Shearman & Sterling Alumni Spotlight: Karen Holdridge, Senior Vice President & New York Regional General Counsel, BXP

Published Date
Jan 30, 2024
Through the Alumni Spotlight series, you can meet a few of our distinguished alumni to learn how they leveraged their time at the firm to advance their careers and what advice they would give to those looking to have similar success.

Karen Holdridge, Shearman & Sterling Alumni, Senior Vice President and New York Regional General Counsel, Boston Properties, Inc. Karen Holdridge

Senior Vice President & New York Regional General Counsel, BXP

Karen Holdridge ’04 (Real Estate, 2004–2011, New York City) always wanted to be a lawyer and even attended law camp as a kid. After gaining her bachelor’s degree from Earlham College and graduating from American University Washington College of Law, she joined Shearman & Sterling as an associate in the Real Estate group. She left the firm after seven years to work as an associate at Ropes & Gray LLP before becoming General Counsel at Crown Acquisitions. She now serves as Senior Vice President and New York Regional General Counsel for BXP (formerly Boston Properties). Outside of work, Karen is an adjunct professor of Real Estate Transactions at Columbia Business School and a mom to two very busy tween boys.

What is your favorite memory or story from your time at Shearman & Sterling?

We were doing a huge presentation for AIG in ’08, but the document production people were having trouble getting the binders copied in time. I was sitting at my desk really stressed when the partner heading our team came by and asked if I was ready for the meeting. When I told him we didn’t have the binders yet, he said, “What are you doing at your desk? Why are you not standing at the copier right now?”

So there I was, tears streaming down my face at the copier, but that was the moment I realized that we’re all part of a team and our job is to get over the line. If that means running signature pages across town as a 10th-year associate or as a partner, you do it. That’s something I have carried through my career, and I run my teams that way. I am never too good to do a project that needs to be done. When someone on my team says, “That’s not part of my job,” I tell them that story.

What skills or capabilities did you gain from your time at the firm that prepared you for future roles?

I learned something critical from every partner I worked with. One partner taught me how to sit at a negotiating table and that fewer words are often better than being the center of attention. Another taught me how to draft concisely. Another taught me how to manage a deal and make sure I didn’t miss a thing through the power of the detailed checklist—because that could be the critical piece that clients are looking for.

There are so many things from my days at Shearman that have been critical to my career growth. The only reason I left was because we were moving to Boston and there wasn’t a Shearman office there. I am still incredibly grateful for the time and effort everyone put in to teaching and mentoring me.

What has been your career journey since leaving Shearman & Sterling?

I spent a few years at Ropes & Gray in Boston, where I had my second child. I was representing an institutional investor that was doing joint ventures with Crown Acquisitions in New York. I really hit it off with the firm’s Chief Operating Officer and confided in her that I didn’t think my trajectory was to become a partner. I loved doing the work and the deals but had zero interest in client development. When Ropes said my partnership year was coming up and I needed to put in three to four hundred more hours of client development work, I called her up. She said, “Funny, I want to hire my first general counsel, and I’d like it to be you.” It worked out beautifully.

We moved back to New York and I spent two and a half years at Crown doing some incredible deals. The opportunities were amazing. I got to ride on a private jet out to Las Vegas to negotiate a billion-dollar deal to develop Winn Plaza at Winn resorts. It opened a whole realm of thought; the way the business operated and how decisions were made from an in-house perspective.

Then I saw that Boston Properties was looking for a New York regional general counsel to lead the legal department. I figured they were looking for someone in their fifties—and that was not me—but before I knew it, I was in my seventh round of interviews. At that point, the regional general counsel who was leaving said, “Let me show you your new office,” and I realized I already had the job.

Tell us about your current job. What do you enjoy most about your work?

I can literally say I work for the first-in-class developer of premier workplaces in the country. When tenants question whether we’ll meet our obligations under their leases, I don’t have to worry because I know how BXP teams operate. I am so proud of the company and that feels incredibly important.

Outside of that, my team is the reason I show up every day. There are six of us and, with the exception of one of my lawyers, we are all women. I didn’t plan it that way, it’s just the way it happened, but I feel very lucky. My favorite part of the job is how we work together and our relationships with the other departments in the region. We take pride in that and make sure it’s something we maintain. I feel honored that I get to run this team and continue providing the best legal advice for some of the biggest deals in the city. It’s a huge responsibility, and I love that.

What advice would you give to someone looking to have a similar career path?

Get as much experience as you can, even with difficult/scary/hairy projects/tasks, but take it all in your stride, because you are learning, even when you don’t realize it. Chances are, most things you experience will play out again in your life somewhere, later down the road in your career.

Ask for what you want and seek out that role, even if you don’t think you’re qualified. I was hired as a 41-year-old woman for a position I’m pretty sure everyone thought was going to get filled by a white-haired individual. But I pushed, and I went for what I wanted. That has been my secret to success.

Content Disclaimer
This content was originally published by Shearman & Sterling before the A&O Shearman merger