Holly K. Kulka
Holly Kulka’s legal career has spanned government work to private practice to in-house roles. Currently the head of litigation, investigations and antitrust, among other areas, with NYSE Euronext, she was previously a shareholder of Heller Ehrman LLP specializing in parallel litigations. Earlier in her career, she was a federal prosecutor in the District of New Jersey, where she tried more than a dozen cases.
But Kulka wasn’t even sure she initially wanted to go to law school. It was only after several years in investment banking and telecom research—and some suggestions from friends—that she decided to attend the University of Chicago Law School.
Recently, WIPL spoke with Kulka about the importance of gaining credibility with the board and businesspeople, listening to your own advice and how trying to strike a balance, no matter how imperfect, is better than not trying at all.
What first drew you to a career in the law?
I did not attend law school right out of college. In fact, it wasn’t a certainty or even a top three thought. But several factors led me to the law. First, all my friends who went to law school right out of college told me that they thought I would enjoy it. Second, I worked in investment banking and in telecom research for three years after college. I found the work immensely interesting and strategic, but when I focused on graduate school I was really interested in the interplay of law, regulation and business. Also, I felt law school would give me intellectual breadth and agility even if I ended up not practicing. I found that my friends were right---I enjoyed the process of learning law.
What has been most interesting about your current role?
The changes in the regulatory climate and the consequent involvement of lawyers in all aspects of the business. Also, it has been fascinating being part of a leadership team as we went through a failed merger, a thwarted hostile takeover and ultimately a successful sale of the company.
What is the most important issue facing your company or industry or the legal profession now?
Anticipating the regulatory dynamic is very important and using legal skills and knowledge to help the business identify risks and take advantage of opportunities.
What professional accomplishment has made you most proud?
Gaining credibility with the board and business side executives employees--having them view my team as an asset to help them avoid problems and not a barrier to doing business.
Were there specific people or opportunities that helped you throughout your career?
Yes--the general counsel as well as other senior executives of my company repeatedly gave me and my team new responsibilities and new opportunities to succeed (or fail). At each job, I’ve had similar relationships.
Do you see a difference in how women network with and mentor other women, compared to working with men?
Often women network and mentor differently from the stereotypical male methods. But they also mentor and network in the same way, and many men network in different ways as well. There is no perfect stereotype. I think the question is whether one views networking as “work” or as something else. And if it’s something else, then that lets us all do it in very different ways – men and women.
Have you planned out your past and next career steps, or have there been surprises along the way?
Many surprises, although always in a general planned framework. My advice to young lawyers is that having a goal is great. But don’t let your goals stand in the way of unexpected opportunities.
How are you preparing for the next advancement in your career?
Right now I’m doing a great deal of networking to learn about what opportunities may be available. Unfortunately, in the day-to-day hustle of business, casual networking often falls off the dance card. I counsel young women that these lunches/networking opportunities are crucial and that they need to find a never-perfect balance between spending that extra hour or two making the work perfect and spending time networking. I should listen to my advice more often!