Alumni Spotlight: Seth Stuhl (1997-2004; New York)

July 28, 2021

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

Seth Stuhl, Vice President of Business Affairs & Legal Counsel at Disney Theatrical Productions in New York, shared his thoughts below.

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

Cleary taught me that there is no such word as “no” – that there is always a solution to a problem, even if the problem isn’t always first what it seems, and there is always an answer to a question, even if sometimes part of finding the answer is realizing the wrong question is being asked. Most important, as a practitioner, my responding with a “no” when being asked to find a solution or an answer is both unacceptable and unnecessary. At Cleary I learned to be flexible in my thinking, unafraid of plunging into a new area, comfortable with finding an expert from whom to learn, and most of all confident in my abilities and intellect to help my clients whatever the question or problem. I am in many ways now a generalist in a unique and special industry, with new things to constantly learn, and I bring these lessons to my practice every day.

What Cleary person and/or experience had a lasting impact on you personally?

Surely the partners from whom I learned so much every day – George Weisz, Tom Moloney, Debbie Buell, Lindsee Granfield, and Jim Bromley. They expected the best from me, and believed I was capable of it. I freely admit that I started at Cleary with “imposter syndrome”, intimidated by all the brilliant people around me. Their expectations of me, and belief in me – and what I learned I was capable of as a result – ultimately made me feel like I belonged at Cleary as much as anyone else. I am grateful for that confidence they fostered in me. One other story which I think of often: During one annual review Debbie gave me feedback that I was very good managing the junior lawyers. As all I wanted to hear was feedback that I was a brilliant lawyer, I took that as a kind way of saying “not the brightest, but has a nice personality”.  A few years after I left Cleary to go to Disney I saw Debbie, and she asked about my career. When she learned that my immediate business and legal affairs group was small with few immediate reports, she responded with some disappointment – I was such a good manager and so good with developing talent. I shared with Debbie that I had many young clients with whom I partnered, so those skills were not squandered, and at that moment I realized that at my review all those years earlier Debbie really was identifying part of what made me a fine practitioner – I might be a Cleary-caliber lawyer, but I was particularly talented as a manager and team player. Years later, I know that those abilities have led to my career advancement at Disney, and I think often of Debbie identifying those distinct skills so early in my career – she helped me appreciate who I uniquely am in the professional world, and I am grateful to her for that.

Why do you participate in the alumni network, and what would you say to someone who is considering getting involved?

At Cleary’s 60th anniversary party, when we entered its venue, the Hall of Ocean Life at the Museum of Natural History, I told my husband to stop, look around and take in that we would never be in a room with such brilliant, extraordinary people until the next anniversary party. It remains a privilege to be in touch with so many alumni and current Cleary people, and to be inspired by so many members of the Cleary community’s commitment to using their intelligence and creativity to do good in our world.

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