Laurie Kleiman is a partner and former global co-leader of Sidley’s Investment Funds practice area, recognized in Mutual Funds Law by The Best Lawyers in America® and as one of the “50 Leading Women in Hedge Funds” by Hedge Fund Journal. She is a member of the Women in Law Empowerment Forum advisory board and a member and former co-chair of SidleyWomen.
“We are blessed with an incredibly talented universe of women lawyers, and participating in efforts to ensure that each has every opportunity to achieve her potential has been incredibly rewarding.”
What attracted you to the practice of law and what aspect of your practice do you enjoy the most?
My father aspired to be a lawyer, but World War II derailed his plans. I am the youngest of four children, and from the time I was very young, my father made no secret of his wish that I realize his dream of a legal career. I recall many conversations with him that were as intellectual and analytical as a 50-year-old can be with an 8-year-old. He was convinced way before I was. On his deathbed, I shared with my father that I had decided to go to law school. I’ll never forget the joy on his face.
Once I became a lawyer, my career goals were a practice that involved challenging and interesting issues; an environment where I liked and respected my colleagues; a good living; and the opportunity to raise a family. I was able to achieve all four at the firm I joined out of law school and consequently have been here for four decades. What I enjoy the most about my practice at Sidley are my relationships of confidence and counseling with my clients, my work as practice group head and PAT leader, and my work and focus on advancing women in law.
Tell us about a professional goal you are proud of achieving, and what (or who) inspired you to go for it.
I reinvented myself at the midpoint of my career. In the 20th century, I represented registered investment companies, so I was a transactional lawyer in a heavily regulated context. At the turn of the century, my prior firm Brown & Wood merged with Sidley & Austin, which had an extensive unregistered fund practice. Private fund managers used to be “lightly regulated,” but all that changed as private funds became more popular among mainstream investors and, as a result, came under increased scrutiny by Congress and regulators. Leveraging my experience with regulated funds—and regulators—I decided to refocus my practice on regulatory and compliance issues. Since I made that pivot, I’ve gotten to know the full range of our investment manager clients—mutual funds, hedge funds, private equity funds, real estate funds, ETFs, BDCs, collateral managers, digital asset managers. It’s a fast moving and challenging area of the law, since many of the applicable rules are decades old and developed when the investment industry was much simpler. I have been able to apply my knowledge, together with my counseling skills, directly to clients as well as create and participate in a range of innovative business development programs and publications that contribute to the success not only of our investment funds practice but also to other related practices around the firm and around the world. Having that experience and exposure made me an effective practice group leader and enabled me to play an integral role in positioning our practice for even more growth and success going forward.
I believe that effective leadership requires empathy, authenticity and good listening. As a practice group head, I spent a significant amount of time finding creative ways to connect with my group and understand and support each lawyer’s goals. This approach was always important but particularly crucial during the months we spent working remotely during the pandemic. In addition to our talent and work ethic, I am proud of our group’s collaboration and collegiality, which has served us well through almost 50 years of developments and challenges.
I am also very proud of my work on the firm’s women’s initiative. In 2001, Ginny Aronson recruited me to be New York co-head of the then-fledgling Committee on Retention and Promotion of Women (CRPW); in 2003, the Management Committee promoted me to firmwide CRPW co-head, a position I held for more than 15 years. There is no law firm of our size, stature and complexity that devotes more time and resources to diversity and inclusion, and the opportunity to implement the firm’s goals of advancing more women to partner and to positions of power and authority within the firm has been a unique and multifaceted opportunity. We are blessed with an incredibly talented universe of women lawyers, and participating in efforts to ensure that each has every opportunity to achieve her potential has been incredibly rewarding. We pursue a constellation of efforts, including client events, educational programs, mentoring sessions, comprehensive data analysis, D&I support for practice group heads, industry and bar association participation, parental leave, reduced hours and other flexible work policies…the list is endless and continues to evolve. I’ve learned that every woman is different, and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. But the results are evident in our leadership, statistics, awards, and the acknowledgments we receive from industry groups and, most importantly, our clients.
What is the most memorable matter you led and what made it so memorable?
I am a compliance lawyer, which by definition means that the “wins” don’t come in big litigation recoveries or payday deals. When a compliance lawyer does her job perfectly…nothing happens. The satisfactions come in abundant small bites. Assisting a manager in interpreting regulatory requirements adopted decades ago and are not easily applied to a 21st century investment strategy. Designing policies and procedures that harmonize with a client’s complex business goals while significantly reducing regulatory risk is its own reward. Shepherding a client through a regulatory examination with minor deficiencies cited—or in some cases, no deficiencies at all. These matters don’t make headlines, in part, because they are highly confidential. But each is uniquely satisfying.
On a personal note, how do you spend your time when you’re not practicing law?
First and foremost, my family is my primary focus – and my support system. When asked how I managed career, marriage and three children, I’ve always said it was marriage and children who enabled me to order my priorities and make my career possible. I also spend quality time volunteering. I am on the board and an active volunteer at the Adaptive Sports Foundation, where we empower persons with disabilities through adaptive sports. I also volunteer with ReadAhead, and my weekly sessions reading with my students are precious. I love cooking and baking, and, inspired by my daughter, I’ve taken up knitting and crocheting after a 30-year hiatus.
Can you share with us a saying or quote that gives you inspiration or helps you stay centered?
- “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.
- “The best way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts.
- “Now is the time for a more scientific and analytical approach. Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie
- “Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.” Marilyn Monroe
- “Love yourself first, and everything less falls into line. You have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” Lucille Ball
- “The qualities I most admire in women are confidence and kindness.” Oscar Wilde
- “Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men.” Joseph Conrad