Podcast: Alumni @ RopesTalk: Conversation with Julie Constable, Blackstone
In the latest installment of Ropes & Gray’s alumni podcast series, Alumni @ RopesTalk, life sciences and health care partner Michael Beauvais interviews Julie Constable, vice president of legal and compliance at Blackstone. Julie spent almost a decade at Ropes & Gray as an associate before taking a senior legal role at Blackstone. Julie talks about what a typical day looks like in-house as she leads transactions emerging from the Blackstone Life Sciences team. She reflects on how Ropes & Gray prepared her for her position now by training her to think more critically. Julie also talks about the unique pro bono partnership between Ropes & Gray and Blackstone that she helped to develop, benefitting organizations such as The Innocence Project.
Mike Beauvais: Thank you for joining us for the latest installment of the Ropes & Gray alumni podcast. I'm Mike Beauvais, a partner in our strategic transactions group. I'm thrilled to be joined today by my friend, former colleague, and now client, Julie Constable. Julie and I worked closely together during her eight years at the firm, from 2012 to 2020. Since then, Julie has been a senior lawyer at one of Ropes' most important clients, Blackstone—more specifically, Blackstone Life Sciences. I am in awe of Julie and her accomplishments since leaving Ropes. As the vice president of the legal and compliance group at Blackstone, dedicated to their life sciences platform, Julie not only leads all transactions originating within Blackstone Life Sciences, but also Ropes’ and Blackstone's deep partnership on pro bono matters. In today's podcast, I look forward to discussing Julie's career path, her success, lessons learned, and her commitment to pro bono work.
Let's start with your path, post-Ropes. Two questions to start us off. The first is: What did you find most challenging about the transition from big law to in-house? And the second is: What is the most rewarding thing that you've experienced since making the transition?
Julie Constable: I actually think that the answer to what is most challenging about the transition and most rewarding is probably one and the same. First, there were really two challenges for me: one, time-based; and one, more typical of the transition from big law to in-house.
I joined Blackstone in January 2020, so I only had about two months with my team in person pre-COVID. I would say that that was a particular challenge because being the counsel for a specific business or business unit requires a lot of trust-building, and the best way to build trust is to be in the room with the people you work with day in and day out. But I think that through the successful use of technology, virtual video chats, and so forth, I really managed to form a deep connection and trust level with my client at this point.
The second challenge that I would say probably everyone going from big law to in-house finds is you're going from a set list of clients, and once you see your client through a big transaction, you say goodbye and you wait until the next time they pick up the phone. When you're in-house, you are embedded with your client 24/7. You are part of the business team, and you are part of all the processes that are happening behind the scenes, both before, during, and after a transaction, and wholly unrelated to transactions. While that's a challenge, I also find it to be the most rewarding aspect of the job. And, probably why I decided to make the leap into the in-house world is that I wanted to be that business advisor—I wanted to be the person that saw risks, not just in a specific deal, but enterprise-wise, and that's something you really have to do in-house.
Mike Beauvais: I can see that the carry-over from your success here at Ropes in seeing the bigger picture has clearly translated. Having watched your colleagues and those on the business team sing your praises on a daily and weekly basis is a true testament to how you made that transition. I know every day is a different day, but can you describe a day in the life of Blackstone?
Julie Constable: In my day-to-day life, what I aim to achieve is that I'm in the room with the business team for any decision or activity that's being discussed. What I mean by that is before we do a deal, before we do a new activity like a fundraise, I want to be part of those pre-meetings where we're coming up with the ideas, creating complex and innovative structures, etc. The reason why I want to be in the room is not only because it's exciting, but because I can help advise on risk profiles and structures right from the beginning. My day-to-day is basically trying to get in front of the business and making sure that I'm in the know on what's happening so that I can help them do what they want to do in a really efficient way.
As for the pandemic, Blackstone has done a great job of utilizing every technology available to make our jobs as efficient as possible. It was a pretty seamless transition in terms of still having our meetings, still being able to reach people, and maybe it just made us all a little bit more cognizant of spending 95% of our day in meetings is a little bit too much in terms of Zoom fatigue.
Mike Beauvais: Your request is the same one I always try to have with clients, which is, "Please, please, please, I won't even charge you, but try to get me involved as early as possible as you think about structures," because it's always hard to unwind the bell, to mix metaphors. How did your experience here at Ropes prepare you, or frankly, not prepare you for your role at Blackstone?
Julie Constable: I always joke that Ropes rewires your brain—it not only teaches you to be the best drafter that you could possibly be, which is a really important skill, but it trains you to be as critical a thinker as possible. I'm constantly thinking about what are the risks, what are the gaps, what are potential pitfalls of anything we're doing, and then moving those risks in order of risk profile in my head as I go along in my day. I think that was something that Ropes really instilled, that you have to look at the big picture—you have to be very detail-oriented and be able to identify those gaps, and you have to make it specific for your client or your company. As for being a business advisor to your client, I think that's a skill set that successful attorneys at Ropes and other places develop over time, but that even junior associates can start working on right away—advising clients that, “Here's a risk for you, but I don't think it applies to your business," or, "Here's what I think are the most important critical issues for you to think about."
Mike Beauvais: From the mentorship perspective, is there anything that stands out to you that really had a profound impact on you, or things that we could be doing better to mentor young associates, particularly diverse associates?
Julie Constable: I think that having mentors is the key to your success at Ropes & Gray, and frankly, anywhere. Being a lawyer is a really tough job—it’s complex, clients are demanding, there’s a lot of nuance to pick up, and it takes years of experience to be able to feel comfortable in your practice. The earlier you can find a mentor, the better. My advice is: Mentors don't always come to you, so if you have someone who you really look up to or aspire to do their practice, take initiative and try to work with them, try to build that relationship. And know that your mentors change over time as you develop as a young lawyer.
Mike, despite you doing the interview, I really did see you as a mentor in my career. One of the things that I'm grateful for is not everyone envisions themselves wanting to stay to make partner at Ropes & Gray—some people want to experience legal practice outside of big law. I think that you have always been open to talking about what those career paths are and setting us up for the best experience post-big law. You have to be really thoughtful about that and how you achieve your next goal, and I think you've always been great at giving that frank advice.
Mike Beauvais: You make me a little misty-eyed—thank you for that. One of the things that has been a hallmark of your time here at Ropes, and then after Ropes, is your commitment to pro bono work. You took the initiative and brought us along to say, “Pro bono is really important to Blackstone. It's really important to the lawyers at Blackstone.” One of the creative things that you did, and you led, and you continue to nourish is the relationship Blackstone in-house lawyers have with Ropes & Gray focused on pro bono matters. Could you just give us a little bit of the flavor of what that partnership is and the commitment that Blackstone has to pro bono?
Julie Constable: My commitment really started at Ropes, where I thought that we have a lot to give—we have very unique services that we can offer that most people cannot. I got involved with various types of pro bono projects, specifically in the guardianship space, which were some of my most rewarding memories at Ropes. When I was leaving, I knew I didn't want that pro bono side of my practice to go away. Blackstone similarly has a real commitment to doing pro bono work and giving back to the community. Last year, given all of the unfortunate events that happened, with disparities in this country that really shed a light on them, we wanted to take even more action and be leaders in the field. That’s when I reached out to you and some of the other members of the Ropes team that represent Blackstone and thought, "What better way than to partner on some of these issues together to have a stronger impact?" It also was helpful that Ropes has offices in Boston, New York, and California, which is where Blackstone is, so we could bring together large groups of people to help their own communities.
One of the projects that I'm really excited about that we've been working on, as you know because you're also involved, is the Innocence Project. There's nothing more rewarding than being able to look at people's records and see whether they rightfully should be in jail. We're looking at people that committed potential crimes in the early-90s, so looking at whether they should be released is super fulfilling. I'm excited for where we'll take that program as well as building other programs because I just want to harness these opportunities so that as a community we have the broadest impact.
Mike Beauvais: Thank you for your leadership on that. In addition to the important work it is, it's actually providing younger lawyers here to have direct exposure to some of the most senior people in your group, so we appreciate it. Now that you are in-house, what is your advice to younger lawyers trying to develop their own book of business?
Julie Constable: You really have to be a business advisor in addition to a legal advisor. What we're looking for is both time- and money-efficient advice. We're looking for sophisticated legal analysis quickly, but it has to go beyond being a great drafter and even a great negotiator. You also have to provide business-practical solutions and be able to communicate them to us in a way that the business team can understand. I think that's something that a lot of lawyers in big law struggle with. It's a lot more comfortable to lay out the different risk factors in a very long email or memo because you want to make sure you're not missing anything that would later come back, but that's not really what a business professional wants. They want something communicated to them that says, "Here's your answer," or, "Here's our advice right up front, and here's why." You can include all the rest of the analysis in an appendix or footnotes, but it's all about being able to really communicate and provide business-savvy advice in a clear manner that I think sets apart a great lawyer from the pack.
Mike Beauvais: Extremely helpful. One final formal question: Any favorite Ropes memories?
Julie Constable: So many great memories, starting from the summer program. I've never experienced wining and dining like that. I hope that continues post-COVID. I met some of my best friends through Ropes, two of whom were bridesmaids at my wedding. You're really in the trenches together, so lots of late nights and phone calls, and things to all stick together and stay with it. The pro bono work I did at Ropes was some of the most fulfilling work I did, just in terms of actually impacting humans on an individual level and making their families safe in the guardianship context, so there was nothing more fulfilling than that.
Mike Beauvais: For our lightning round: What is your ideal vacation spot?
Julie Constable: You know my COVID vacation place is in the Adirondacks, but I am dying to just do trips to Europe again. I really like big epic trips, like going throughout the continent of Africa, where you're at beaches, on safari, and in cities. I can't wait until we can travel free and clear.
Mike Beauvais: You have an adventure gene that I do not have, as most people know who know me. If you weren't a lawyer, what would you be?
Julie Constable: My previous career was in public health. If I could do anything I’d want, if I had all the money in the world, probably going back to that space to be a little bit more of a do-gooder.
Mike Beauvais: Favorite TV show?
Julie Constable: Historic favorite shows would be The West Wing, The Sopranos, Lost. Now, basically anything on Netflix I'll watch at the moment.
Mike Beauvais: Favorite meal?
Julie Constable: French food, any day of the week.
Mike Beauvais: Not French fries—French food, okay.
Julie Constable: I mean, French fries too. I’ll take them.
Mike Beauvais: Favorite season?
Julie Constable: I can't choose between summer and fall—they both have their advantages. But I will say spring and winter in New England, not my favorite. I know, Mike, you like to ski, so you might actually like winter, but I need it to be a little warmer.
Mike Beauvais: All right, last one. If you can complete this clause: Ropes & Gray is…
Julie Constable: A challenging and stimulating environment.
Mike Beauvais: I love it. First of all, thank you for taking the time today. It's fabulous to hear what you've been up to. For those of you that have lost touch with Julie a little bit, I know our alumni community will find your insights valuable. For the alumni that are out there, please visit our alumni website, alumni.ropesgray.com, to stay updated on alumni and to get the latest news about the firm. If you're interested in switching jobs, there's a little section on that. If you want to come back to Ropes, let me know. Thank you all for listening. Julie, thank you so much for taking the time—we know how busy you are. Thank you for joining us. Thanks for listening, and looking forward to the next one.