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Advice to my younger self
Houston partner Charles Koster

February 2024: Charles Koster is a partner in our Financial Restructuring and Insolvency practice in Houston. He reflects on his career to date and what he's learned along the way.

I started my career at a turbulent time
I was a summer associate in New York in 2008. The experience was fantastic, and I was delighted to get an offer to return as an associate after law school. Weeks after the summer program, Lehman Brothers collapsed and the financial crisis took hold. 

A setback became an opportunity
I needed to gain real experience, and I saw restructuring as the right field to begin my career during such an uncertain time. I took advantage of an opportunity to work for a bankruptcy judge, and I was able to learn about this suddenly hot practice area.

When I started at the Firm a year later, the restructuring group was handling the most exciting and high-profile transactions, involving lawyers from many practices and countries. We were leading the market and setting the bar for other firms. That meant a steep learning curve, but what a way to learn.

Don't stay in your lane
As a young lawyer working on complex transactions, I tended to focus on my specific responsibilities. That is of course necessary to do the job well. But it is equally important to understand the client's ultimate goal and how we work across practices to accomplish that goal. The lines between our practices can blur, and the earlier a young lawyer makes it their business to understand what our colleagues are doing, the sooner the learning curve will flatten. The breadth and depth of our practices is the single best training resource at the Firm.

Put your hand up
I wasted too much energy early in my career on the fear of failing if and when I stepped outside of my comfort zone. My advice to junior lawyers is to put your hand up and take on something new and different. The Firm needs it, and you'll be a better lawyer for it. This applies to pro bono work, committees, and diversity initiatives as well. Enthusiasm and energy will always be rewarded.

What "pioneering" means in practice
What first drew me to the Firm—the international footprint, the prestige and reputation—is undoubtedly still part of its appeal. But that's also true of other firms to some extent. One of the Firm's values is "pioneering" and I believe that is what sets our Firm apart.

Talk to our most experienced and senior partners, and they will inevitably have had experience in expanding our services to new countries or industries. Many have brought our unique culture to a new place and built up a team that embodies our Firm and our values. We see opportunities and we act on them.

My own practice is constantly evolving
Restructuring work has changed significantly during my career. Borrowers are employing an increasingly complex playbook to manage their liabilities, often pitting their lenders against each other. The skills I developed as a young restructuring lawyer are necessary to navigate an evolving landscape. But I also need to rely on, and occasionally play the role of, lawyers from many other practices. I don't know what my work will look like in another 13 years, but I am confident that lawyers with the skills and experience working across practices will thrive.

You have to follow the opportunities
We opened our Houston office six years ago, and I was given the opportunity to join the office three years ago. The purpose was to service the substantial volume of chapter 11 work in Houston, be a resource on the ground for Houston clients with restructuring needs, and assist with the integration of one of the Firm's most successful new offices. At the time, I was the most junior partner in a large and rapidly growing restructuring group in New York, considering where I could make my own mark and play a part in driving the Firm's growth. Houston was the answer.

But I was born and raised in New York and had a young family there. So, in addition to identifying the opportunity, you have to take a calculated risk to pursue it. The move here has been wonderful, personally as well as professionally.

You never feel like you've got it all worked out
I've been with the Firm for 13 years, the last 3 as a partner. I've learned a ton, thanks in large part to my friends and mentors in the restructuring group and throughout the Firm. I'm humbled every day by the skill and generosity of my colleagues. I have much to learn, and I have endless gratitude for a career at a firm that gives me the opportunity to be the best lawyer I can be. The world will continue to change, as it did in 2008 and throughout my career. We adapt. None of us are the finished article.