Over the next several weeks, we’re spotlighting emerging leaders in Boston law to highlight the work they do, their legal careers thus far, and their connection to the larger Boston legal community. We caught up with Latham & Watkins Partner, Jen Yoon to learn more about her growing practice in the life science industry, her advice to new lawyers in Boston, and more. Check out the full interview below:
Boston Bar Association: What inspired you to become a lawyer and, specifically, with a focus in the life science industry?
Jen Yoon: I started my career as a book editor, focusing on young adult novels. I enjoyed the work, but had reached a point where I couldn’t see myself progressing to the next level. At the same time, I spent a lot of time with the head of contracts at the company while we worked on launching an audiobook line. The negotiation of terms piqued my interest. I found that my experience as an editor provided surprisingly good training for corporate law, where writing, reading, and editing can be intensive.
By the time I finished law school and entered the legal profession, I knew I wanted to try my hand at an IPO, and quickly was placed on one for a biotech company. To this day, that was the hardest IPO I’ve completed for a multitude of technical reasons, but I enjoyed the experience immensely. As a practical matter, life sciences companies go public much earlier in their lifecycle, so I worked with the industry for much of my first two years of practice, and then decided to keep pursuing that line of work.
BBA: What advice would you give to new lawyers entering the profession?
Jen: Remind yourself that this is a craft you are actively learning. Especially in Big Law, you won’t walk in the door and automatically know everything. And no one expects you to! Recognize that each matter or task represents an opportunity to grow. This mindset will help you adjust to feeling under-skilled when starting out. Remember that the people around and above you — their job is to teach you; in the legal profession, the apprenticeship model can feel frustrating at first, but ultimately sets you up for long-term success.
The other piece of advice I can offer is to remain open to whatever work may come across your desk. Try new things and allow yourself the space to pursue what you find interesting. Initially, I wanted to build a practice in emerging companies, because I was at least familiar with the concept of a startup. But the more I worked in capital markets, the more I found myself drawn in, even though I had never envisioned pursuing that practice area.
BBA: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Jen: Being a small part of a bigger picture. Working with life sciences companies makes me feel that I’ve contributed positively to the world. Helping clients procure funding that leads to the creation of potentially lifesaving medications, and knowing that the work I do will eventually benefit friends and family, gives me a real sense of accomplishment.
I’m also proud of the number of IPOs I’ve worked on throughout my career. Not because of the number, but because an IPO is a transformative transaction for a company. I primarily work on the issuer side, so I’m really in the trenches with the management team. Working that closely together makes the entire transaction much more rewarding and fulfilling and it’s gratifying to see companies reach this point after all the years of hard work they’ve put in.
BBA: What do you enjoy most about your job?
Jen: I enjoy working with clients to navigate legal matters, but always with an eye toward the business considerations. Working in the biotech field, I’ve also come to appreciate the science of my clients’ businesses – it’s cutting-edge technology. And I have to give a shoutout to the annual Boston Bar Foundation fundraiser; I’ve attended every single year for a decade, ever since I was a first-year associate. I always have a great time.
BBA: What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the legal profession? What did you do to overcome them?
Jen: Coming into Big Law, I had to learn that the job changes every year. That first year had its fair share of difficult times, but when I stepped back, I realized it was only for 365 days. Then the following year, when it felt like I was working a completely different job, I felt more comfortable with adapting to the changes, because I knew that the challenges I faced wouldn’t stick with me forever.
BBA: When a client comes to Boston and they aren’t familiar with the city, where do you like to take them?
Jen: I tell people to visit my neighborhood of East Boston. It has beautiful parks and unbeatable views of downtown. There’s also a shipyard with a cidery and a large installation space from the Institute of Contemporary Art and a tall ship moored along the water that has been transformed into an oyster bar. It’s a bit of a hidden gem, though that’s changing.