Carla Volpe Porter, ’82: Through Life’s Twists and Turns, a Constant Commitment to What Matters

Appeared in Record issue: 
Spring 2011

Carla Volpe Porter, ’82, is now in her second decade as general counsel at Renaissance Technologies, the hugely successful New York City–based investment management firm that the Wall Street Journal recently called “one of the most successful hedge-fund companies ever.” “I love working with such brilliant people,” Porter says. “Life at Renaissance is never boring.”

She readily acknowledges that the stability of her current position is not characteristic of her previous legal experiences. “I figure my career should give a lot of people hope,” she says. “It certainly didn’t follow a typical trajectory.”

It was not typical, for example, for a young woman just out of college to earn a degree in canon law in the Vatican, surrounded almost entirely by priests as her classmates, as Porter did in 1979. It was not typical for a second-year University of Chicago law student to be taking her final exams while eight months pregnant, as she did after meeting and marrying Tim Porter, ’80. (“I got there early for those exams so I could grab a seat near the door,” she recalls. “That baby was taking up a lot of my internal real estate.”)

After three postgraduation years as an associate at Rosenman & Colin (now Katten Muchin Rosenman), she found that she needed to spend more time with her son, and she was permitted to become the firm’s first part-time lawyer. A few years after that, a former Rosenman partner hired her into a more conventional position, as counsel to the corporate finance department at Drexel Burnham Lambert. Within months after she started that job, Drexel went into bankruptcy.

After staying on at Drexel to work out various transactions relating to assets in its portfolio, she became general counsel at Drexel’s successor company, New Street Capital. She also had her second child during Drexel’s breakup, and when New Street was sold she received payments that allowed her to take some time off to be with her daughter. She thought that would be about six months; it turned into three years. Then she was invited to come back to Rosenman, and she did so, again as a part-timer. It was from there that she went to Renaissance.

Amid all those transitions, three things have remained constant. She’s still married to Tim and devoted to her family (son Andrew recently graduated from Yale’s School of Management and daughter Tori is in her first year at Tufts). She is still committed to her faith, serving among other things as a trustee and Eucharistic minister at her church, and as an advisor to the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. And she maintains a longtime commitment to charitable work, having recently been elected board chair of the Cancer Support Team, which provides free nursing care and other assistance to cancer patients, and having served for several years as board chair of The Resource Foundation, which supports local development activities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Her commitment to the Law School is strong, too: she’s currently serving a term on the Visiting Committee, and she’s a generous donor. “Two great things happened to me in Law School, and I suppose they were kind of paradoxical,” she recalls. “First, even though I was dealing with a lot of things that most of my peers weren’t, nobody cut me any slack; no exceptions were made for me. It was tough, but the result was that I knew that I could come through no matter how challenging things became. On the other hand, even though I’m a focused and intense person, it was clear that I wasn’t going to make law review or graduate at the top of my class, so I learned to relax and really enjoy the whole learning experience. I didn’t even look at my grades—I knew that Dick Badger would find me if I was in any kind of trouble.”

“At many turns in my life,” she says, “I looked back on that experience and knew that not only would I make it through whatever was challenging me, but that I could find a way to enjoy it and become better from it. That life lesson is one of many reasons why I’m so very grateful to the Law School.”