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September 25, 2009 1:47 PM

From Am Law Chairman to French Finance Minister

Posted by Brian Baxter

As world leaders and protesters continue to gather for the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, one former chair of an Am Law 100 firm will have an important place at the bargaining table.

French finance minister Christine Lagarde chaired Baker & McKenzie for six years, helping what was then the world's largest law firm increase profits by 30 percent. Lagarde had a whirlwind schedule--The American Lawyer once got a hold of her monthly itinerary--as she sought to redefine the firm's culture and make it more competitive in the U.S. legal market.

Also a highly regarded antitrust and labor lawyer, Lagarde left the firm in 2005 to become France's trade minister under former President Jacques Chirac. (Click here for a Q&A with Lagarde about her transition from Am Law executive to French bureaucrat.)

Now Foreign Policy magazine reports that Lagarde, who was made minister of economic affairs, industry, and employment by current President Nicolas Sarkozy in June 2007, is a prime player as G20 government ministers meet to discuss the global economy.

Before the summit convened on Thursday, Lagarde noted that the leading industrial and developing economies shared a similar agenda, but were split on how they ordered their priorities.

Foreign Policy reports that Sarkozy has had a hard time winning allies with his brash style and call to restrict the compensation of bank executives. But Sarkozy's behavior also allows Lagarde to play the good cop to his bad cop, notes Foreign Policy.

"[Lagarde] has emerged in the past year as a major political player regarding the recession, and as a foil for Sarkozy," reports the magazine. "When he shouts, she coos. When he rages, she deploys wit. And when he bellows, she demurs."

Foreign Policy goes on to profile Lagarde's career trajectory from former Capitol Hill assistant (she participated in a foreign exchange program) to rising legal star to government high priest.

Lagarde's "coolly philosophic attitude" and "deep knowledge of labor law, corporations, and international management" has helped her become one of Europe's most valuable economic negotiators, Foreign Policy reports.

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