With over two decades of experience representing public and private companies in matters of corporate governance, capital markets, and mergers and acquisitions, Steven Khadavi talks to us about his own career path, how his firm has handled its own merger in the midst of a pandemic, and advice for future and fellow lawyers looking to navigate the legal landscape during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Steven Khadavi, now a transactional lawyer and managing partner for Troutman Pepper’s New York office, is a born-and-bred New Yorker, only taking a break to attend The George Washington University Law School in Washington D.C.
“I knew I’d end up practicing law in New York because my family was here, so I thought, at least for law school, maybe I’d try a different city,” Khadavi recalls of his earliest decision for his law career.
“Washington D.C. is an incredible place to practice law—there are so many opportunities there. You could literally walk into the Supreme Court building—pre-COVID of course—and just sit in on an argument.”
A path to corporate law
During his first two years at GW Law, Khadavi was sure he was going to be a litigator, especially after participating in and enjoying moot court and mock trial. The experience gave him the opportunity to see what litigation would look like beyond what he came up viewing on television, shows like the late 1980s/early 1990s drama series LA Law and People’s Court. However, after his 2L year, Khadavi took a summer position at a law firm that shifted his intended focus.
“I started doing some litigation assignments which were complicated matters that required a lot of research and brief writing and memoranda,” Khadavi remembers. “And I realized that I was spending an inordinate amount of time trying to find answers for questions that didn't really have answers.”
So Khadavi decided to try his hand at corporate law. While he realized he had a lot to learn, there were aspects of this new area of law that appealed to him in ways that his experiences with litigation had not. “Back when I was in law school they tended to prepare you more for litigation rather than corporate, and so the learning curve was extremely steep on the corporate side,” said Khadavi of his reasons behind his choice.
“With transactional work, there isn’t necessarily a winner and a loser; it isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game. Whereas on the litigation side, there tends to be winners and losers, if a transaction is done properly and everything closes it's copacetic, then people tend to leave happy. And so, it's as a result of all those things that I ended up becoming more of a corporate lawyer.”
The transition from litigation to transactional law was just the beginning of what has been a long and successful career. After graduating from law school, Khadavi worked in corporate law as an associate at Cahill Gorden & Reindel and King & Spalding, counsel at O’Melveny & Myers, and a partner at Dorsey & Whitney and Troutman Sanders (now Troutman Pepper) where he has been since April 2019.
Leading through a year of change
Troutman Sanders originally planned to merge with Pepper Hamilton on April 1 of this year. However, plans quickly changed due to the unforeseen circumstances surrounding COVID-19, pushing the merger back to July. It wasn’t easy, but while the pandemic presented many challenges, there were also opportunities that helped make the transition a success.
“From my standpoint, the merger has gone extremely well,” said Khadavi. “I've gotten to know my colleagues pretty well, and in some ways I think that merging in the midst of a pandemic [actually] created opportunities to meet more of my colleagues via video than I would have had we been doing this in person.”
Ensuring cohesion was a key factor of the merger’s success. “I think culture is the critical factor in terms of any sort of law firm, any transaction, like the one that we've undergone,” said Khadavi.
“If cultures don't mesh then the transaction is set to fail. And so as part of this process between the two firms, most of the time was spent on culture. Management at both firms focused extensively on making sure that the two firms could co-exist as one cohesive law firm. And that's proven to be the case.”
Troutman Pepper is now a 1,110-lawyer firm, with offices in 23 U.S. cities, and it is one of the 50 highest-grossing firms in the country based on their 2019 revenue. “Again, although we're in the midst of a pandemic, we have numerous tangible examples already where we've been able to effectively cross-sell our new colleagues to our clients and generate work that we otherwise wouldn't have without the merger.”
On what makes a good lawyer great
Khadavi can also relate what he’s learned from this experience back to the career paths of young lawyers. “What I learned as a very junior lawyer was that it's not enough just to be a great lawyer and a great practitioner, particularly when you're working on corporate matters,” said Khadavi.
“You really have to understand the business and the industry that you're working with because your clients—yes, although they look to you for legal advice—they also look to you for practical advice a lot of times.”
For instance, if you’re a junior lawyer assigned a telecommunication matter, one of the best things you can do to prepare is to learn as much as you can about the clients and the industry. “Today there are just so many avenues to gain knowledge and learn, so it's not really difficult,” Khadavi said of obtaining a specific knowledge base. “I think it's something that will distinguish a young lawyer from his or her peers in that regard.”
Finding ways to build a career and develop in the age of Covid
Despite being able to get to know his colleagues via video, Khadavi still worries about how the isolation of the pandemic will affect the career paths of young lawyers. Feedback and mentorship are key components of junior lawyers' training, and without being able to have informal conversations with partners in the office, that sort of on-the-job development of young lawyers could suffer.
“I think diversity and inclusion is kind of front and center with our clients, and they expect it. I think you're going to see a lot of improvement in that area over the next several years… I think it's a real opportunity to try to change the profession for the better for everybody.”
Khadavi hopes the movement will continue to bring diversity into law schools, providing a new generation of lawyers who will be able to forge their own paths and build their careers, just as he did.
About Steven Khadavi
Steven is the managing partner of the New York office of Troutman Pepper. He has more than two decades of experience in corporate finance and securities law, as well as mergers and acquisitions. Steven counsels public and private companies on complex securities matters. He regularly advises boards of directors and special committees on issues of corporate governance and fiduciary duties.
Want to get in touch with Steven? You can reach him here.