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Janna Freed

Alumna Janna Freed started at S&C as a summer associate and joined the Firm as a member of the tax group following graduation from Yale Law School in 2006. Janna is now Deputy General Counsel at New York Public Radio, a not-for-profit that is home to the New York public radio stations WNYC and WQXR, the live event venue The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, and WNYC Studios. We spoke to Janna about her transition from law firm practice to the non-profit sector, and she provided advice for associates and alumni who are considering a similar move.

After five years as an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell, you made a transition to the nonprofit world. What inspired you to go to work for New York Public Radio?

Before I went to law school, I had worked exclusively for nonprofits, and I had every intention of continuing in that field when I graduated. But, as I found out as a third-year law student, nonprofits don’t hire general practice lawyers straight out of law school, because they don’t have any practice or client experience at that stage. I had enjoyed my summer at S&C, so I was happy to accept my offer there, knowing that I would get excellent training. I didn’t know how I would like it—what the people would be like, what the ethos was, if I’d fit in. It turned out that I loved it. I enjoyed working with the Tax Group, and there was an atmosphere of intellectual curiosity that made for a really collegial group.

When I got to my fifth year, though, the nonprofit sector was still where my interest lay for the long term. And when the NYPR job came up, I knew it was a great match. It was a mission I really believed in, and because it had a small legal department, I knew I was going to have a diversity of work—everything from the everyday stuff like approving changes to a release form to more complicated work involving intellectual property, nonprofit/for-profit collaboration and Federal Communications Commission compliance. I figured that diversity would be important to keep me stimulated after the intensity and challenge of my work at S&C.

How did working at S&C prepare you for your work at New York Public Radio?

I was curious what it would be like to transition from a specialty area like tax to the much more  generalist practice required by a nonprofit. But at S&C, the approach is that you have to get to know every facet of every deal—mergers and acquisitions, real estate, whatever it is—in order to give the best tax advice, so I actually came out of my experience with an extensive set of skills that serve me well at NYPR.

What do you miss most about working at S&C?

Other than the administrative support and resources (like the law library) that you just can’t replicate in the nonprofit world, it’s that there were so many other lawyers around who were happy to talk about whatever interesting thing crossed your desk. We were always in each other’s offices throwing ideas and strategies around. You can’t really do that when you only have three lawyers doing everything, as we do at NYPR, even if you’re lucky enough to have colleagues as great as mine.

The other thing I miss about S&C is that, because we tended to focus on fewer transactions, we could delve into issues in a really robust way—researching and following leads. I miss having time to do that kind of in-depth analysis.

Do you keep in touch with your former colleagues?

Yes! A lot of the people from my starting class at the Firm still get together regularly, both from the Tax Group and from other groups. Some are still at S&C, and some have moved on to in-house positions or jobs with other law firms. A few have even started projects completely different than being a lawyer, so it’s really interesting to hear what everyone is up to.

Do you have any advice for S&C associates and alumni who are considering going into the nonprofit world?

First, be realistic about what you’re getting into—the compensation structure is different and you don’t have the kind of time to spend intensively working on matters as you do at S&C. Second, have a commitment to the organization’s mission—they will be looking for a sense that you’re not just testing the waters and that you’re in it for the long haul. And last, S&C has given you expertise in tackling new and complicated areas, and you’ve been trained as a generalist with the ability to understand and advise across topics. Use these skills, because they will help you wherever you go.

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