From the start of her career trajectory, Vicky Kandabarow always pursued professional interests that intersected with the legal world. Working at a mortgage lending business in San Diego during the real estate boom of the early 2000s, she regularly interacted with lawyers, and through that experience, developed a particular penchant for closing deals. Shortly thereafter, she spent two years with JusticeCorps, a division of AmeriCorps, where she helped underserved, self-represented litigants in family and housing disputes navigate the court system in Los Angeles.
Such endeavors helped crystallize Kandabarow’s interest in pursuing a full-time career in the law. “It was important to me that I found a professional path that was intellectually engaging and challenging,” she says. “I am a very process-oriented person who is strategic and analytical, so I thought that the practice of law, specifically transactional law, could allow those skills to flourish.”
Kandabarow now harnesses those attributes as associate general counsel at PEAK6 Investments, and as general counsel of one of its marquee portfolio companies, National Flood Services (NFS), the leading national provider of flood insurance solutions. On any given day, she provides counsel on legal and regulatory matters, ranging from commercial disputes to service contract negotiations to insurance regulatory compliance, and advises senior leaders on business partnerships and growth strategies.
Recently, she played a key role in helping NFS secure the National Flood Insurance Program Direct contract, under which NFS will perform services for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Plying her deal-making credentials, Kandabarow helped position the team to submit a strong bid. “This contract presented a huge opportunity for NFS. At the end of the day, there was a one percent chance that we would get it. So, the fact that we won the contract, and that I was part of that team, was an incredible accomplishment.”
Kandabarow learned about the NFS general counsel role through Rachel Saunders, a principal at PEAK6 and fellow Sidley alumna. Saunders had approached a number of people in the legal insurance community and asked if they knew anyone suitable for the in-house position. One name kept coming up: Kandabarow.
While she was initially skeptical about taking the leap from private practice, having the chance to build out an in-house legal department from scratch was too good to pass up. As she recalls, “It was a one-woman show in the beginning at NFS, but PEAK6, being the progressive, forward-thinking company they are, and my boss, Jay Coppoletta, who is also a Sidley alumnus and now chief legal officer at PEAK6, gave me the autonomy to set my own processes and hire additional support. If I had gone in-house anywhere else, I may not have had the same opportunities.”
After spending a year as general counsel of NFS, Kandabarow’s role expanded, and she became associate general counsel at PEAK6, where she still primarily supports the NFS business but is also involved in a variety of other PEAK6 businesses, including its Strategic Capital investment division.
During her four-year stint at Sidley from 2015 to 2019, Kandabarow was an associate in the Insurance and Financial Services group in the firm’s Chicago office, spending the vast majority of her time doing insurance company M&A, including reinsurance transactions, and reserve financing work for clients in the life insurance industry. She recalls the group striving to strike an appropriate work-life balance, as well as cultivating an inclusive environment for women conducive to leadership growth and development.
“I never felt that being a woman lawyer was a negative factor,” she says. “That was always important to me, and it’s one of the main reasons I feel lucky to have landed at Sidley and the group that I did, because I was given the opportunities to succeed alongside my male counterparts.”
She also credits her mother, who moved her family from Argentina to California when Kandabarow was just seven years old, with her career success. A lawyer in her native country, her mother has often spoken about how different an experience it was for professional women in Argentina. “I think she had an entrepreneurial spirit at the outset of her legal career, much like me, but feels like she simply wasn’t given the same opportunities to succeed,” says Kandabarow. “She was stoked when she heard I was going to be a lawyer. As a proud immigrant, I’m very thankful for the sacrifices she made for me and for taking a huge risk so that I can now have my own opportunities.”
With her mother as inspiration, Kandabarow hopes that her professional journey can serve as an example to any lawyer thinking of making a career change, whether moving in-house or forging a different path. Now more than ever, she says it is important to always keep your network open and set aside some time to develop a five-year plan that aligns with your long-term career goals.
“Don’t think that exiting big law is foreclosing you from better opportunities. If you want more exposure to a certain business or industry segment, then talk with the people in your network. Be more informed, and don’t be afraid to take a risk.”
Published January 2021 - UPDATE: Currently Associate at Cooley LLP
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