Alumni Spotlight: Manoj Nair (2008-2016; Hong Kong, New York)

May 11, 2022

Cleary Gottlieb alumni often reflect upon their time at the firm with fondness and gratitude.

Manoj Nair, Managing Director, General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer at Ardea Partners, shares some of his thoughts below.

When were you at Cleary, what practice group were you in and why did you choose Cleary/the group?

I lived in M&A but moonlighted in the capital markets group as well as having a significant ‘general corporate’ practice. I actually had a lot of legal experience before joining Cleary, interning for a State Supreme Court justice in high school (including drafting an opinion which was really exciting), paralegal work in a real estate/entertainment practice, etc., so because of those experiences I knew what I didn’t want to do. Given my interests in counseling and negotiating transactions, M&A felt right. As a summer associate in Hong Kong and New York, I tried capital markets work as well and while it wasn’t for me, being a first year on the Section 13/ 16 team was a great cross practice experience as the expertise I developed was relevant for public M&A work.

I chose Cleary because many people I knew and respected, including hiring partners at other firms, all said “we’d love to have you join us but you belong at Cleary.” The key for me was cultural fit and they all thought I fit into the Cleary culture. And after reading the 2006 Vault profile on Cleary (especially how highly it ranked across diversity metrics) I agreed!

Tell us about your path from Cleary to where you are now.

When I was leaving Cleary, I wanted to take time off to recharge. However, certain partners wouldn’t hear of it and one suggested that I take a meeting with a new startup to be their part-time outside counsel. I did and eventually joined as their General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer.

What have you learned along the way?

Always be ready for opportunity to knock on your door. It has been the guiding rule for me in my career – including on how I made it to Cleary.

What do you appreciate most about each of these experiences?

The new things I have learned, the new friends I have made along the way, and the unique experiences I was able to have.

What skill or substantive area of law did you learn at Cleary that has served you well after your time at the firm?

The most critical Cleary core skill is also the most important in-house legal skill – figure it out. You have the tools and you can pick up the knowledge you need. Often times, there’s no right answer and you have to weigh legal and business risk (and engage your business colleagues in understanding their risk tolerance). Every company is different and it’s probably the hardest thing for lawyers to figure out!

What advice do you have for a young Cleary associate who may want to pursue a similar career path?

Business involves risk and you have to adjust your antenna to the risks a client is willing to take. Most clients are much greater risk takers than lawyers.

What do you look for when you are hiring for your team?

Intellectual curiosity, a rigorous approach without being stuck in precedent, and interests outside of work.

What are you most looking for from outside counsel?

Thoughtful and actionable advice without boiling the ocean.

What advice would you offer any young associate that you wish someone had offered you?

Spend time with your clients and colleagues – especially the junior business and legal team. They will eventually be senior folks and your clients.

Do you have any favorite memories from your time at Cleary?

I have too many to count – “Inoteca Sundays” (which became Mondays which became Tuesdays) is probably the favorite.

Why do you participate in the Cleary alumni network and what would you say to someone considering getting more involved?

It is a great way to reconnect with friends, to do something interesting and network.

What’s something I haven’t asked you about yet that you would like to share with the Cleary community?

Enjoy your time at Cleary – it is easy to get lost in the shuffle and work until the wee hours every day. Find joy in the people around you and the interesting things you’re doing. Be proactive in making space in your life for things outside of work.

Learn more about Cleary’s global alumni network here.