Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Legal Education From Both Sides of the Bench

MTSix months after starting as a judge, Anisimova overheard a lawyer comparing her courtroom to Britain's Parliament.
Olga Anisimova would be hard-pressed to say what made her, then a soft-spoken 17-year-old Leningrader with a passion for Alexander Pushkin, reconsider her career choice 30 years ago.

Inspired by her literature teacher in school, Anisimova -- now a partner in the Moscow office of the law firm Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe -- was preparing herself for a pedagogical career. Her teachers, however, talked her out of pursuing the life of an educator. "Knowing that I am romantic by nature, they saw that I didn't understand the other side of life," she said.

So one day she went home and told her parents she would study law. In 1973, she signed up for night classes at Leningrad State University and got her first job as a court secretary at the city's Vasileostrovsky District Court, where she was soon promoted to a marshal.

Anisimova said it felt like a complete turnaround, from lofty poetry to mundane matters.

"At 18, I literally plunged into the thicket of life," she said.

In her new position, she often had to go door to door calling on people -- many of them "marginalized individuals" -- who tried to evade court rulings on such issues as child support or division of property.

One case she vividly remembers involved a painful division of the estate left behind by Soviet artist Alexander Samokhvalov. By the time she became involved, the case had turned into a quagmire. After years in court, experienced marshals still could not get the respondent party to open the door.

When the case got to Anisimova, she was so distressed, she said, that she wrapped it up in a single day. "When I got back to the court and handed in the inventory ... the judge was simply astonished."

In 1979, with six years' experience at the court and a degree from Leningrad State University, she was ready to try her hand in a new situation and got a job as a legal adviser with Leningrad-based shipyard Baltiisky Zavod. Anisimova soon began representing the shipyard in the court where she had previously worked until, after two years, the chief judge persuaded her to return as a judge.

At the age of 25, having joined the Communist Party, Anisimova did just that. She spent the night before her first appearance reading a stack of cases, and still by midday her eyes were full of tears. "I was scared out of my wits," she recalled. But with each case thereafter, her confidence grew. Six months after starting, Anisimova accidentally overhead an exchange between two attorneys.

"'I am simply stunned,' one attorney said to the other. 'Such a young girl, and yet ... I had a feeling I was sitting not in a district court but in the British Parliament,'" Anisimova recalled.

She served on the bench for eight years, which flew past. During that time, she learned the essence of the trade. "A judge has to just listen. By no means should you let even the tone of your questions reveal [your personal opinion]." She also learned to resist the temptations that go hand in hand with positions of power.

"When I was a judge, we also had cases -- more an exception than not -- when somebody was caught red-handed taking bribes but, you know, that was child's play compared to what's happening now," she said.

Once, a woman coming from what Anisimova described as the old St. Petersburg intelligentsia offered her a family heirloom, a gold ring, as a plea to take mercy on the woman's daughter, whose case was to be considered in court.

In another case, a plaintiff began casting highly sought-after, 6 ruble cans of coffee on Anisimova's desk in a frenzy of appreciation after a favorable ruling. Anisimova recalled with a smile being dumbfounded at the plaintiff's reaction.

Eventually, having mastered the ins and outs of a judge's vocation, Anisimova decided to learn the legal profession from the other side of the bench. Having spent more than 15 years at the Vasileostrovsky court, she registered with Leningrad's City Board of Attorneys in 1990.

As the country began opening up, businesses sprouted, exposing a legal void in the area of commercial law. Anisimova felt the need to learn more to adapt to the new reality and in 1992 won a scholarship to the Central European University in Budapest. In 1993, she went to American University in Washington as an Edmund R. Muskie Fellow.

Upon graduating with a master of laws degree in 1994, she received a job offer from Baker & McKenzie.

Anisimova declined, instead joining Coudert Brothers because of the opportunity to help start up its St. Petersburg office. By the time the office opened in 1996, she had taken root in Moscow.

"I'll be honest, the first years were hard," Anisimova said. A former Soviet judge, she had had to learn the basics of corporate culture and legal writing. In 2002, she was made a partner.

But last January, she felt a desire for new challenges, and along with two other Coudert partners, she accepted Orrick's offer to open the company's Moscow office. Coudert said it was sorry to see her go.

"She is a strong litigator," said Pavel Bakoulev, a former colleague.

Anisimova said she was looking forward to testing herself. "The firm is just entering the market, and the market has already been divided," she said. "As a professional, I like this risk."