Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...
When Kate Warner was in the ninth grade, a teacher suggested that she participate in the school’s mock trial team. Warner, who grew up with a father who practiced law, gave it a shot, and fell in love immediately.
“There was something about digging into a tough problem, sorting through information, figuring out what matters, and communicating your position in a persuasive way—it was challenging and rewarding,” Warner says. “And, of course, there is the rush of standing up in court and making your case.”
But she also was drawn to the law it had the potential to make a major difference in the world. She witnessed it as a law student, when she worked in legal clinics representing low-income clients and then, at Kirkland & Ellis, where she represented a wide variety of clients as a litigator and a partner over the span of twelve years. It’s a calling that she’s proud to continue being part of at 3M as director and assistant general counsel of litigation.
“I love the ‘counseling’ part of practicing law at a company. It’s a special partnership when you can support people’s amazing work and help them navigate tricky situations,” she says. “I see a huge variety of legal issues, and I have the chance to partner with people who are changing the world with their discoveries and inventions.”
It’s also been a chance for Warner to form partnerships with individuals across the organization.
“I get to develop relationships with the scientists and engineers who are in laboratories and developing new products,” she says. “I get to work with a finance team to figure out how things are looking each quarter. I’ve partnered with corporate communications about how we talk about what’s going on at 3M both internally and externally. And I get to partner with all these amazingly talented lawyers at firms across the country who are doing great work for the company.”
She continues: “Even though I don’t engage in ‘business development’ in the same way I did at the firm, I still have ‘clients’ within 3M who I’ve advised over the years and who come to me with questions. It’s really satisfying when I can offer them a perspective that might make their job easier.”
When Warner isn’t being a trusted adviser to her internal clients at 3M, she’s a dedicated mother of three. Warner admits that balancing work and life has not been easy, but thanks to a supportive husband and 3M’s flexible work-from-home policies, she’s found what works for her family.
“I love having a job that’s challenging and dynamic and stays with me after the workday is over, but it’s so easy for that to tip into being all consuming,” Warner says.
“The balance will never be perfect on any given day, but you need to take the long view and make decisions that are best for you and your family. Those decisions aren’t forever—they can change over time depending on what your career and family needs. It’s hard, but it’s manageable when you have an incredible partner who understands the sacrifices and supports and celebrates your career, while also reminding you that your biggest and most important job is raising your kids,” she says.
Warner wants young attorneys to know that there’s no one right path.
“You can’t predict what opportunities might arise and where they might lead, but that’s what makes a career in law exciting,” she says. “The work you are doing today is the foundation for those future opportunities. Dig into whatever projects you are given, take ownership of your work, and look for different ways to solve problems, both big and small. This will give you the experience and confidence you need to develop as a lawyer.”
She advises young people to take charge in their careers, however that may look. She also wants young people to know that they are in charge of their career.
“Don’t limit your advocacy work to your clients. Advocate for yourself, too. That means thinking about what ‘success’ means to you finding ways to make it happen,” she says. “It’s so easy, especially at a firm, to focus on what needs to be done in the moment while losing sight of what you’re looking for in the long run. Take the time to reflect on your personal and professional goals, and then be proactive. That’s the best way to get to a place where you’re happy with your career.”
Warner’s transition from private practice to in-house
“Coming in-house, I had to learn how to communicate with different audiences. I spend more time communicating with non-lawyers than ever before. I had to adjust my communication style as a result, which has allowed me to grow as a litigator and develop new ‘muscles.’ I need to be able to articulate what my legal perspective is, explain what other considerations there might be, and identify potential paths and likely outcomes. To do that effectively, you need empathy and a fulsome understanding of where others are coming from and what they are trying to accomplish.”
The importance of finding your own voice
“Throughout my career, I learned so much from the many different people I’ve worked with, but I also learned that you can’t just adopt one lawyer’s style as your own. It’s important to find your own authentic voice. I found that I’m more introverted than the stereotypical litigator, for example, but there are benefits to listening and observing first, and taking time to organize your thoughts. It helps me understand and appreciate the views of others and gives me an open-minded view to the issues and potential solutions. You don’t need to speak first or speak loudest to command the room.”
Renowned for its experience in complex litigation and arbitration, Kirkland & Ellis’ clients rely on it to anticipate their needs and outperform their expectations. Kirkland believes the best litigation results—whether achieved in court or across the bargaining table—occur when the lawyers are fully prepared to try the case through verdict. Its focus on trial-readiness drives successful and more cost-efficient results for clients, as critical issues are identified early and then used to maximum advantage in the litigation and negotiation processes.
Kirkland represents clients in trial and appellate courts at the federal and state level, before administrative tribunals, and in arbitrations and other dispute resolution proceedings. It also represents clients in connection with proceedings involving government agencies, such as the US Department of Justice, the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the US Federal Trade Commission, the US Department of Labor, the Internal Revenue Service, and all fifty state offices of Attorneys General.
Kirkland has tried cases successfully to verdict or judgment in virtually every business segment and substantive area, including antitrust and competition, class action, mass tort and toxic tort, consumer fraud, ERISA / benefits, insurance coverage, international arbitration, product liability, and securities and shareholder litigation.