Forrest Alogna took a circuitous route to becoming the first American partner at Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier, one of the top law firms in Paris. The 41-year-old's role at the firm is equally unusual. Most U.S. corporate lawyers who practice overseas focus on cross-border transactional work, but Alogna specializes in French law.
Alogna first visited Paris when he was a student at Reed College. After completing an academic program, he was casting around for a way to extend his stay in France when he decided to spend a semester at a cooking school. "I was sort of a naïve young man," Alogna said, "and I thought it would be interesting. When I got there, it was much more challenging that I'd expected. There were professional chefs from all over the world who had a passion for cooking, and this was their dream, to take their careers up a step." Alogna realized he did not share that passion, but he said, "Being with the people who were intense and rigorous about cooking put me on track to find something that made me tick in the same way."
Alogna returned to the U.S. and graduated from Reed with a degree in philosophy in 1995 and enrolled at Cornell Law School three years later. He graduated summa cum laude in 2001 and was editor-in-chief of the Cornell Law Review. While at Cornell, Alogna also met the woman he would marry, a Parisian who was studying for a doctorate in political science at Cornell.
He spent a year clerking for Judge Dolores Slovitor of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia before starting as a creditors' rights associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in New York. Alogna wasn't sure he wanted to stay in New York in the long term, so he switched to litigation as something that would be more transferable outside of New York and told headhunters who called him to get back to him with opportunities in Paris.
When such a job arose at a branch office of an American firm, Alogna flew over to interview. While he was there, he met with lawyers at Bredin Prat, along with Darrois one of the two elite corporate firms in France. Alogna became an associate at Bredin in 2006 and spent most of his time on corporate law. "There was an awful lot of learning," he said. "I had to learn the language and the law and the practice and how to work in a French office. It was way too much to bite off at one time, but through a great deal of hard work I managed." He said it took him about five years to become fully comfortable practicing as a corporate lawyer in French.
While Alogna was at Bredin, a friend from his time at Wachtell Lipton -- Angola Russell, who was spending a year at Darrois -- offered to introduce him to lawyers there. The talks produced a job offer, and Alogna moved to Darrois in 2011. His first weekend at the firm, he found himself in a Paris conference room with Wachtell Lipton partners Adam Emmerich, Philip Mindlin and Jonathan Moses, who along with Darrois lawyers were representing Casino Guichard Perrachon SA. The French supermarket chain was in a protracted dispute with rival Carrefour SA and Casino's local partner in Brazil that the parties settled last year.
Alogna also helped Darrois' Alain Maillot and Bertrand Cardi advise EADS, now known as Airbus Group, on its failed merger talks with BAE Systems plc in 2012, as well as on the successful overhaul of EADS' governance and shareholding structure. His practice remains focused on cross-border transactions and disputes.
"It was a lot more difficult than I could have imagined," Alogna said of becoming a Paris lawyer. "I was forced to learn and push myself in ways I might not have wanted to but now, having overcome the obstacles, I live in a city for which I have a deep affection, working on complex deals with partners as brilliant and rigorous as the chefs I studied with years ago."
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