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Aliyah in Action: Jeremy Lustman on Worthwhile Risks and Shifting Your Career to Israel

  1. Can you share your journey in the legal profession and what motivated you to make Aliyah to Israel?

I grew up in a close-knit Jewish community in Baltimore, Maryland, in the ’70s and ‘80s. After finishing high school at a modern orthodox day school, I had the opportunity to study in Israel for two years. Learning at a Yeshiva and becoming familiar with the rights and responsibilities of being an Israeli was incredibly inspirational. However, at the time, I wasn’t thinking that one day I would move here.

Following those two years in Israel, I studied at Yeshiva University in NYC. After graduating, I got married and moved to Silver Spring, MD, where my wife grew up, and I attended Georgetown Law School. After working for another big law firm for a few years, I began my time with DLA Piper in 2002.

Six years later, with the economic crisis at the end of 2008, I felt truly vulnerable in my career for the first time. The work I was doing as a corporate M&A lawyer was slowing to a stop, and I was fearful for my job. From both a personal and a career perspective, spending more time in Israel had been percolating in my mind for a few years, and the crashing market in the U.S. and my own personal circumstances motivated me to act. Along with some strong internal support for which I am immensely grateful, I presented my firm’s leadership with a business case for opening a branch in Israel. Thankfully, I was approved for a one-year trial period.

I came to Israel with a list of about 25 names and began networking with other legal practitioners, accountants, consultants, and anyone willing to sit for a cup of coffee with me. Through hard work and some really good luck, I saw enough success in the first year that the firm agreed to extend the trial for another year. During that second year, we had even more growth and DLA recognized the potential long-term opportunities in Israel, increased my budget, and gave me the green light to grow the practice. At this point, I began to understand that this pipe dream had become a reality.

This summer marks 15 years since my family and I came to Israel. We are proud to be dual citizens of the US and Israel, and my kids have integrated beautifully into society through school, volunteer activities, and national service. DLA Piper’s Israel practice has grown to ten people, and we service over 70 companies monthly, often over ten projects daily. The key takeaway from my journey to Israel and a significant factor in my success has been my ability to connect to others, both personally and professionally.

  1. How has being in Israel influenced the dynamics of your business, particularly in navigating international legal frameworks and cultural differences, compared to operating directly within the US?

Living and working here has significantly streamlined the dynamics of my business compared to my time in the US. In Israel, people tend to cut to the chase, which is true in everyday life and in the workplace. For instance, if an Israeli doesn’t see the relevance of a service or product you are pitching them, they will usually be the first to tell you. I anticipate this noticeable cultural difference in meetings and prioritize highlighting DLA Piper’s specific benefits and ways that we can be relevant and helpful to that particular company or person.

Another interesting difference in navigating the international legal framework is the accessibility to decision-makers. It might take 4 or 5 meetings in the US to shake hands with the right people. But in Israel, where the legal world is simultaneously expansive and close-knit, practitioners tend to run in the same circles. This reality allows DLA Piper to engage with familiar frameworks and foster mutually beneficial professional relationships. Additionally, leadership is usually considerably younger than in the States. For the many years I have been here, I have observed that army training instills independence, oversight, and maturity in Israelis, which usually carries over into their work. This means that when they graduate from university at 26 or 27, they have expansive life experiences and the mental preparedness to fit into roles traditionally meant for people 10 or 20 years older. I cannot stress enough the power of explicitly showing your value when operating in Israel. This quality is essential everywhere; but here specifically, if you can demonstrate and prove your worth, you are already in the door.

  1. What were some of the most significant cultural challenges you faced in Israel, personally and professionally, after your immigration?

When I moved to Israel, I was already in my mid-30s and faced the daunting task of figuring out how to integrate and adapt to life here. One of the most noticeable cultural challenges I faced was that I did not serve in the army. Military service is constantly being discussed in everyday life and professional spaces. At first, this difference felt like a barrier to entry into the community, but I became very comfortable talking about and listening to others discuss their time serving. Recognizing and respecting time served helped me feel more intertwined with Israeli society and allowed me to understand better the people born and raised here. Fifteen years later, I meet with professionals whose kids are drafting and beginning their service, just like my own. So, now, I can contribute to the conversation and identify with Israelis in a way I could not before. 

  1. Based on your experience, what advice would you give to other lawyers contemplating making Aliyah and continuing their legal careers in Israel?

To lawyers abroad thinking about moving to Israel, my advice is to be open, patient, and anticipate that life will not necessarily transition as smoothly as you think. Making Aliyah is not an easy process, especially later in life, and it is not natural to move to another country or region of the world. My general advice is to focus on and remember that you WANT to live and work in Israel. So, don’t be disheartened if and when opportunities present themselves differently, or even if you have to take a considerable pay cut from previous positions. If lawyers focus on flexibility, keep an open mind, and manage their expectations, the possibilities here are endless.

  1. What was your biggest personal and professional takeaway from the events DLA Piper recently hosted in NYC, London, and Tel Aviv?

Since moving to Israel, people have reached out to me regularly to ask about how the move impacted my family and me and the advantages, disadvantages, and everything in between. Being the center of Jewish faith, heritage, and culture, Israel is a place I grew up praying for and loving deeply. The natural pull of this country, coupled with the flourishing business and economy, make it unlike any other place in this world. After October 7, it felt like there was a global awakening and a deep recognition of the rising levels of antisemitism in the United States and around the world. I think that this has made Aliyah more meaningful in the eyes of many and represents a celebration of the resilience of this country.

With this in mind, my team and I planned and executed the events in NYC and London. The stated goal for both meetings was to present a career and life in Israel as a viable path forward for lawyers, not to have them running to make Aliyah tomorrow. So, we brought some senior partners of Israeli law firms, an in-house counsel panel of Israeli companies, and even some other foreign law firms working in Israel to discuss their experiences, expectations, and advice.

The power of this movement was evident when our NYC event had over 110 participants, ranging from established partners to freshly graduated associates. Following the conference, I spoke with some of the Israeli firms involved, and they have had several “serious conversations” with candidates about job positions. Our office replicated the event in London based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback. With only about three weeks to prepare, we put together a nice cross-section of the UK legal community. With around 20 participants at this event, we enjoyed the smaller, more intimate group setting, which allowed for more personal conversations. As a thank you, we gave the bestselling book The Genius of Israel by Dan Senor and Saul Singer to individuals who contributed to our panels and some other participants. The authors’ previous book, Startup Nation, came out during my trial year working in Israel, and its explanation of the country’s strength and grit inspired me. In The Genius of Israel, Senor and Singer show how significantly this startup nation has advanced and, I think, inspires those thinking about putting down roots here.

These satellite receptions benefitted the attendees, my office, and me. Our senior marketing manager, Zisse Mueller, said she learned more about what lawyers abroad are looking for in Israeli law firms and how to advise better those interested in making Aliyah. Beyond that, though, NYC and London helped to foster the idea for and shape the framework of a solidarity mission to Israel for lawyers. With invitations sent out at the beginning of February, 11 lawyers came on this self-selecting 3-day trip, which was jam-packed with meetings, volunteering efforts, and cultural excursions around Israel. It was significant to see the group of lawyers, all in different places in their careers, come together to discover their future in Israel. Since then, we were thrilled to have been informed that at least one lawyer has accepted an offer at a top Israeli firm she met with while on the mission and will making Aliyah in the coming months. This trip and the events in NYC and London strengthen DLA Piper and are a hallmark of its office here. A strong ethos of service has always been a part of the work I do alongside my team, and we always try to do well together through social action, sponsoring, and participating in events. I plan to improve and continue these efforts constantly.

To learn more about the satellite events and the other good being done, check out DLA Piper Israel Country on LinkedIn. To find out what else happened on the February solidarity mission and hear from participants, see The Jerusalem Post article “We want your expertise: New initiative introduces foreign lawyers to potential employers in Israel.”

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