The enduring value of a legal education
By Tim Hyland | Emory Law | May 17, 2016
Talk to Omeed Malik 06L for more than a few minutes and one thing becomes abundantly clear: This is a man who really, really loves his job.
A rising star on Wall Street, Malik currently serves as managing director and head of US prime brokerage distribution for Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York, as well as head of the firm’s Emerging Manager Program— a program that he not only leads, but created.
His work at BofA Merrill Lynch allows Malik the opportunity to do pretty much everything he loves. He travels the world. He works with brilliant people. He engages face-to-face with his clients. He is, in short, well on his way to building for himself precisely the kind of career that he always dreamed of.
But this trained attorney is not currently working in a position that requires a JD. Malik says he may not be a practicing attorney, as he originally planned to be, but there’s no denying that his experience at Emory Law was a valuable one. So valuable, in fact, that he truly believes that, without those years of legal training, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
“I didn’t take lightly my decision to leave [the law],” says Malik, who after leaving Emory worked as an associate at the international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York. “But I also know that if you recognize that you have a specific skill set, you have to find opportunities that will tap into that. My law degree and legal experience gave me a very different way of looking at problems, which is something that not everyone around me has.”
Most students enroll in law school, of course, with a legal career in mind. But inevitably, some, like Malik, will learn that the realities of practicing the law aren’t what they expected. Many find, though, that the skills they learned in law school have allowed them to bring distinctive value to positions outside the area of practice.
Malik chose to use those skills in finance and says today he could not be more thrilled with where he’s landed. And, like him, many others who have made the same choice agree that there remains something enduringly and inherently valuable about a legal education— an essence to the study that prepares one to analyze problems, to develop unique solutions, and, perhaps above all, to always seek new knowledge.
“We created a modern Georgia,” Tkeshelashvili says with pride. “It is a nation with fully functional institutions. So many reforms were carried out. Georgia is now one of the success stories of democratic development in the whole region.”
Having been through that transformation, Tkeshelashvili now shares what he learned— both back at home and at Emory — with students of his own. And he says he relishes the opportunity to help mold the next generation of leaders. “There are so many countries out there that need strong leaders,” he says. “I am very keen on being part of the process of helping implement changes in different parts of the world.”
Engineering fundamental change
For David Tkeshelashvili 06L, that last part is particularly true. Tkeshelashvili, who currently serves as associate director of the Center for International and Comparative Law at Emory, first set foot on campus in Atlanta in 2005. He arrived from his native country of Georgia, where he had spent years serving as a member of the nation’s parliament. At the time, his homeland was in a state of flux, to put it lightly.
More bluntly, Tkeshelashvili says, Georgia back then was nothing short of a failed state. He went to Emory specifically with the aim of learning how he might be able to help engineer a turnaround in his homeland, and although it was certainly a daunting challenge, it was made at least somewhat easier by his time in Atlanta.
“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” he says. “My education at Emory was a deep exploration of how legal practice can and does influence everyday life. There is no question that the knowledge I took from Emory was helpful for me as we worked to conduct reforms [in Georgia].”
Tkeshelashvili would serve in multiple roles upon his return to Georgia: as minister for environmental protection and natural resources; minister of labor, health, and social affairs; vice prime minister for regional issues; and first prime minister for regional development and infra- structure. His work was wide-ranging, deeply challenging, and, for the future of the country, hugely important.
But more than a decade after he arrived at Emory, Tkeshelashvili says he can look back confidently and say that all of the hard work paid off. After all, the same country that found itself in such a state of turmoil in the early 2000s has since utterly and completely transformed itself, becoming one of the safest and most stable nations in the region.
Fostering tomorrow’s tech leaders
For Ernesto Escobar 14L, the thrill of helping push change is no less exhilarating — but while Tkeshelashvili found his place half a world away from Emory, Escobar found it just up the road.
During his time at Emory, Escobar took part in the Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results (TI:GER) program, which allows Emory Law students to work collaboratively with graduate students working across disciplines from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Together, TI:GER teams aim to transform research into economically viable products.
The innovative program would ultimately provide the perfect learning environment for Escobar, who quickly discovered that while he may have thought he had a deep interest in the law, his true passion was the fast-paced, ever-exciting world of tech start-ups.
“The more I experienced the TI:GER program, the more I realized I was having a lot of fun [developing projects]— and that I was actually enjoying that process a lot more than I did studying law,” he says. “One of my TI:GER partners from law school wasn’t as interested in the business side of things, so I just took the lead there and ended up handling a lot of the business development. I just really enjoyed the entire experience.”
Perhaps just as important, the TI:GER program helped Escobar make key contacts across town at Georgia Tech— contacts he eventually leveraged to land his current role as a commercialization catalyst for Tech’s VentureLab program. In that role, Escobar works with university faculty and students to help them commercialize their research. It’s a process he understands quite well, having spent the past several years working to build a start-up of his own. That young firm, FloMera, has developed a promising technology to help women conduct an at-home breast cancer test with a single drop of blood.
He says he finds the work of building his own start-up, and helping others launch theirs, consistently exciting.
“I really love my job,” Escobar says. “For me, I think the excitement comes from trying to start things from scratch. My personality is a very creative one, and I really love to identify a problem and then try to find a new solution.”
Like Malik, Escobar found his vocation outside the traditional practice of law. But also like Malik, he says he owes much of his early career success to his legal education. He may never practice a day as an attorney, but he’s certain the lessons he learned at Emory Law will remain with him for years to come. His Emory Law education continues to shape his daily successes.
“One, I think law school gave me the capacity to grab onto a problem and then be able to divide it into very small pieces,” he says. “When I am working to create programs where there are a lot of moving parts, being able to analyze each individual part and understand how that one part impacts the overall product is very useful. The other thing is that, even though I’m fairly young, in my role at Georgia Tech, I am meeting with presidents of universities and other individuals in very senior positions, and in those meetings, having a law degree gives me a lot of credibility in their eyes. Even though it’s not a hard skill, it’s obvious that when I’m talking to them and they know I have a law degree, they take me very seriously.”
Even though most people enter law school with the express intention of becoming practicing attorneys, there are those who use the experience to enhance their understanding and performance in other professions. The importance of legal training is becoming more and more evident as other legal degrees — juris master and master of laws, for example — are growing in popularity. The world certainly needs practicing attorneys, both as litigators and transactional lawyers, but the business world also needs leaders who have an appreciation of the rule of law and and the legal acumen to move their business forward in a way that is beneficial to all parties involved. That’s where legal training can help these captains of commerce defy convention.