Julia Guttman

Hometown: Bethesda, Maryland
Current Job: Partner at Baker Botts L.L.P.
YLS year: 1985
Clerkship: Judge Patricia M. Wald, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Activities at YLS: Yale Law Journal, Notes Editor; Street Law (teaching law to high school students)


How did you end up in your current position at Baker Botts?

While I was in law school, I spent my summers at two firms. I first worked at a small litigation boutique in San Francisco, and the next summer at a larger firm in Washington, D.C. Based on those experiences, I concluded that I wanted to work at a small firm, so I started at Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin LLP after I finished clerking in D.C. I was interested in white-collar defense, and at the time, very few firms specialized in that type of work. Miller Cassidy was one of them. I enjoyed the civil and criminal work that I was able to do there. Eventually, Miller Cassidy merged with Baker Botts, and I have been there ever since.

What type of work do you do now?

Now I do almost exclusively white-collar defense work. Very few cases end up going to trial, so I don’t spend much time in court. I work a lot with witnesses, and that is never the same in any two instances. People who are smart and effective in their careers can nonetheless be terrible witnesses. I also spend time thinking about strategy and legal arguments. Though I have a good sense from my experience as to how prosecutors are likely to approach a case and what the important issues will be, each case is different. I enjoy developing the facts of each case. I also manage associates, including reviewing their work and giving them direction on research assignments and possible legal arguments. A large part of being a partner in a firm is generating business as well.

At any one time, I’m working on between three and eight cases. White-collar defense requires a lot of partner involvement, as these cases demand significant judgment and experience. We have to work with the prosecutor and with witnesses. Associates are very important to our work, and we usually have at least one or two associates on each case.

You mentioned that you work part time. Can you tell me about that?

Most days, I get to the office at 8 and leave by 5. I generally keep those hours, but sometimes I take time off during the day for various things. What makes the arrangement “part time” is that I am responsible for only 50-60% of the total billable hours that are expected of full-time partners. I began this arrangement informally while I was at Miller Cassidy. I began working fewer hours after I had my two children. It was a small firm with very few policies, so I just worked less and that was factored into my compensation. When Miller Cassidy merged with Baker Botts, I talked to the management and became the first part-time partner at Baker Botts. There are more part-time partners now, and they are all women. Women are about 20% of the U.S. partners at our firm, so that is something the firm is working on.


How did your classes in law school help prepare you for your career?

When I was in law school, I thought I wanted to practice administrative law. I grew up in D.C., where the government is ubiquitous. In law school, I took an administrative law course and then clerked for a judge who was greatly respected for her opinions on administrative law. However, I came to realize I didn’t actually like administrative law. The courses I took in law school that I liked most were about securities and criminal law. One class in particular that I remember enjoying was an advanced criminal procedure seminar taught by Steven Duke. During my summer jobs and my clerkship I also particularly enjoyed the criminal and securities cases.

Did any activities in law school help prepare you for your work?

I was a Notes Editor on the Yale Law Journal, and I thought the process of analyzing Notes was especially helpful in honing the skills I need in my career. At the time, the Journal was a pretty diverse crowd—the managing editor was a woman, and women filled other leadership roles as well.

Are there any specific skills you learned at Yale that have been particularly helpful in your career?

One of the things that sticks with me is that YLS helped me learn to think critically. It’s not just one class or one professor who taught me that, but in general the atmosphere really helps to foster analytical thinking skills. For example, I learned how to read cases to see multiple interpretations of the opinions, which has been very useful to me as a litigator.


Did you find clerking to be a valuable experience?

I think that anyone who has the opportunity to clerk for a good judge should do so, especially if you want to do litigation. Although I got exposure to different types of cases, clerking isn’t as much about getting a survey of the law as it is about seeing how courts and judges think and make decisions. You can’t fully appreciate this in law school. As a litigator, you will spend your life trying to persuade courts to do something, and seeing from the judge’s perspective what’s effective and ineffective is invaluable.

There are many wonderful judges at district courts and appellate courts, and I think it can be an exceedingly rewarding experience. You will also meet other clerks who will become friends and colleagues for the rest of your life. A judge can also be a source of advice and friendship. Judge Wald, for whom I clerked, is an amazing woman. One of the things I liked most about working for her is that she would talk with her clerks about issues that she faced in her career. She allowed her clerks to see how she deals with life. However, I think you have to find the right person to clerk for. It’s not worth clerking for someone who will be demeaning—life is too short.

How do you balance a family and a career?

In order to balance the two, you have to want to do both of them very much. My family is the most important thing to me, so I’m willing to say that if my career didn’t work out, I would have gone and done something else. But my career is also very important to me, and that’s why I’m willing to put up with all of the chaos that comes with balancing those two things. I really love what I do. I like to put 110% into everything I do, and sometimes it can be hard when there are two competing interests.

My husband and I are able to cover for each other: If one of us has to go out of town, we make sure one of us can be at home. As I mentioned, I try to be home by 5, but if I can’t my husband will try to be home then. We also have a nanny, which is a great help. I’ve found that my friends worry about both parents going out of town at the same time, but that hasn’t happened with us. We didn’t have a plan for how we would work everything out before we had children, but generally it works out.


Are there any particular traits you are impressed by in associates in your office?

I look for associates who have strong legal analytic abilities as well as a sense of strategy. That means people who can look at the whole case and say, “Okay, we are trying to solve a problem, and here’s how we can do it.” I appreciate when people have a pragmatic streak and a sense of what’s realistic. Everyone has different skills: some people are born to be in the courtroom, and there are others who are very good with witnesses or writing briefs.

Is there any advice you have received that has stuck with you?

Jack Miller, the founder of my first firm, offered me two pieces of advice: The first is to look at the words of the statute—you have to anchor your arguments in the words. Second, it should be fun to practice law. If it’s not fun, go do something else. You should enjoy what you do.

Do you have any advice for current law students?

I would say that the practice of law is always changing: some of the advice you will be given now, you may need to rethink. Women tend to think that “these are the rules, we should stick with them,” but the practice of law is always changing.

I would also advise students to specialize early. That is an advantage right now, though it is hard to know right out of school what you will enjoy doing. It’s also vital to stay in touch with law school friends; in time, many of them will have influential positions with potential clients, and the relationships you make now are very important.