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Voice of Experience: Susan Light, Partner, Katten

Susan LightWhen Sue Light reflects on advice given to her over the years she acknowledges that sometimes it doesn’t become pertinent until you’ve been in the workforce long enough to see its value.

That’s why she recommends newer professionals focus on approaching a job with the goal of helping solve problems and offering solutions. She also stresses the importance of taking care of yourself. “I am happy to see this is becoming a bigger trend among younger professionals. It’s not weak to take a moment every now and then to focus on your physical and mental health. It’s imperative. If you are not taking care of yourself, you won’t be able to show up and take care of others. Plain and simple.”

Finding the Perfect Intersection of Experiences

While Ms. Light had originally planned to get her PhD in psychology, she changed course as grad school loomed and ended up attending law school at Boston University. She began her legal career as a prosecutor in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office in New York, where she tried to verdict more than 50 felony cases and supervised the investigations and prosecutions of violent crimes. She spent seven years in what she describes as an “important and dynamic job,” learning every aspect of practicing law and simultaneously building strong ties with her colleagues.

She also earned her Master of Law at New York University School of Law in the evenings, focusing on securities and criminal law. Ms. Light was able to combine the specialties into a position that she says was “custom-made for her” at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) as a trial attorney. Over the years she ascended the ranks and became a senior vice president in the NYSE’s enforcement division.

During her time there, the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD), a self-regulatory organization of the securities industry, merged with NYSE’s regulation and formed the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Ms. Light stayed on in a similar position for an additional 11 years, helping run the enforcement division as senior vice president and chief counsel.

As a leader at FINRA and the NYSE, Ms. Light managed as many as 60 attorneys and investigators and negotiated dozens of global settlements with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, state regulators and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which is a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Additionally, she partnered with foreign regulators on investigations into cross-national Ponzi schemes, with the Internal Revenue Service on investigations of improper tax dividends, with the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation on investigations of penny stock fraud and market manipulation and with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission on managed futures alternative investments investigations.

While she enjoyed her regulatory experience, last year she decided she wanted to experience private practice and joined Katten as a partner in its Financial Markets and Funds group.

“It’s been a great match, the people are terrific,” Ms. Light said. “Katten has a strong financial services department, and I brought my institutional knowledge of SEC and FINRA rules and regulations to enhance that area.” Clients appreciate the value she brings, given her extensive experience and insight in addressing complex legal and regulatory issues. Joining Katten has also presented the opportunity for Ms. Light to handle cryptocurrency and cybersecurity matters, building on her FINRA experience in those areas.

At Katten, Ms. Light provides clients with a regulator’s perspective and deep insights into the rules. Her time is divided between giving advice on rule interpretations and practices, conducting internal investigations and representing broker/dealers in SEC and FINRA proceedings. “I try to help my clients better understand what the regulator is required to consider and how that may impact their matter,” said Ms. Light. “I think this approach gives them a greater level of insight and confidence when working with FINRA or the SEC.”

And that is one of the professional achievements she is most proud of—being able to connect her many roles, leveraging her experience to provide value to her clients. In addition, she finds a lot of satisfaction in the opportunities she has had through her senior executive leadership roles to mentor and guide so many people whom she has been proud to see have been promoted and succeed.

Building Important Bridges

While she appreciates the level of trust she has established with the regulatory agencies, Ms. Light likewise values the trust she has developed with colleagues. “You need someone at work who will give you a reality check and advice,” she says. Since she is relatively new at Katten, she has been proactively calling women partners to get to know them.

Ms. Light says she has been very fortunate over her career as the men who may have been dismissive of her achievements as a woman were few and far between. “I never missed out on any opportunities by being a woman; if I didn’t get a promotion, it wasn’t because I was a woman,” she notes. And similarly, she says she has been fortunate to work with many role models who helped paved the way.

Currently she appreciates the focus that Katten puts on diversity and inclusion, and has become a member of the firm’s Women’s Leadership Forum, which supports the growth of women attorneys through various initiatives, programs and events. “The firm is very attuned to internal diversity but also recognizes a diverse workforce results in more innovative solutions to the legal and business challenges faced by our clients,” she says.

Ms. Light is proud to be part of a family of lawyers; she met her husband in the Bronx District Attorney’s Office and he just retired as an adjunct law professor. Her son is currently a market surveillance manager at the NYSE while attending law school at night, and her daughter works in project management and is applying to law school. The family remains close—having weekly lunches, getting together on the weekends when they can and traveling together.

Her daughter recently found a book of poems Ms. Light’s parents had given her. One that particularly resonated as she read it with hindsight was called “Don’t Ever” by Laine Parsons, which reads in part, “Don’t ever forget that you can achieve so many of the things you can imagine. It’s not as hard as it seems. Don’t ever stop loving don’t ever stop believing, don’t ever stop dreaming your dreams. “It’s great advice for any professional, and a good reminder of what we need to figure out as we go along our paths,” says Ms. Light.

“The secret to work-life harmony is not balance so much as navigating what’s most important at any given time,” Ms. Light says. “Sometimes that’s the case you’re working on and sometimes that’s your child’s birthday. It is possible to be fantastic at both roles.”