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A Q&A Conversation with Maram Salaheldin

June 28, 2022

In her first two years as an Associate in Clark Hill’s Environmental and Natural Resources practice group, Maram Salaheldin has certainly made her mark with colleagues and clients.

She has been instrumental in launching the firm’s Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and Sustainability advisory practice, and she has been a presenter or author on numerous environmental thought leadership topics since joining the firm.

She recently discussed the ESG and Sustainability practice and how she’s transitioned from a career in consulting to one in law.

You worked outside of the legal industry before coming to Clark Hill, can you discuss your career path prior to Clark Hill?

Yes, I was sort of legal-industry-adjacent. When I graduated from law school, I got an environmental consulting job that I met the language requirements for by knowing English, Arabic, and some French, as well as international and comparative law experience, and they provided me with on-the-job training for the technical side of things.

After a couple of years there, I took on a more conventional consulting position where I worked on-site with clients in the US and internationally. By that time, I had built up my technical experience to really understand the environmental, health, and safety issues, and I then got to apply it in practice—from rural health clinics in Sub-Saharan Africa to agricultural facilities in the Midwest.

So, while I hadn’t always aimed to get into environmental law, you could say I caught the bug and became really interested in and engaged with the material. It’s just relevant to everybody. There can be debates around it, but clean air and clean water matter to everyone.

I also enjoy the practical implications of the work. You’re helping clients identify potential exposure and problems, and then find proactive measures they can take to reduce risks and costs while making their workers and customers happier, especially now with the growing focus on sustainability and ESG.

How did you decide to transition to a law firm career?

I ended up choosing to come to a law firm because I recognized that consulting meant there were certain limitations on the type of work I could be doing or the type of support that I could be providing clients.

Even though I was a barred attorney, I wasn’t practicing law in the capacity that I wanted to since I was at a consulting firm. So, I made the decision to switch tracks and go to a law firm so that I could continue doing the type of work that I enjoyed, just in a slightly different setting.

What was enticing to you about joining Clark Hill specifically?

I was intrigued by the fact that it is a full-service firm with several strong practices that were well recognized across the country and with a growing international presence. At that point, I had focused heavily on international issues related to environmental law, so I wanted to continue that multinational work.

Clark Hill offered all of those things, and the cherry on top of that was that everyone was super nice. I interviewed right before the pandemic, so I did get to meet folks in person, which was great.

I then got to see how the firm handled a lot of the challenging times of 2020 before I committed to joining. I saw how they handled COVID and their messaging around social justice issues. I felt the firm’s management really displayed a positive culture compared to the often-negative stereotypes you hear about law firms.

I started in August 2020, and by then the firm had figured out remote work and Zoom and had the right systems in place, so I was onboarded without a hitch.

What have you really enjoyed about your time since then that’s made you want to put yourself on a leadership trajectory?

Most folks in leadership throughout the firm that I’ve encountered have a really great sense of self-awareness and willingness to adapt, change and grow. So, conversations can, and do, actually happen.

Within my business unit, Pat Larkin and Rod Williamson are fantastic support systems. They’re always willing to hear ideas, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a Member or an Associate—if it’s good for the team, they’re happy to support it and help you bring it to fruition, like the ESG and Sustainability practice.

I also don’t personally know very many Arab-American women in the legal field, even less so in environmental, and that’s been a big motivator for me in terms of wanting to help enhance the diversity of our profession and our firm and to be a resource for the next generation of attorneys.

It looks like you’ve also been active in mentorship and social media engagement, what’s been your motivation to participate in that?

When I interviewed with Clark Hill, they really recognized the benefits of my career as a consultant whereas, at other firms, I didn’t necessarily fit into their specific box of class rank, prior firm experience, and so on. Clark Hill was actually very happy I didn’t fit into that mold, and that’s been fantastic for me and my career.

This has driven me to want to do the same for law students or young professionals. To let them know that there are different career paths in law and that it is possible to switch between practicing and non-practicing roles. So, especially in the past six months or so, I’ve been more active through social media, bar associations, and my alumni networks to offer my insights to anyone who might benefit. 

Transitioning to the ESG and Sustainability practice, can you describe what that is and how your team helps clients in this area?

It’s based on the premise of any organization that says they want to implement some sort of strategy or policy to ensure that they adequately address and manage the environmental and social impacts of their activities or their products.

The environmental part of it is how an organization’s operations or products affect the environment– for example, pollution or contributing to climate change. This could also include using too much water or creating too much waste. The social part is how an organization is impacting communities—both its own people, as in employees, as well as other communities. For example, communities surrounding a factory are affected by the quality of air or human rights issues related to a company’s supply chain.

All of that ties into the governance piece, which is how organizations ensure they are governing themselves on these issues. That ultimately ties into the data and metrics to ensure transparency, reliability, and the ability to hold organizations accountable for meeting their stated goals.

There is now a growing trend to get organizations to use similar standards to allow stakeholders to better compare organizations on their ESG performance. We’re seeing the SEC propose rulemakings, the EU has several regulations ahead of us, and other countries and regions are working in this space as well. It’s something that’s going to be relevant to almost all of our clients in some way, shape, or form.

How did you help get this practice started?

For more than a year or so, I worked with Pat Larkin and others at the firm on the behind-the-scenes approach to starting this practice. We wanted to take a very conscious approach to building the practice and how we communicate it internally and externally. This included identifying the different components of a robust ESG and Sustainability practice, as well as identifying those with the relevant skills and experience to support clients in those different areas—including both in-house and external partners.

Internally, we’ve got a fantastic team of attorneys from several different practice areas and offices, as well as non-attorney professionals, such as our Government and Regulatory Affairs, HR/AA, and Cybersecurity groups. And that is being leveraged very intentionally because we recognize that this isn’t just an environmental attorney issue, it’s really a multi-disciplinary issue.

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