Alumni Spotlight: Olga Kharitonova (2006-2017; Paris)

February 25, 2021

To celebrate Cleary Gottlieb’s 75th anniversary, alumni around the globe are taking time to reflect on their experiences at the firm.

Olga Kharitonova, General Counsel at Neoen in France, shared her thoughts below.

What lessons did you learn at Cleary that prepared you for your future career?

When I applied for a position as an associate in Cleary’s Paris office, my academic background was pretty atypical compared to most other French young private practice lawyers. I was born in the Ural region of the Soviet Union and studied law in Moscow before becoming a French lawyer and being admitted to the Paris Bar. Despite this, I joined the Paris office of an American law firm. This was a long journey, but the recruitment process reinforced my belief that everything is possible when one gives herself the means to succeed. It also reinforced my belief that differences can be an asset and enhance self-confidence and self-esteem. Personality is as important as technical skills to succeed.

At Cleary, I further learnt that working in a multicultural and challenging professional environment is a great opportunity to grow. It was a privilege to work with such talented people from different nationalities and cultures. Today, I belong to the senior management of a highly international group (more than 30 nationalities based in 15 different countries for only 250 employees) and having built this intercultural sensitivity helps me address rather complex situations.

The ability to work across practices also exposed me to a broad variety of different topics and transactions. I learnt that although knowledge of law and regulations and of market practice is important, a broad legal culture, analysis skills, common sense and good judgement are even more critical to succeed.

As General Counsel of a fast-growing company which entered the SBF 120 index after only 18 months following its IPO, I am confronted daily to a broad range of legal, HR, insurance and management issues. Many of the topics I deal with are new to me and I do not have the expertise to address all of them. Nevertheless, I have built the confidence in my skills and judgement to have a meaningful opinion on every question.

Eventually, at Cleary I also learnt to work harder and smarter building on my soviet education with Stakhanovism heritage. It goes without saying that this is useful as well.

To learn more about Cleary’s global alumni network, click here.