“Alumni Conversations” is an interview series initiated by Xiaoli Jin and Alice Chen, both of whom were admitted to Harvard Law School through the Junior Deferral Program. Xiaoli is currently working at a strategy and economics consulting firm and Alice is working at a financial sciences company. They are starting this series of blog posts to share advice and insight from HLS alumni.
Daniel Gorlin ’07 took time out of his busy schedule as a Partner and Managing Director at The Boston Consulting Group to chat with Alice and Xiaoli over Zoom on a Tuesday afternoon earlier this spring.
What made you decide to go to HLS and subsequently pursue a career in consulting?
I was a Political Science undergrad at Columbia and did a 5-year joint degree at SIPA (School of International and Public Affairs) where I obtained a master’s degree in Public Administration. During that time, I was working at Pfizer’s government relations group. I enjoyed this experience and got a lot of exposure to the policy side of healthcare, but the people I worked with said to me that sometimes they felt pigeonholed inside the field of public policy and they hoped that they could also work on the business side. Their advice shaped my mindset and made me rethink what I wanted to do.
After graduating from Columbia, I ended up working at a hedge fund for two years. That experience made me realize how much I loved solving business problems. That being said, I applied to HLS instead of business schools. I had always known I would love law school: for its intellectual rigor, the opportunities to take more policy classes, and the prospect of understanding how the political system works.
I loved every minute I was at HLS. I spent two summers working at big law firms and decided that was not exactly what I wanted to do. There were other pursuits in sports that I was considering, but ultimately I chose consulting. I’m not sure I knew enough about consulting to make an educated decision, but looking back, consulting turned out to be the perfect fit for me.
How did your HLS education help with your consulting career?
It’s the overall experience: the general approach, the peers, the professors, and the critical thinking skills that were drilled into me in every class I took. For example, the Socratic method that our professors used trained us to think on our toes and break down problems. I’d say that the way of thinking, rather than the specific content in any particular class, prepares anyone for a great professional career, regardless of consulting or law.
Do you have any suggestions for HLS students who are trying to figure out what career path to pursue?
I’ve done a good amount of JD recruiting at HLS over the years, and one thing I’ve noticed is that many students walk into law school not knowing what they want to do, and a vast majority of them end up going into law not because they figured it’s the best fit for them but because it’s the path with the least resistance. For HLS students who aren’t sure whether law is their perfect fit and want to go with potentially different directions, you should know that the Office of Career Services is very supportive of alternative career paths. You should feel free to explore, be creative, and ultimately, follow your passions.
Fortunately for us, the HLS brand carries a lot of weight and is a door opener. If you’re interested in creating and pursuing your own path, you’re in a privileged position to do so because people and organizations are likely to respond to your emails. On that note, I wish I had the gumption that you or the people who called me up now had when I was your age. I was timid and would wonder why the people I wanted to reach out to would want to talk to me when I was only in my early 20s. But you’d be surprised how much people actually want to help. They remember very well what it was like to be in your shoes. In that way, you control your own destiny. So be confident, be mature, and try to see through yourself what it is that you want to do.
You mentioned the importance of reaching out to people even when we are still early in our careers. Do you have any specific tips for students or recent grads seeking mentorship from busy professionals like you?
Be very proactive in terms of following up, and don’t be afraid to take the lead on developing the mentoring relationship that you want. You have to think that you’re not bothering people; in fact, you’re giving people the opportunity to pay back things that were done for them. I rarely would find a student overly aggressive and pushy when they reach out to me. Most of the time, I end up embracing the relationship that the student develops with me, whether it be a once-a-year check-in or a follow-up once in a while.
What advice would you give to law school students interviewing with consulting firms?
I’ve done hundreds or thousands of interviews at this point. I think being genuine is the most important thing. We don’t look for any specific or general consulting skills; we look for smart people who can critically think and break down problems—everything that HLS will ultimately teach you. Simply walk in confidently and bring those things to the table. That being said, definitely do some case preparation (definitely with others) as the nature of the case interviews is a bit different and some practice always helps.
There are mindset differences in law and consulting. Consulting is largely about 80/20—trying to make the best decision with a limited amount of information. I think law has a lot more to do with risk mitigation—trying to anticipate the fifteenth permutation of a hypothetical, and then devising a contract to specify what happens in that situation. That being said, this difference in mindset may not necessarily play out in the interview process.
Could you tell us about a memorable experience at HLS?
When I was in the Committee on Sports & Entertainment Law while at HLS, I put together a panel on sports agents. The attendees included Maverick Carter (LeBron James’ business manager) and Scott Boras (one of the most well-known baseball agents). When I look back at that event, it speaks to the power of what students can do outside of the classroom setting. It was a great way for me to meet people in the industry that I wanted to be in, and an amazing opportunity for the panelists to meet other awesome people as well.