Living abroad jump starts a fast-paced, multi-faceted career in the legal industry
by Mary Denny
Michelle Haskin likes to talk turkey. Actually, make that Turkey—the country where she spent the last five-and-a-half years as a business development manager, first at a local Turkish law firm, followed by three years in the Istanbul office of the international law firm Baker & McKenzie. In the latter capacity, she handled marketing, communications, and event planning for all of the firm's 15 offices and worked closely with Baker & McKenzie's 35 other EMEA offices on regional initiatives. Her "something new every day" job ranged from drafting a proposal for a $500 million merger and acquisition deal, arranging an interview for a partner with Bloomberg television, and planning an event for 250 people. She also managed a small team and was given a lot of independence to direct marketing strategy.
"I don't think that I would have had the same opportunities had I chosen to stay in the U.S., where people in my position are usually at least a decade older than me," she says. "Legal business development is a relatively new field in Turkey," she explains, "as international law firms have entered the market predominantly during the last five years. So I took advantage of the opportunity to distinguish myself as a professional in the field."
Distinguish herself she did. In addition to honing her professional skills, Michelle networked by joining Professional American Women of Istanbul and AlumniTurk, an organization for graduates of foreign universities. She also integrated into the community by volunteering at a homeless shelter, doing pro bono work through her office, and founding the diversity committee at Baker & McKenzie in Istanbul. "It was a slow process establishing such a groundbreaking committee in a country where only 35% of women participate in the workforce, and LGBT people are actively discriminated against," she recalls. "Today, diversity is one of the pillars of Baker & McKenzie's Istanbul office and a major draw for young recruits. Everyone is proud to work in an office that is at the forefront of change in Turkey."
Should you wonder how a young woman from Boling, Texas —population 1,122—transitioned so easily into an engaged global citizen with a high-profile position in a prestigious international law firm, look no further than Michelle's Trinity experience.
"Peter O'Brien in political science was my mentor and played an important role in helping me to view the world beyond the Trinity bubble and my small town upbringing," she says. "He encouraged me to view the world from different perspectives, which was immensely beneficial when I found myself attempting to see things through my Turkish friends' and coworkers' eyes." Michelle also lauds the HUMA program where she had the rare chance to study classical Greek and Roman literature. She credits English professor Betsy Tontiplaphol, who taught the HUMA writing component, with giving her an excellent foundation in writing that has proved handy throughout her career.
However, it was her decision to study abroad in Amman, Jordan, during her junior year that proved to be the most significant event of her Trinity experience. "Living abroad allowed me to meet a diverse group of people ranging from Jordanian students to Palestinian refugees to expat workers. I realized that I had so much more to learn and could only do that abroad."
Upon graduation, Michelle originally planned to spend a year abroad before going to law school, and Turkey seemed an attractive destination thanks to her Turkish boyfriend. Although she never made it to law school, "my boyfriend became my husband, and I developed an exciting career in the legal industry, so everything worked out."
As much as Michelle loved Turkey, especially the people—"They are so kind, welcoming, and open to learning more about other cultures"—she and her husband recently decided to return to Texas to be closer to her family. Michelle began the New Year with a new job: business development manager for the tax and healthcare transactional practice groups with Norton Rose Fulbright. Based in Houston, she is looking forward to connecting with the alumni community there and planning to get an MBA in the near future. She and her husband are also looking forward to exploring the U.S. along with Central and South America.
For Michelle, moving abroad proved to be a great way to launch a career. For alumni or current students seeking similar opportunities abroad, she advises persistence, starting small, understanding the culture, and "most of all, breaking out of your comfort zone with humility, seeking to learn and understand from those around you."
Concludes Michelle, "In an increasingly globalized world, we need more people in schools, companies, and government across America who have the empathy and awareness that comes with being a global citizen."
You may contact Michelle at mhaskin.mh [at] gmail.com