Valerie Radwaner ’87 leads through collaboration

Valerie Radwaner ’87, deputy chair at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, attributes much of her success in private practice to the legal education she received at NYU Law. Radwaner, who in 2014 became the firm’s first deputy chair after a 25-year career as a corporate finance lawyer, says that NYU Law actively encouraged collaboration and promoted relationships—key skills to her professional advancement.

Valerie Radwaner
Valerie Radwaner

“NYU Law had a culture of collaboration and connection that is so similar to Paul, Weiss,” Radwaner says. Both institutions, she says, allowed her “to share ideas within a diverse community while learning from one another, working with one another, and supporting one another,” she says, noting that these collaborations “make each institution richer and more vibrant.”

As a corporate lawyer, Radwaner has represented some of Paul, Weiss’s most significant clients, including MacAndrews & Forbes, Michael Kors Holdings, Ralph Lauren Corporation, Revlon, and Virtu Financial, among others. She has also devoted significant time to mentoring the next generation of lawyers. Through her involvement with NYU Law’s Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Network (BWLN) and Thomson Reuters Women’s Transformative Leadership in Law (TWLL), Radwaner has worked to help more women reach leadership positions in big firm practice.

Radwaner says she decided to specialize in corporate law after taking classes with Professors Helen Scott and John Slain ’55: “They were brilliant, inspiring, and engaging professors,” Radwaner says, adding that they encouraged her interest in law and business. While roughly half of her law school classmates were women, she noted, very few went into corporate law; even fewer were corporate partners in Big Law.

At Paul, Weiss, Radwaner specialized in corporate finance law, where she enjoyed working in teams to counsel clients through sophisticated credit transactions. “The late 80s and early and mid-90s were exciting times to be a corporate finance lawyer, and I was being trained by the best of the best,” Radwaner says. Soon, Radwaner was leading client teams, and in 1996 she was elected partner.

While recognizing that gender equity at large law firms has improved since the late 1980s, Radwaner notes that there is much room for improvement. “Gone are the days when there were no women leading big corporate deals, but there are still too many days when women are the ‘only’ in the conference room or board room. That means we all have to keep pushing to make gender equity a reality in the legal profession,” she says. Though law firms, law schools, and Fortune 500 law departments may have parity at some levels, “at the very top of leadership, men continue to outnumber women, although the overall trend is improving, albeit slowly,” Radwaner says.

Throughout her career, Radwaner has been an advocate for diversity and women’s leadership within law firms and in the legal profession. Currently, Radwaner serves on the advisory board for TWLL, which brings together young women partners and connects them with in-house counsel at major companies to share experiences and build connections. TWLL has also focused on the importance of including men in the conversation. “Collaborating on these issues should be part of one’s early education and become part of everyone’s DNA,” Radwaner says.

Nothing is more important to the firm’s and the legal industry’s future than bringing diverse perspectives and experiences into the boardroom, the courtroom, and the negotiating table, Radwaner says. Diversity and inclusion “makes the conversation richer,” she says, “and it makes for a stronger position for a firm and for a client.”

The importance of good mentorship, notes Radwaner, also cannot be overstated. Today, while helping manage the largest New York-based firm, Radwaner makes sure to take the time to focus on junior colleagues. Radwaner is also a founding mentor within NYU Law’s BWLN where she has enjoyed being paired with law student mentees.

To law students, she has this advice: “Enjoy and engage—it’s your legal path to create. There will be ups and downs; expect it and be prepared. There are no substitutes for hard work, excellence and grit. Challenge and be challenged. Collaborate, because it’s important to your success and it’s rewarding. Remember we all learn from each other, and learning is a life-long journey.”

Posted August 18, 2020