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David Kaufman: From Small Town Student to Global Law Director

David Kaufman is the Director of Global Strategies at Nixon Peabody LLP, a global law firm, and has been working there for the past 15 years. He grew up in a small town in Central Pennsylvania called Altoona. Pursuing a BS and an MBA concentrated in Entrepreneurial Studies from The Wharton School, he never expected that he would end up in San Francisco for his career. Kaufman works with companies, investors, and individuals from all over the world. By 2019, he had worked in over 140 countries in addition to expanding companies from the San Francisco Bay Area to New York. 

About the leader

Kaufman studied at The Wharton School which initiated his success in his career as a businessman and he helps his clients through a business perspective to cater to their needs. He enjoys working at his law firm because the individuals he works with are sharp and bright. He emphasizes the benefit of working at a place where the business is run by the people who actually own it, unlike working in a corporate setting where the company may be owned by a pension fund or stockholders. 

Professor Edward Shils from The Wharton School acted as a mentor for Kaufman and inspired him to head into the legal business. Shils discussed his interest in legal work and how the legal business works through the concept of entrepreneurial culture. Kaufman learned from him that advantages are often harder to overcome than disadvantages. 



Fond Memory

Kaufman described a time in China when his firm was sponsoring a conference. He was appointed as the chairman of the conference where he had to introduce everyone. Despite having more than thirty years of experience doing business in China, he does not speak Chinese. He was apprehensive about presenting but was provided with a personal translator to help him. The topic he had to speak about for this conference was investment from Australia to China. Midway through the presentation, he realized that the conference was discussing the British Virgin Islands as opposed to Australia. The translator directed him not to address the mistake as he would “lose face” because that was what had been put in the program. He realized the significance of different cultures and how sometimes we have to “roll with the punches” and operate with how things are done in certain regions. 

Biggest Challenge

Kaufman often asks himself, “How can I take my career to the next level?” The pandemic has taught us all to expect how things can change rapidly. His experience on the Covid Response Team was gratifying yet challenging because new issues would arise every single day. His team was working nonstop to solve issues as they encountered problems they had never dealt with before. From a management perspective, he likes to hire great people, allow them to do their jobs and doesn’t believe in micromanaging them. He believes that people will rise to the occasion if you give them enough latitude and that it’s important to give back to the community by getting involved in something you’re passionate about. 

Proud Achievement

  1. COVID Response Team: Kaufman played an impactful part in the Coronavirus Response Team in which 75 lawyers gathered together to coordinate their work and discuss the issues arising during the pandemic. 
  2. Breaking New Ground: He founded the Nixon Peabody’s China practice which had not been relevant fifteen years ago. His experience proved to be useful with this project as he had previous experience conducting business in China. 
  3. Global Firm Leading: He is the co-leader of TerraLex, one of the largest global law firms in the world, with over 164 jurisdictions in 101 countries.  

Quote to Live By

When it comes to doing what I have to do, I’m going to do whatever I can to protect the firm’s interest to take care of our clients.” -David Kaufman

Piece of Advice 

“Find something you are interested in doing and latch on to it.” 

Kaufman recommends being prepared to learn that things may not always go your way. Learn from your setbacks and failures because they will eventually allow you more success. Make sure to not be overly critical of everything you do for your career and realize that there are certain things that you do not have control over.