Julie Klaff is a partner at Origami Capital Partners, and an alumna of Sidley’s Chicago office. Partner Elizabeth Schubert sat down recently with Julie, who tells us about the multiple facets of her current role, the transition from big law to a smaller firm, her proudest personal and professional achievements, and the challenges of working remotely during COVID-19.
Julie, you are currently a partner at Origami Capital Partner. Can you tell us a little bit more about what your role entails?
It depends on the day, but I wear a few different hats. I am the only practicing lawyer on our team so I am functioning as general counsel while running deal execution across our platform and investment team. I am very involved on the investment side, whether it’s running my own deals or interacting with others and helping them execute their deals. I am also very active on the fundraising and client relations side. I am also a member of the firm’s management and investment committees so that takes up a significant amount of time as well.
You’re still in a legal role but you’ve also pivoted to business in a major transition that is aspirational for many lawyers. Can you talk about how you made this transition?
It was a little bit of luck and a little bit of skill. I made the transition due to Sidley – the opportunity originally came because I was working at Sidley in the Funds group and Origami was a client of mine. It was very early in the Origami days, which got started in 2009, and I developed a very close relationship with the two main partners at the time. They didn’t have in-house counsel so I had the opportunity to do a variety of work for them – both funds and deal related. Right before I was about to go on maternity leave in 2014, one of them approached me about a business and legal role. I wasn’t looking. I loved Sidley and the people I worked with, but it struck me as an opportunity worth taking a risk on. I joined in 2014 and have been here ever since.
Can you speak a little more on your growth at Origami since then?
I started in a Vice President role and worked my way up to Principal and then to Partner several years later, due to my multi-faceted skill set and legal background. Though the learning curve on the investment side was a challenge that I continue to work on to this day, the client relations side came naturally, and I think law school prepared me really well for that.
I’d love to hear about a project you’ve worked on recently.
We completed a deal where we restructured a middle market private equity fund, using debt purchased at a discount from a lender. We work on these complex transactions where you really need to be a problem solver who understands what all of the different constituents in a transaction want. Several deals closed around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, so I didn’t have a great holiday season, but there is never a dull moment.
Can you talk about the cultural differences that come with a move from big law to a much smaller shop?
I think there are a lot of really amazing things about Sidley that I probably didn’t appreciate enough while I was there, such as the collegiality and the bandwidth of administrative resources. The training, resources, mentorship, and other resources available at Sidley are unparalleled and really incredible and my access to those resources while at Sidley certainly set me up for success down the road once I had joined Origami.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give a young attorney who is starting a career in private practice?
It depends on what you want to do. You really can’t go wrong by starting at a big firm like Sidley, with its many resources, training opportunities, and all the relationships you develop. Starting at a big firm provides a foundation that you can build upon, to set yourself up for success in whatever you’d like to do long term, whether that be thriving at Sidley, moving to a smaller and more specialized firm, or going in-house or to the business side.
What is your proudest achievement, either professionally or in your life outside of work?
I’ve been able to figure out how to be a mom and spend time with my kids while being professionally successful. There was a time where I really doubted whether that was possible. The world has changed a lot in terms of supporting flexible work schedules, and I work with people who understand my priorities and allow the flexibility I need to be with my kids. COVID has made it so much harder to juggle a normal work-life balance with a kindergartener, first-grader, and three-year-old. I definitely couldn’t do it myself and am very lucky to have a supportive partner, family, and professional colleagues.
It’s such a challenge for so many people, especially primary caretakers, and it’s important to give these caretakers the tools they need to succeed in all aspects of their lives. Do you have any more words of wisdom to share?
I would tell them never to make immediate decisions after experiencing a bad week or month. Things change and everything is a phase, especially in the months transitioning into and out of a life changing event such as the birth of a child. As long as you’re committed to working through it and you know what’s important to you, you will be able to navigate the situation. Finding one or multiple supportive mentors and colleagues is also key to achieving success.
Outside of Origami, you are an active board member of Camp for All Kids. Can you tell us more about this program?
It’s an organization that I have been deeply involved in for over a decade since moving back to Chicago. It focuses on promoting racial diversity and gives kids the opportunity to attend overnight camps and develop real friendships. It’s so important that everyone, regardless of where they are from and what color their skin is, has the chance to do something like that and see that there’s more to the world outside of the bubble they’re living in.
How are you spending the rest of your free time during quarantine?
Most free time is spent with my kids, but a hobby that’s really picked up during COVID-19 is outdoor paddle tennis. It’s one of the only socially-distanced outdoor activities. It’s a great way to get together with friends and feel some semblance of normalcy. The exercise is a double bonus.
Working remotely has brought its fair share of tech challenges. I’m sure you’ve seen the viral video of the Zoom court hearing and cat filter. Any funny stories of your own to share?
I had my middle child run into a video conference call with a client, totally naked. I thought the door was locked, and she asked me to help pick out her pajamas. Thankfully, I think the client found it to be cute and endearing, since people are more accepting of that kind of thing nowadays. Double locked doors don’t always do the trick!
Published March 2021
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