In 2012, the US was fully engaged in the war in Afghanistan. David Oppenheim, a full-time corporate legal counsel, was serving as a senior officer and judge advocate in the US Navy Reserve. He had the difficult responsibility of informing other Navy reservists in his command when they had been selected for involuntary recall to active duty for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Oppenheim had served in Africa and Eastern Europe but hadn’t yet experienced the sacrifices associated with deployment to a combat zone like Iraq or Afghanistan. His oldest son was also about to graduate from college and receive his commission as an officer in the US Army, a deployment to Afghanistan likely in his future, as well.
To walk the talk, Oppenheim decided to volunteer for mobilization to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2012 to 2013. “A key part of our mission was to help the Afghan government legitimize itself through development of rule of law and criminalization of the insurgency,” he says.
But returning to civilian life was its own kind of challenge.
“After returning home from deployment to a combat zone, where your mission is the defense of our nation, many veterans struggle to find an equivalent sense of purpose in their civilian jobs,” Oppenheim explains. “After my own deployment to Afghanistan, I benefited from the wisdom and perspective offered by a fellow veteran who observed that when veterans return to the civilian workforce they are contributing to the economic well-being of our country, and it is our strong economy which enables our national security.”
In many ways, that is all you need to know about Oppenheim. The soft-spoken, engaging veteran and attorney believes in service over self, and he lives by it. He put his career on hold to serve his country. The senior officer is now in his twenty-eighth year of service and holds the rank of Captain/O-6. He’s found equal success in his parallel civilian career as associate general counsel at Early Warning, a fintech jointly owned by seven of the country’s largest banks and based in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Oppenheim is responsible for overseeing multiple functions, including enterprise-wide litigation management, legislative and regulatory affairs, regulatory advisory support, employment advisory support, and legal department operations. He’s brought his military perspective to the table when establishing new approaches to legal service delivery.
Shortly after arriving at Early Warning, Oppenheim successfully designed and launched the company’s government relations (GR) function from scratch. “Our GR function plays a key role in driving strategic business value by protecting and promoting Early Warning’s interests with state and federal policy makers and regulators,” says Oppenheim, who’s also credited with establishing Early Warning’s litigation and legal operations functions.
Oppenheim gained prior experience as vice president and assistant general counsel for Discover Financial Services and its former parent company, Morgan Stanley, for nineteen years. In addition to successfully building the law department’s first-ever Center of Excellence for Enterprise Legal Solutions, he served as chief litigation counsel and managed a team of in-house attorneys and outside counsel. The team successfully secured a $2.75 billion settlement for the company in a high-profile antitrust lawsuit.
According to Oppenheim, his practice as both a military and civilian lawyer has been guided by the principle of serving as his clients’ partner and guardian. He strives to help clients achieve their business objectives through risk optimized solutions to legal issues (partner side) and protect and promote his clients’ interests (guardian side).
The key factors to his success? Oppenheim credits a growth mindset and versatility with a strong work ethic and sense of purpose. “The inspiration that comes from a strong sense of purpose will motivate and inspire you to achieve your goals and objectives, even when confronted with seemingly insurmountable challenges,” he says.
Oppenheim also quotes author and leadership expert Simon Sinek: “It is not what you do that determines your success, it is why you do it.”
This philosophy has played a part in Oppenheim’s servant leadership style for large and small teams, in both the military and civilian worlds. In Afghanistan, he led a team of more than 150 uniformed lawyers, intelligence analysts, law enforcement agents, and linguists. Likewise, at Discover, he oversaw a team of twenty-six attorneys, paraprofessionals, and administrative support staff.
He is proud to have cultivated an ability to motivate and inspire his teams’ success by understanding and supporting each member’s ability to serve their purpose.
Within two years of graduating from law school and the US Naval Justice School, David Oppenheim had already served as lead counsel in more than fifty bench and jury trials and contested administrative hearings as a junior officer in the US Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
This is consistent with most jobs in the military where junior folks are generally given an incredible level of responsibility—well beyond that of their peers in the civilian world. It also speaks to the tremendous value of the training and experience veterans obtain through their military service.
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP: “Congratulations David Oppenheim for the well-deserved recognition you are receiving as one of the country’s leading lawyers in the financial services sector. Your level-headed approach to litigation management is appreciated and a valuable asset for EWS. Working with such an astute and personable lawyer has been a great pleasure.” –Darin Gibby and Justin Krieger, Partners
Paul Hastings serves clients around the globe, advising on the full gamut of legal needs. The firm’s financial services team has extensive experience advising bank and nonbank lenders, tech companies, retailers, and others offering financial products and services. The team works with clients on high-stakes enforcement, litigation, transactional, and compliance matters in an increasingly complex regulatory environment.