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Paul Mourning: Practicing Law in the Not-For-Profit World

 

Paul MourningAfter a stint as a summer associate at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, Paul Mourning began his career at this prominent law firm in the belief that he would become a traditional corporate lawyer. However, his experience working with not-for-profit organizations quickly changed the course of his career.
"I had no idea that a not-for-profit practice even existed when I came out of law school," says Mourning. His work during his first year with a senior partner who had a substantial client base of charitable organizations brought Mourning an unexpected reaction. "My practice brings me a measure of personal satisfaction. I get a charge out of knowing that I'm helping organizations that are out there in turn doing good. I did not know this was important to me when I got out of law school, but, once I got into it, it was a huge plus."
Cadwalader is one of the nation's oldest law firms, dating back to 1792, and has clients as diverse as leading financial institutions, corporations government entities, individual private clients, and charitable and health care organizations. The long and varied history of the firm is reflected in Mourning's more than 25 years of practice.
"I have a different question come at me every day, an issue that I've never considered before," Mourning says. "Being at a firm like Cadwalader with substantial resources means that I can usually find the expertise within the firm to help me answer these questions."
Mourning's client list is diverse, and he's even had a wide range of experiences with just one. "Much of my work over the years has been with The Salvation Army, a longstanding client of the firm," he says. "We have had the opportunity to do an amazing variety of things with them for well over 80 years."
Currently, Mourning is working on the development of a large community center in Philadelphia, advising a religious organization that wants to accept federal money on constitutional issues, and handling the sale of a not-for-profit nursing home.
This range of topics keeps Mourning on his toes and often informs his work for other clients.
"(The community center) is funded in part by New Markets Tax Credits, a terrific program that provides financing for capital projects for businesses in low-income areas," Mourning explains. "I'm not a tax lawyer, so I'm relying heavily on the tax lawyers at Cadwalader and a firm in Philadelphia for the tax advice. It's an opportunity to learn a whole new type of financing that will likely be used by this client in multiple locations as well by other not-for-profit clients."

Effects of the Economy on Mourning's Work Experience

Dealing with the current economic volatility and new administration in Washington has affected Mourning and his firm in several ways.
An increasingly busy area for Mourning is the interpretation and application of new and amended laws, rules and regulations for clients. "The federal government recently extended and expanded the provision of COBRA benefits, and almost all of our clients have asked questions about that," Mourning says.
In his role as Cadwalader's hiring partner, Mourning has also seen changes. The firm was more selective in the number of offers extended during the most recent recruiting season, and expects that trend to continue this year, although he believes the basic tenets of this program remain unchanged. "We're always interested in people that show confidence and are self-starters," he explains. "We provide excellent training but you can't be a shrinking violet. We look for ambitious people, but we also want team players. It can't be ambition to the exclusion of the team. I feel like those things haven't really changed in this market."
Mourning does believes that the downturn in the economy has resulted in a change of focus, both from his firm's perspective and from the perspective of incoming law students.
"Certainly we're seeing a shift in the type of work that we're doing based on the needs and demands of our clients," Mourning explains. "But I think that...law students are perceptive on that score. We are finding a lot of people who are interested in areas like financial restructuring, insolvency, financial services and regulation. Our global financial framework is going through a huge metamorphosis, and the lawyers coming out of school today are going to see the evolution. They will be instrumental in helping clients navigate what is yet to come and will be well-positioned going forward for the next 10, 20 or even 30 years, as experts with respect to these new regulatory schemes."

Advice for Newly Minted Lawyers Facing Tough Job Market

Aside from the current shift of focus given the economy, Mourning says there are opportunities for growth even for those coming out of law school who might face difficulty finding traditional employment. Teaching and writing are just two options he mentions, with writing offering a particularly wide range of opportunities.
Not surprisingly, considering his background, Mourning also suggests public service. "I'm thinking government, I'm thinking not-for-profit, for either paid or volunteer positions."
Mourning is a strong proponent of clerkships. "I did not do a clerkship -- I should preface my remarks by saying that -- but anyone I know who has found it incredibly valuable regardless of where they end up," Mourning says.
Although he acknowledges it may be a luxury, Mourning also suggests, "Consider pursuing a further degree. Getting an LLM, in tax, corporate, or international law, or tagging on an MBA certainly would be useful, maybe expensive, but time well spent."


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