It's actually been really helpful because a few people have given me work that they didn't know that I was capable of handling when I first joined the firm,” said Brian.
Take advantage of every opportunity to learn
“The ability to do things from home, as clearly evidenced during COVID, should have people being a little bit more reasonable about things like going back into the office on a Friday night,” said Brian of the new-found flexibility working from home has brought. “I think it’s probably better in that respect. But in terms of advancement and gaining trust from people, you still need to be really careful about the same things that we had to be careful about—don't make a lot of typos in the document that you're sending to a partner or to a client, or if you're asked to do research, do it thoroughly.”
Brian says to pay particularly close attention to these things, especially if you have senior associates or partners willing to take the time to explain things to young lawyers. “There's no magical switch that flips when you become a fifth or a sixth year where you all of a sudden know all of the things that are supposed to be on these disclosure schedules or the terms that are going to be in a document,” said Brian. “You learn them by watching more senior people doing it and actually getting your hands a little dirty when you're junior.”