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Early Career Clarity: From Immigration to Financial Litigation

Oct 2, 2023
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Nathania Reyes litigates commercial disputes on behalf of financial services organizations like banks. Nathania recounts her journey from uncertain law student to finding her place in civil litigation. She describes her diverse experiences, including immigration and in-house internships, a judicial clerkship, and her transition to private practice. She emphasizes the importance of work-life balance at her current firm, how the Hispanic Bar Association has shaped her career to date, and how she's expanding her expertise in various commercial litigation areas. Nathania touches on networking and business development, highlighting the value of persistence in the face of rejection. Nathania is a 2017 graduate of Rutgers University School of Law.

Transcript

Kyle McEntee:

We're joined today by Nathania Reyes, 2017 graduate of Rutgers University School of Law. She's an associate at Sherman Atlas where she litigates commercial disputes. When you started law school, you were unsure of the type of work you wanted to do. So, you explored different areas of law during your two summers during law school. How did that help you find your way?

Nathania Reyes:

So, the first summer, I would say the job chose me. I didn't choose the job. I kind of was very fortunate for it to land on my lap. I was given the option through the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey. They had a program for 1L students to be an intern in Prudential. And you wouldn't know where you were placed until you were accepted. I received my acceptance, and I thought it would be a great experience to work at Prudential because there's so many different areas you can practice in Prudential as in-house, and I was placed in their employment law section my 1L year. So that summer I solely did employment law. And then after that, as you know, when you're an in-house intern, you usually typically have to have five years+ experience before you're hired as an in-house attorney. I wanted to then experience firm life.

Before going to law school, I worked as a college intern in an immigration, solo practitioner firm. And I wanted to try that out one more time to see, is this where I'm leaning towards to, or do I think I want to just stick to civil litigation? And that second year, I interned for an immigration firm in Newark, New Jersey. And very quickly, I learned I was getting very emotionally involved. Like, I was just connecting with the clients, and they were just such sad stories. So, I figured I'm like, okay, I feel very empathetic to these clients, and it was affecting me whenever like their cases weren't winning. And I realized very quickly that I want to stick to civil litigation.

Kyle McEntee:

And so then after law school, you then managed to get a clerkship opportunity and that kind of exposed you to various civil areas of practice, right?

Nathania Reyes:

Yes, I worked under the amazing Judge Estella de la Cruz, who's now retired. I believe she retired in Hawaii, so she's living the life I wanna live when I retire. And through my civil clerkship, you are exposed to so many different motions that come in as the clerk. You're basically reading everything that the judge receives, writing summaries regarding the motions, whether you think you should grant this motion or deny this motion and explain to the judge why and why not. And through these motions, you can see what is being argued. And it's different types of motions and different areas of civil practice. Through that, I was able to learn through my judge how she made her decisions, learn more about the law.

Because in law school, you're just giving a little taste of everything unless you take a particular class in that area. And in this clerkship, you're just exposed to everything with much more detail than before because now you're looking to specific rules in the rule book as well as case law and seeing how rules and case law work together. So that way I was able to learn, okay, this is very interesting. I like this. I like the way they're arguing. I like their writing style. I think this is where I want to go towards. And through my clerkship, not only are you exposed t so many different types of civil litigation, civil law, but also law firms, writing styles, like specific things that you wouldn't have learned in law school. And through your clerkship, you're showing like, hey, it's not this cookie cutter way that you're taught in school. Everyone has their own little take on it. So not only were you in a clerkship, not only are you exposed to what kind of law civil litigation is, but you're also taught more about legal writing and analysis and research.

Kyle McEntee:

Now did you meet this judge through the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey?

Nathania Reyes:

Surprisingly, I didn't. When you're in your 3L year, you typically have your applications, several applications, sent out to many different judges. And then you're interviewed. But I later found out when I interviewed with Judge Estela de la Cruz that she was the president of HBANJ at one point. So maybe that's what intrigued her about my resume, because I did put that I was. an active member of HBANJ. And maybe she saw that and was like, hey, maybe I can help a fellow Latina and take her under my wing and help her out. I don't know if that was the reason, but hopefully she enjoyed my work as well.

Kyle McEntee:

Yeah, well, I'm sure she did. It really is going to come down to, you know, do you impress in an interview? Do you have that track record, especially for a judge who just has so many people clamoring for those jobs?

Nathania Reyes:

Yeah, yeah.

Kyle McEntee:

After clerking, you worked more than three years at a law firm, but you left. How did you know when it was time to leave that job?

Nathania Reyes:

That's a complicated question because there's so many things that go into that decision. First, t's my first job out of my clerkship, so you do feel a sense of loyalty to the firm. And I would say the first year, you're getting your bearings. You're learning how this firm wants you to work, the hours, the billing, the writing style. And then the second year, you're more acclimated to what's going on and the procedures of the court and oral argument and going to court. Whereas, you know, I was co-president of the Moot Court Board, and I also did the national team. So, I did do these arguments, but they were fake arguments. They were for competitions. Whereas now in this new firm, I'm going in person and arguing these real live cases with my clients’ interest on the line. So, you're getting used to this. You're getting used to being prepared, arguing.

And then during my second year, COVID hit. And when COVID hit, it affected our work because the firm that I was in my first firm, we did a majority of residential foreclosures. And during COVID, there was a moratorium on foreclosures. The work was slow because obviously we couldn't move our foreclosure cases forward. And I came to a realization that I didn't want to do residential foreclosures for the rest of my life. I was okay with doing some residential foreclosure, but not solely residential foreclosures it became more cemented, like that feeling that I didn't want to be pigeon held on that particular subject.

I decided to open my LinkedIn to recruiters, and I was reached out to by one recruiter who, again, small world, her brother was president of HBANJ, and she didn't realize that I knew him and that I was part of the HBANJ. So, it's just a small world connection and she connected me to the firm where I'm at currently, which is called Sherman Atlas. And I remember it was one of my first interviews and in my head, I decided I was like, “okay, I haven't interviewed in a while. I'm just going to use this as a practice run for my first interview out of my last law firm.” And I was like, “I'm gonna put my foot down, I'm gonna be firm, I'm gonna make sure to say what I wanna do, because I made a decision, I did not wanna do residential foreclosures for the rest of my life.” And I said that in my interview. I wanted to expand my knowledge, and they agreed. They promised that if I were to accept their offer, that I would be exposed to various different commercial litigation cases.

And they said that in addition to that they appreciate work-life balance. And as I'm sure you've interviewed so many other different attorneys, it's hard to find firms that actually say what they mean when it comes to work-life balance. They'll say that and then sometimes they'll be making the attorneys work 180 plus hours a month. So as soon as they said that, in addition to promising me that I would be exposed to different kinds of areas and commercial litigation, I accepted. I laughed afterwards because I I thought I was just gonna go in as a practice interview and just get my bearings and here I am accepting the first offer I got. And again, this was happening during COVID. My last firm, we changed from in-person to completely virtual work. And this new firm Sherman Atlas a lot of the attorneys were working in the office. And I found that I was working so much better being in the office. I felt like a human again because ,as you know, in COVID times, you're working and living in the same area. So, it was a nice change of pace. And then the new cases I was working on, I felt challenged again. I felt like, okay, like back into my clerkship year, I was learning new law, learning rules, how I apply to the case law and how to make my argument persuasive for the court.

Kyle McEntee:

So, I think a lot of law firms say they care about work-life balance, but they don't actually mean it. But they know they have to tell people who are interviewing that they have it. Otherwise, especially lawyers of a younger generation, they're gonna just not take them up on their offer. So how did you suss out that they were actually telling the truth about their commitment to work-life balance?

Nathania Reyes:

In the interview when they said they appreciate work-life balance, like you said, I didn't truly believe them because all firms say that to get you in. However, they allowed me to talk to their associates in the litigation department, I should say their council, and they left the room and had me talk to the two councils. And I asked them blatantly, I asked them, are you happy here? And they said, yes, we are. We are able to go home to our kids, spend time with our families on the weekend. We rarely work on the weekends unless something's really urgent. And no one is forced to answer emails on the weekends unless it's an emergency, like a true emergency. And they seemed completely honest. They didn't look like they were lying. So, I took it at face value until I started here. And I realized my first week here, I didn't see any attorney staying here past 6:30, 7:00 p.m. which was a stark contrast to my last firm where when we were in the office we were probably working until like eight nine sometimes 10 p.m. there was one attorney my last firm who once slept over in the firm!

Kyle McEntee:

Oh jeez.

Nathania Reyes:

It was so insane when she told me that I told her don't ever do that again go home and relax but and it's been true since I started, I'm going to make two years in December 6. And I can tell you, I can step out of my office right now and maybe there'll be three attorneys, four attorneys max, but there's never like the full office full at six, 7 p.m. And that just shows me how much they appreciate work-life balance.

Kyle McEntee:

And so, for our listeners reference, we are not asking her to interview at six or seven, it's 5:23 PM.

Kyle McEntee:

And I think that even makes your point better, right? That it is 5:23 PM, not on a Friday, but I think today's Tuesday. Is that right?

Nathania Reyes:

Yeah, today's Tuesday.

Kyle McEntee:

So, you know, that, that I think makes that point pretty clearly.

Nathania Reyes:

And I think Kyle can attest that no one has knocked on my door either. So further confirmation.

Kyle McEntee:

Someone might hear you say, oh well, they told me they were happy. And may be someone cynical might say, oh well, it's easy to lie to someone. But I think it's a lot harder to lie to someone to their face about things that you could later validate. Like I go home to my family, or I don't have to answer emails on the weekend compared to presenting a platitude like we care about work-life balance. I think for people listening, if you're feeling a little cynical about that, you know, people in these law firms, they're all human beings. It's unlikely they’re going to straight up lie to your face.

Nathania Reyes:

And same goes also with vacations. I think one thing that a lot of people don't account for in firms is that some firms will say you have unlimited PTO but obviously there's a caveat to that where you're still expected to give them access to you 24/7. Whereas in this firm, I noticed that like, I got married last year. And obviously with planning a wedding, there's a lot of days you need to be out for not only wedding purposes, but the honeymoon. And I didn't receive any direct emails during that time where I had to do wedding, wedding prep or my honeymoon. And it's just a stark difference from my last from where I was getting emails nonstop. So, I do truly appreciate that because it just further validates that they appreciate the work life balance.

Kyle McEntee:

Absolutely. So now that you're at Sherman Atlas, you've moved away from exclusively residential foreclosures. What are some of the practice areas that you're getting to dabble in these days?

Nathania Reyes:

It varies from day to day. So, I still do occasional residential foreclosures, but now I would say that's 1% of what I do, which is great. Now I can do commercial foreclosures, which is similar, but again, it's with a commercial property instead of residential. I do contract disputes where I represent financial institutions, so it could be an individual claiming that the financial institution breached a contract and that could be either a deposit agreement with a bank or a business deposit agreement. It could be a corporation suing a bank for breach of contract, whether it's something where there was a fraudulent wire fraud that they're alleging or whether they have some other dispute.

I don't have one thing where I work on a majority of. Some days I'll be working on loan defaults, which could be separate from mortgage defaults, which is typically for a property. I can say that I'm still learning. But I think that's the nature of our job. We are constantly learning; the law is constantly changing. There's always gonna be something new. And it's just getting to the point of being confident and comfortable that you have the capability of changing as the law changes. and that you're not set in the old ways.

Kyle McEntee:

So how are you developing this knowledge? Because I mean, like you said, you need that to be helpful to the partners, to the client.

Nathania Reyes:

A lot of research gets involved with learning this new area of law. Westlaw is my best friend as well as Google. Sometimes even attorneys, we need to Google to just simplify something so that way we can break it down in a way that's not so legalese. Sometimes that's the best way, just like A, B, C instead of adding A, X, B, Y, C, Z. It's just easier to simplify everything so that when you're explaining to a partner, you can say, “Hey, we received a breach of contract claim from this organization, this corporation. They're alleging breach of contract based on this rule. This is what this rule means. I don't think it applies because....” And that's where you break it down for them in a very simple term. Because the partner is a human too. You don't want to overcomplicate what the case is about. And also, when you talk to the client, the client is not a lawyer. You want to be able to know how to simplify things so that they understand, you understand, and you're all on the same page as to what next steps are and what we're going to argue to defend the client against this plaintiff or defendant, whoever is alleging it.

Kyle McEntee:

And so, in these disputes that you're involved in, there are corporations on both sides generally, right?

Nathania Reyes:

Sometimes, or sometimes it's an individual suing a financial institution.

Kyle McEntee:

You mentioned earlier that one of the issues you had with immigration is that you were often empathizing with someone for whom it wasn't going their way. How do you compartmentalize that empathy, knowing that sometimes they might really feel screwed over?

Nathania Reyes:

Yeah, so I would say first I would explain why I would be so empathetic with my immigration cases. With the immigration cases, there typically came a lot of hardship, like escaping their hardship, from war, very gruesome things that were happening to them. And if their application was denied, that would just break my heart because I knew they physically were in danger in their country. In commercial litigation, at the end of the day, it's money. It's not an emotional thing. Money is something that for everyone, unfortunately, comes and goes. But typically, in these cases where we're defending against individuals, they're in the wrong. They do things that they shouldn't have done. And then in order for them to try to get that money back for making an incorrect decision, they go towards the bank or financial institution because they have the deep pockets, which is short for saying like the bank has a lot of funds and they go to sue the individual or corporation that they think they could get the most money from. So, there are several people who just draft frivolous litigation just to see if the bank will just be like here because it costs less to just give someone the money than actually litigate it completely to the conclusion of the case.

And sometimes the client would just be like, see if they'll just resolve it for the amount that they're asking, just so that they could save money from the litigation. But not often. I think from the two years I've been here, it's been twice that has happened.

Kyle McEntee:

So, litigation can kind of be like a chessboard with lots of moving parts, where do you fit into this big picture?

Nathania Reyes:

I think it varies by case, but typically as soon as I get a case assigned to me, I'm drafting the complaint. So I have an initial discussion with the partner or counsel, whoever is assigning me the case, where we talk about what the case is about and what next steps are. And as soon as I start the case, I may on my own recommend doing something and see if they agree with me. For example. I just had one case where we were going to just file a motion for a more definite pleading. And instead of just doing that, I spoke to my partner because I was a little confused as to why we weren't just doing a motion to dismiss because I didn't think the complaint had a basis to sue our client. And after discussing it with the partner, he thought that was a good idea and he decided why don't we mix both. So, we mixed both. We did a motion to dismiss or an alternative for more definite pleading. And I felt like my input was accepted by the partner.

With regard to trial, I've actually been, I don't know if I want to say fortunate or unfortunate, to be assigned two trials now where I will be handling it on my own. And these trials will be one would be against a pro se, which is an unrepresented individual, and another person, in the other case, it will be against another attorney. They haven't happened yet, but they are scheduled. And this will be my first-time handling this completely on my own. But with always the supervision and guidance of a partner, like whenever I have any questions at all, they're very open. They always tell me like, come and ask questions and I can help you with anything that you're struggling with, or if you have questions like, should I do this? Should I do that?

Same thing goes with depositions, which is an initial discovery stage that attorneys do when they're trying to figure out what basis some claims have. Part of discovery is not only exchanging documents, but also depositions where you question the other side on why they elect XYZ on their complaint. So, I was also able to do two depositions completely on my own, which were my first two depositions because in my last firm, I didn't do depositions and I was able to do my outline. However, with my outline, I would send it to my partner and the partner would review and tell me this area is good. Let's fine tune this. Let's add this. So, I was never fully alone, but I still felt like my input was being included.

Kyle McEntee:

So, I'd imagine part of the reason now that you are able to get more responsibility is because you're more experienced and getting better and better at what you're doing. Are you now starting to think about business development at all?

Nathania Reyes:

I am. I actually started really thinking about it. I would say last year, one thing I realized that very successful attorneys do – not only are they good at what they do in their jobs, but they are also really good at networking and bringing business to their firms. Because at the end of the day, a firm is a business. You're running a business. But when you're trying to sell what you do, you want your work to talk for you as well. So, you want to make sure that you're doing a fantastic job on your cases because when you're networking you want to be able to sell yourself and your firm. You can say we have this list of clients, we've won a majority of our cases, and we will work for you to make sure that your interests are heard.

Since the pandemic, I've been trying to attend more networking events and try to garner business for the firm, not only for the firm, but more it's also for me. It helps me gain that confidence and that maturity of, “I am a fifth-year attorney now”. I'm not just a first-year associate who doesn't know what they're doing. I now have a slight grasp of what I'm doing, and I feel a little more confident now that I can sell what my firm is able to do.

I recently asked a potential client out for dinner to see if they would be interested in our service and I spoke to the partner before I did this and he was super supportive about it and he told me, this is what you want to ask, this is what you ultimately want to get out and you want to say this about our firm. And I was able to do it, go through this dinner. And from that dinner, we had a follow-up Zoom call with the partner in the call so that the partner could really expand on what we do. Because at the end of the day, he's been an attorney for far longer than I have. And he's been at this firm for far longer as well. So, he would know exactly what we can and can't do for this potential client. So that was my first experience. And I will still try to garner more business in future networking events, but again, it's hard.

Some people, as one of my co-workers calls it, the gift of gab. Some people have it, some people don't. And I think for me, I am more comfortable with one-on-one conversations because it's more intimate. And in networking events, you are in a room full of people, and you have to be able to grasp someone's attention and keep it for at least five minutes. And not only that but get their information and remember to follow up. And then follow up with them and put in your email or in your call a detail that shows that you were paying attention to what they were saying. You want to try to stand out from all of these other people that are doing the same thing as you at the end of the day.

Kyle McEntee:

So did you end up having success? Did you did you sign that client?

Nathania Reyes:

I did not, but that was not the fault of myself or the partner. Our firm just ended up not being able to do what they needed. So that was not, I would say, maybe if we grow to that particular niche that that person wanted eventually one day, but with that, as of right now, we couldn't do what they needed to do.

Kyle McEntee:

And a no’s not so bad, right? Cause you need lots of no’s to get to a yes.

Nathania Reyes:

That's funny that you say that, because that's my actual motto. I tell my friends also who interview, don't let that no upset you because each no brings you closer to that yes.

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