The Catholic University of America





Students Offered Career Advice from General Counsel of a Fortune 100 Company


One of the most highly regarded in-house corporate counsels in the nation spoke to Catholic University law school students on Feb. 4, offering insights and advice on career advancement, time management, and even how to wring the most out of law school. 

Invited to speak by Dean Daniel F. Attridge as a former client and personal friend, Patricia R. Hatler, executive vice president and chief legal and governance officer for Nationwide Mutual Insurance, spent more than an hour covering such topics as what is expected of a junior lawyer, and how best to advance a legal career while still keeping some balance in one's life. She devoted half of her time to taking questions. 
Her observations ran the gamut: 
  • On law school - “Take the best teachers,” and remember that no one ever regrets earning a JD, no matter how it is applied in the future.
  • On early career advancement - Ask questions, understand how your client’s business works, and above all, learn to communicate clearly and concisely. Hatler recommended videotaping and watching one’s own presentations as an extremely helpful way to improve the ability to connect with others.
  • On later career advancement - “Learn to play golf. Truly, it matters…” since so many important deals are reached and relationships forged on the greens. 
She even recommended—only half joking—two years of psychotherapy for legal professionals as the best way to understand what one truly wants out of life.  “Self-knowledge is so very important. Nobody has it all, but it’s important to have a life that imparts the things that are most important to you,” Hatler said.
A University of Virginia Law School graduate, Hatler began her legal career in private practice in the Philadelphia office of Dechert, but migrated later to the world of in-house corporate counsel, which she told students was a more satisfying professional fit for her.
While most in-house counsels today are male, Hatler advised female law students not to be overly concerned with glass ceilings.
“I’ve spent an enormous amount of time being the only woman in the room,” she remarked. “But, the Neanderthal mindset is not much of an issue in day-to-day life.”
Hatler explained that few people are hired for positions like hers right out of law school. Most are at least five-to-fifteen years into their careers. She recommended getting a strong a grounding as possible in business for those interested in in-house counsel as a career track, perhaps pursuing a joint JD/MBA degree.
An adjunct lecturer at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Hatler even had ideas for retooling the law school experience, suggesting that the medical school model of students making patient rounds with experienced doctors at teaching hospitals might prove useful for law students as well.
“Teaching new attorneys how to deal with clients is expensive, it takes time,” she said.
Regulatory compliance is a fast-growing area of legal practice, and the field will need new people equipped to understand it, Hatler noted.  “You’ve been well trained, you’ve got a good mind – go do it!” she concluded.
Hatler is the former chair of the Board of Directors of the Association of Corporate Counsel, the leading organization of in-house counsel, and was recently honored as one of the Most Transformative Leaders in the legal profession.