Laura Abrahamson’s legal career began at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher after she double-majored in accounting and finance and earned a business degree from UC Berkeley. Her goal was to be a transactional lawyer doing mergers and acquisitions. Unfortunately, the stock market crashed in October 1987, two weeks after she started at the firm.
This event propelled her in a new direction. Abrahamson was asked to be on the team for a General Electric labor and employment case that went to trial in federal court at the end of her first year.
“I loved the trial. I loved everything about it—the arguments, the strategy, the examination of witnesses—and I was hooked from that point forward,” Abrahamson recalls.
Her career continued its upward trajectory as she worked for 20 years at Occidental Petroleum and another five at AECOM, a leader in engineering and construction. While in-house, she handled labor and employment, environmental, insurance and governance matters.
Early Experience With ADR Positive and Influential
In 2001, Abrahamson’s first arbitration case went to a hearing.
“I immediately knew that this was a better process, not only in terms of keeping our costs down, but also in terms of the result,” she said. “I became a huge proponent of ADR, and in particular arbitration, from that moment forward.”
She became an advocate for ADR and started to transition to becoming an arbitrator while still working in-house, finding that her ability to synthesize information allowed her to excel in the role. That experience, along with her concern about the lack of women panelists, motivated her to get her accreditation as a fellow of the Chartered Institute for Arbitrators and to think about arbitrating in commercial cases as well.
The Importance of Mentors
Abrahamson had the support of two great mentors who played crucial roles in her career. The first was a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who gave her the confidence to succeed by reminding her that hard work and preparation would enable her to overcome any underestimation.
The second was the general counsel at Occidental Petroleum, who hired her and appreciated the unique expertise and viewpoint that she brought to the table as a woman and a mother.
"Diversity, not just of gender, but also of life experiences, adds something invaluable to the mix." Abrahamson says.
Contributing to DE&I Initiatives
As an in-house counsel, Abrahamson had the opportunity to make an impact on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) issues. She initiated a summer associate program that hired diverse first-year law students and gave them an opportunity to present their group projects to big law firms. Her program helped students secure coveted second-year summer associate jobs at those firms.
Making a Difference Beyond the Legal Industry
Abrahamson sits on the board of a charity called Boarding for Breast Cancer, which aims to educate young women about the importance of self-detection. The charity was founded almost 30 years ago by Abrahamson's sister and a few friends after a close friend died of breast cancer at a young age. She shares the organization's mission and emphasizes the need for women to advocate for themselves.
"If women know how to examine themselves and can advocate for themselves, their cancers will be discovered before it's too late."
Thank you. Next.
If she had to come up with a title for the story of her life, it would be “Thank you. Next.” Abrahamson’s journey has been characterized by a willingness to embrace new challenges while overcoming barriers such as gender bias and balancing work and motherhood.
"I have loved every stage of my career. There have been challenges, to be sure, but overcoming them ... they've all provided opportunities for growth."
She feels lucky to have worked with leading figures in international and domestic arbitration and mediation and has been inspired by them. Looking to the future, Abrahamson is excited for the next chapter of her career and the new challenges and opportunities that await.
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