Sonja Schiller, ’09
Associate, Baker & McKenzie LLP, Chicago
As she was planning her legal career, Sonja Schiller focused on just one school: Washington University School of Law.
“Because of its numerous opportunities and the community support, Washington University initially appealed to me as an undergraduate,” she says. “And for these same reasons, I was attracted to the law school.”
Now an associate in the Global Tax Practice Group of Baker & McKenzie LLP in Chicago, Schiller says she found exactly what she sought – and more – while in law school.
“Having professors who are lauded in their fields and who can guide and mentor you through your law school years is so important,” Schiller says about the relationships she formed with law faculty members that continue today. “The support I received from faculty during law school opened up doors for me after law school. Being able to maintain those relationships has meant a lot since. Even today, I regularly see several of my law school professors and deans.”
Schiller graduated from Washington University in 2004 with a double major in modern Chinese history and French language and literature and a minor in business. After graduation, she taught English at a high school in Guangzhou, China, from 2004 to 2005. During her year in China, Schiller also wrote market reports for the United States Foreign Service.
When she returned to the States in 2005, she completed an intensive three-month Mandarin Chinese immersion program at the University of California, Los Angeles, before beginning work at a Los Angeles literacy nonprofit organization.
“While working for the nonprofit, I reached this point where I realized I needed to go to graduate school if I was going to advance and accomplish my professional goals,” says Schiller. Schiller chose to return to Washington University in part because of its strengths in international law and international relations.
During law school, Schiller conducted research for Professors Leila N. Sadat and Karen Tokarz, both of whom ultimately helped Schiller develop a semester-long externship in the Office of the Co-Prosecutor at the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Although the externship was different than the work she does now, Schiller says the experience was vital to her perspective.
The week after she joined Baker & McKenzie LLP as a tax attorney, Schiller joined a team of attorneys in representing a defendant whose prior murder conviction had been overturned and who had been granted a new trial in the Cook County Circuit Court.
Since then, Schiller has contributed extensively to Baker & McKenzie’s pro bono work, and has co-authored briefs on international human rights legal issues for submission to the Public International Law and Policy Group. She also has continued to represent criminal defendants in Cook County.
Schiller says she loves the intellectual challenge of her work as a tax attorney. “I often have heard repeated that one can practice in almost any area of law so long as two things are true: one is intellectually challenged and one respects and likes one’s colleagues. I chose the tax practice group at Baker & McKenzie for both of these reasons, and I have never looked back,” Schiller says. “The learning curve is steep, and I’m still climbing it – the practice is complex so I continue to learn.”
As for what she likes most about her work? “My clients and colleagues. More than anything, it’s the people that I work with and the people that I work for.”
You can read more about Sonja and her work at Baker & McKenzie here.