Alum Richard Chesley shares corporate law journey, advice for pre-law students and aspiring lawyers


Illustration by Joanna Hou

Richard Chesley, a corporate restructuring lawyer at global law firm DLA Piper, explained changes in the legal field and provided advice to prospective law students.

Avigna Ramachandran, Reporter

Richard “Rick” Chesley (Weinberg ’82), a corporate restructuring lawyer at global law firm DLA Piper, shared his career journey and gave advice to Northwestern students interested in legal professions Monday. 

Chesley is managing partner of the Americas and co-U.S. managing partner for DLA Piper. In 2016, he received the DLA Piper Pro Bono Award, which honors recipients’ outstanding free legal work, for his work with clients from around the world. 

“I’ve been doing this for 38 years, give or take,” Chelsey said. “Still pretty bullish on it. I think the future of law is going to be more enjoyable, challenging and profitable.” 

Law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta, Womxn in Law and the Black Pre-Law Association co-sponsored Monday’s event with NU Career Advancement to inform students on the current state of the legal field. 

Chesley began by discussing the impact of economic conditions and artificial intelligence on the legal field. Despite the recent downturn in markets, he said he hasn’t witnessed large-scale changes in hiring nor a decrease in demand for legal professionals. Chesley added the growth of AI will fundamentally change legal work for the better. 

“The demand will always be there for critical thinkers,” he said. “AI allows our lawyers to do better, more creative, more game-changing work at a much younger age.”

Attendee Olivia Kim (Bienen and Weinberg ’22) appreciated Chesley’s optimistic view on AI.

“It was reassuring to hear about the ways in which new technology could help the legal field,” Kim said.

Chesley explained his path from litigation to corporate restructuring and emphasized the importance of being flexible and taking calculated risks throughout one’s career. 

What students major in during their undergraduate years doesn’t determine how well they can do in law school, Chelsey added. 

“Probably the best lawyer I ever worked with, by far, was a French horn major,” Chesley said. “I mean, who else can say that?” 

He said doing well in law school matters most and advised students to focus less on law school rankings. 

Womxn in Law President and Medill senior Julia Karten said she resonated with Chesley’s perspective on school rankings. 

“The most important thing I learned was not just following statistics and rankings, but going where you think you will succeed most in the legal profession,” Karten said. 

Chesley said there are three main ways to prepare for a legal career: reading, writing and gaining a solid understanding of the field. He encouraged students to take classes that teach them how to critically read large amounts of information. 

Chesley also discussed the types of experiences prospective law students can pursue to increase their exposure to the industry. 

“Talk to people who are lawyers, spend a week at a law firm or spend a week in a lawyer’s office,” Chesley said. “Do whatever you can to get some of that base knowledge going in.”

He recommended students pursue public-interest internships to gain experience in the field. Every lawyer at DLA Piper is required to devote 60 hours to pro bono work.

Ultimately, pursuing law is a way to serve communities, Chesley said. 

“It’s a great way to engage with people and solve real-world problems when you’re in your 20s,” Chesley said. “I can’t recommend it enough.”  

Email: [email protected]

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