Making a Leap of Faith from Law to Financial Services
Benetta Park, managing director and wealth advisor at J.P. Morgan Private Bank, worked in McDermott’s Private Client Practice Group in Chicago between 1999 and 2004. She told us how she decided to make the transition away from a career in private practice and how her mentors and early training at McDermott have contributed to her success.
Tell us more about your current role. What are your general responsibilities?
I work with ultra-high net worth families in a 13-state region of the Midwest to understand and help them achieve their overall objectives, this spans passing along wealth, philanthropy, family governance and educating family members.
The client relationships and functions of my current role are similar to the advisory work I handled at McDermott, but being in-house at J.P. Morgan, I don’t practice law or give legal or tax advice. I do partner closely with each client’s other advisors, including their lawyers, to make sure we’re on the same page and can work toward our client’s goals and best interests together.
Some of my clients’ trusted advisors are my former private client partners at McDermott, because there are a number of synergies between the work at J.P. Morgan and McDermott.
What has been the biggest surprise about your career path overall?
Making the switch from private practice to financial services wasn’t something I expected to do in my career, but it’s worked out well. I can still be the technical person I am, and also come up with creative solutions and work with clients, and that’s where my heart is.
While at McDermott, I thought I would always practice law and continue on the partnership track. When I made the switch to the type of role I have now as a wealth advisor in the financial industry, that kind of position was very new.
The McDermott partners were very supportive when I left, and they kept the door open for me to come back. Their support gave me peace of mind in making the change.
How did you end up in your current role?
I went from McDermott to a different financial institution and then to J.P. Morgan. Another former partner at McDermott had made the leap (although she eventually made her way back to McDermott). When she left her role, she contacted me to ask if I would be interested in interviewing for the position, which I ended up taking.
I moved to J.P. Morgan 10 years ago after they reached out to me. That was a huge honor, because they have incredible, well-respected people within the private client community, and naturally I thought it would be interesting to hear more.
As I started meeting people and hearing about their approach of bringing global resources to clients in a customized way, it was a big draw for me. They also have a great reputation, high-caliber people and overall strength, stability and reputation.
Is there an accomplishment you’re particularly proud of?
I’m proud to be in a position to help clients and their families, and it also makes me proud to mentor people as they navigate their own careers. I’ve had incredible mentors, many of whom are at McDermott, who helped shape me into the person and professional I am, and I try to do the same for others. I’ve carried that culture with me.
I had the pleasure and opportunity of working with a lot of the partners at McDermott, and I learned from everyone, but some of the people who stand out in my mind include Dave Baker, Richard Dees, Dave Herpe, Carol Harrington, Bill Butler, Joe Rubinelli, Dick Lang, and Read Moore. I think I’ve named all of the senior partners in the department, which is quite telling.
I was also an adjunct professor at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, so I’ve given back to the trusts and estates community through teaching and helping students, as well as through writing and speaking engagements and leadership roles with professional organizations in the trusts and estates industry, locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally.
How did your training at McDermott prepare you for your current role? How did the firm support your professional development and career growth?
The training was invaluable. It played a big part in preparing me for my current role, in terms of handling technical issues and making sure I step back and look at the holistic picture of a client’s situation to provide the best advice.
McDermott was very supportive in helping me grow. Many partners, although they were busy, took the time and effort to make sure I didn’t just get my assignments done, but learned from them. They knew that would help me be successful in the future. I recall Bill Butler’s advice to read as many articles on estate planning as I could even though I didn’t think I had the time. He advised to invest in learning and I still do that now.
Additionally, I used to be deathly afraid of public speaking, but some of the partners at McDermott brought me under their wing to help me develop that skill. Now I speak at estate planning conferences everywhere, something I wouldn’t have been able to do if they hadn’t brought me into co-presenting speaking opportunities so I could get more comfortable with it.
Has the McDermott Alumni Network been valuable to you?
At alumni events, I enjoy seeing my friends who are still with McDermott, along with the ones who have left. We have found ways to network with one another, and even if it’s not a business opportunity, we use each other as resources in our current roles.
I developed such strong friendships at McDermott, and I keep in touch with the entire private client department through shared client relationships, the alumni network and other channels. I even stay in touch professionally and personally with partners in offices beyond Chicago.
What advice would you give young associates starting their careers?
Don’t do the assignment just to get it done. Learn and absorb as much as you can. Learning in areas outside of what we do day-to-day can make you even stronger.
As an example, I worked with the corporate and employee benefits groups while I was at McDermott, which expanded my knowledge and allowed me to help my clients that much more. That experience has allowed me to understand how and when to bring in J.P. Morgan’s global resources and experts in a variety of areas to integrate their services with mine on behalf of clients.
How do you spend time outside of work?
Right now, it’s different because of the pandemic. I always liked traveling to see friends, and I still love finding ways to stay connected with family and friends. Lately, I’ve been putting my food MacGyver skills to work, using whatever I have in the fridge and pantry to cook something great. To cut down on starch, I make my own cauliflower crust pizza, vegetable rice and zucchini noodles, along with sauces. My parents are very healthy, and it’s fun sharing recipes with them.