Professional Advice about International Legal Careers

International Law Society – The University of Arizona

Charles Levy — Partner, Cassidy Levy Kent


Charles Levy is one of the founding members of Cassidy Levy Kent, a law firm that specializes in international trade issues. He has impressive trade experience in both the government and the private practice, serving, inter alia, as Counsel to House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Foreign Economic Policy and Legal Advisor to Commissioner Paula Stern at the U.S. International Trade Commission, and chairing Wilmer Hale’s International Trade Practice Group until his retirement in 2009.

Mr. Levy, thanks for your time. I’d like to start out by hearing about what you do.

It depends on the day of course, but I generally spend my time working in three and half baskets of activities.

First, I have a network of clients that I’ve had for thirty years, or more, forty years almost, and I advise them on international trade and investment policy and negotiations.  For example, I am currently advising clients on the new Trans Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Partnership negotiations along with the new plurilateral services negotiations from the particular perspective of their company interest or group interest.  In the same basket I advise several big associations–like the Business Round Table, Coalition Service Industry, and the Technology CEO Counsel–which take a look at these negotiations from a policy point of view.  In short, I advise advice companies and the associations what they should be seeking in negotiations, how do the position themselves in the negotiation vis-a-vis the US government and foreign governments. I work with them through the negotiations. Then I will work through the development of the implementing legislation, and then the passage of the legislation. And then work with them on how to take advantage of the agreements to achieve what they wanted in the agreements.

The second basket relates to the firm’s trade litigation, trade remedy work, for example, under the anti-dumping law, the countervailing duty law, and WTO dispute settlement cases.  I tend to focus more on the appearing before the international trade commission element of trade remedy cases, which deals with determining whether or not there is been injury, as opposed to proceeding before the Commerce Department, which focuses on whether there is dumping or subsidies.

The third basket is devoted to spending time working with different NGOs.  For example, I am on the board of Transparency International USA, which is an NGO dedicated to fighting bribery and corruption around the world. I was also on the executive committee of the American Society of International Law, and I serve on various task forces like the one assembled by the German Marshal Fund to evaluate the prospects for US-EU free trade agreement before the negotiations were announced.

The half basket includes public speaking at different events. And I also teach every year at Georgetown University Law School’s WTL Academy.

So when you finished laws school, did you think that you will be involve in the those three and half basket?

Absolutely not. I am doing what I am doing by pure fluke.

What do you mean?

I was working for a law firm here.  I always had an interest in politics and I wanted to go work on Capitol Hill–something I now advise young lawyers not to do right after the law school.  It’s an exciting experience, you learn an important set of skills, but you don’t learn the skills you need to be a good lawyer: the discipline of thinking; the discipline of writing.  I spent five years working in the Congress, two and half in the House, two and half with a Senate. I enjoyed it immensely, I learned a lot. But I always wanted to practice law. And when I came off the Hill, I joined a law firm, and had a terribly difficult time as a new associate five year out of law school. So what I advise people to do now is go to a good law firm first. Get a good grounding in research and writing, the discipline of thinking as a lawyer and acting as a lawyer and learning to pay attention to detail. And then if you want to work in Congress or government, go do that if you want to, but don’t do it the other way around. If you want to be a lawyer, go to a law firm first. It’s a valuable experience.

I became the partner in one of the big firms, Wilmer Cutler & Pickering. Now it’s Wilmer Hale after it merged with Hale and Dorr.  When I joined I think it had 300 hundred lawyers and when I retired it had 1,200. I spent 20 years there. I was also a partner in Mayer Brown for 10 years.  Since you can’t be a partner after 65 at Wilmer Hale, joined with three other retired to form Cassidy Levy Kent—we felt 65 was the new 50.  In the last 3 years we’ve gone from 3 to 30; it was a surprise to us how much we were in demand. But I am doing the same thing I did at Wilmer. But I do it less. I am not working as hard at 68. I still work a good solid week, but not the weekends, things like that. I don’t like to travel as much any more.

But I had no idea I was going to do this. All I want to do was to work in the Congress. One of the Senior Partners in the firm I was working for—he had been on Harvard Law Review, had clerked for Justice Brennan, and had been a classmate at Harvard with  a congressman, a young dynamic congressman. He arrange for me to get a job as the Congressman’s legislative assistant. I started out working on general legislative matters, but since the congressman happened to be on the Foreign Affairs Committee, I also worked on foreign affairs issues. About six months into the job, he called me into his office, and said he had just become the chairman of the House of Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Foreign Economic Policy, and he decided to move me over to the committee where I would be the counsel and staff director of the subcommittee.  I was to report on Monday to the full committee’s staff director who would assign me an office and a secretary and so forth, and that I should come back in two weeks with a plan for the rest of the year for hearings, legislation, and all of that. I said to the congressman, “Well, thank you, but what is foreign economic policy?” I had absolutely no idea what international trade was. I had taken the basic international law course in law school. I was political science major so I had taken some international political science undergraduate classes. But I had no idea about international trade and investment in any serious way. So this was a total blank slate for me.

But what I realized was, at the age of 26, less than a year out of law school, that I had enormous power as counsel and staff director of a House subcommittee. I could call people up who were more than happy to come in and visit with me. And so what I did is I created my own international and investment law and policy tutorial. I was able, for example, to call the undersecretary of treasury, who at that time was PaulVolker, and say, “Would you come and tell me about the international monetary policy.”  I did that for two and half a years. And then I decided I’d like to see what it’s like on the senate side. I knew Senator Stevenson and he was looking for a legislative assistant counsel to handle his foreign policy portfolio and he was also the chairmen of the Subcommittee of the International Finance. So that fit. I did that for two and a half years.

I always knew that I wasn’t going to spend a career in working in Congress. And I went to a law firm that had a strong international. I also worked on domestic legal cases.  But I always had a healthy dose of international. And through the years I developed international practice. But I had no idea.

And then with Mayer Brown?

It was all international.  My day was spent a lot on what I describe earlier but I also was very interested in international corporate work.  I sought out and worked with a corporate partner for a number of years representing foreign companies buying U.S companies. A merger and acquisition is a merger and acquisition, but when you are representing a foreign company in the transaction there are some unique twists to it, and culturally it’s is fascinating, because in the 1980s a lot of medium and small side of foreign companies buying American companies we are all not that familiar with the U.S. legal system and so there were always interesting commercial and legal cultural discussions. That was fascinating.  I also worked on international banking transactions.

Thanks again for your time. Last Question: what advice do you have for students who want to get into international law?

I think you should get a job in a good law firm where you will get a real opportunity to develop your skills in researching the law and thinking about the law, writing memorandum, and writing briefs. The discipline is essential. Then you can specialize; preferably in a firm where you can get a taste of international practice.  There are a larger number of firms today that are involved in international commercial work, but very few firms outside of Washington which do international trade litigation and policy work.

To me, international law is any legal issue or legal project where someone in the project has a foreign accent. However, if you are interested in international trade litigation, and international trade and investment negotiations, those are Washington niches and you should be looking at Washington law firms.

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This entry was posted on January 2, 2014 by and tagged , , .
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