Y-ADR Spotlight Series – Interview Questions with Elena Rizzo

Y-ADR Spotlight Series,

Elena Rizzo

Associate at DLA Piper

1. What do you find to be a beneficial aspect of CPR? 
CPR creates a bridge between young and more experienced professionals as well as between outside and in-house counsel.  The multiple opportunities for interactions, not only through conferences but also through committees and task forces, result in benefits and foster continuous learning for all parties involved.  This makes CPR’s contribution to the ADR industry unique.

2. What inspired you to steer your career toward ADR, and what steps did you take to make it to where you are today?  
Becoming an advocate focused on the resolution of cross-border disputes was for me a natural segway from my background and studies.  During my LL.M. at Fordham University, I reflected on my skills, accomplishments and passions:  I am a civil-law and common-law trained lawyer, I am fluent in multiple languages, I am fond of international law, and I want to litigate.  A career in international arbitration simply made sense.  

But getting where I am today was not (and is not) easy, especially for graduates who, like me at the time, did not have much working experience to market themselves.  In my case, the key to prove my determination was excelling throughout school.  Fostering connections in the arbitration community has also been helpful in guiding me to where I am now.

3. Is there a moment in your career that you are most proud of?  
The proudest moment in my career still remains my first argument before the Appellate Division, First Department, of the New York State Supreme Court as a second-year associate.  It was for a custody case in which I represented a victim of domestic violence.  For that case, I teamed up with Sanctuary for Families, an organization I became more involved with over the years.  The most challenging part of that experience was keeping my focus on and formulating the best answers to all of the justices’ questions, knowing how much was at stake for our client.  We won on all counts and established an important precedent for family law cases in New York.   

4. At what point did you realize that this career choice was best for you? 
There are many moments in my career that served as confirmation that I was on the right path.  I still vividly remember the day when, three months into my first-year associate position, the managing partner of the firm I worked at asked me to go to Paris for the merits hearing in a high-profile case, because he considered me an essential part of the team.  I also cherish the messages I received from clients thanking me for handling difficult situations, including stubborn witnesses, and striving to achieve the best possible solutions for them.  

5. What personal characteristics are most beneficial to you in your career?  
I am the kind of person who likes new challenges and continuous learning.  

For example, math and economics never were my favorite subject in school, yet by pursuing opportunities to work on the quantum aspect of many cases, I now consider myself pretty good at these.  In a field like international arbitration, which spans across various industries, being curious and dedicated to learning our clients’ businesses inside-and-out is essential.

In my view, contributing to the legal debate and being (or trying to be!) at the forefront of important developments is also critical to developing mental elasticity, an important trait for a successful career in dispute resolution.  I am pursuing a PhD at Oxford University on climate change and investment law and hope to make a meaningful contribution to this field.

6. How can people with an interest in ADR get hands-on experience to further their career?
The general words of advice given to recent graduates wishing to break into the ADR field is to master your research, writing, and analytical skills.  Of course, the most obvious path to get better at these things is joining a litigation practice, and then eventually specialize in ADR.  However, I do believe that there are alternative paths that should not be overlooked.  Consider, for example, the importance of specific industries in which ADR is becoming more present, such as life sciences and new technologies.  Experience in these fields is, in my view, a significant asset that may make a candidate stand out over his or her peers.

7. Describe your perfect Friday night in 5 words or less.  
My friends over for dinner!