During her second year at Rutgers University School of Law in Newark, N.J., Natalie Watson ’99 applied to work for a summer at one of New Jersey’s oldest and largest law firms. Katie Gummer ’86, a Bryn Mawr alumna and attorney at the firm, McCarter & English, interviewed her. Watson thought law firm work would simply be a good way to pay off some student loans; during the application process, she was candid.
“Because she was an alum, I was somewhat honest with her about my skepticism about my desire to be at a big law firm long-term,” recalls Watson, who majored in English. “I didn’t think it would fit with my values. I said I wanted to do public interest work.”
Gummer’s reply was transformative, Watson says. Public service shouldn’t be limited to the nonprofit sector, Gummer told Watson. When that happens, people who feel strongly about important issues are then absent from a world where their influence is most needed. “Wherever you go,” Watson remembers Gummer saying, “you have an element of public service to bring to your work.”
A decade later, Watson is now a partner at McCarter and litigates complex business cases. (Gummer, meanwhile, is a judge.) She represents Fortune 500 companies as well as individuals, and her cases range from class actions to wrongful death and sexual harassment claims. That passion for the public interest hasn’t waned: She serves on McCarter’s diversity committee and chairs the board of trustees of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.
In some ways, Watson says, the law firm climate isn’t so different today from what women lawyers experienced a generation ago. In meetings with attorneys from an opposing side, there’s often a presumption that Watson will be the one to take notes. She frequently has to establish her dominance at depositions. “I’ve always been one of the few women in the room,” she says. “There are definitely impediments that still exist.”