Charlene Barshefky, 2017 Washington D.C. "Lawyer of the Year" for International Trade and Finance Law

Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky of WilmerHale.


Nathaniel Barr

October 7, 2016 12:00 AM

Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky
worked her way from associate to partner at a large Washington, D.C., law firm and became an expert on global trade and investment. When Bill Clinton was elected president, she was asked by Mickey Kantor, the President’s newly appointed U.S. Trade Representative, to serve as his deputy. This position carried with it the title of Ambassador and was a sub-cabinet position, requiring confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Barshefsky hesitated and initially told Kantor no—she and her husband had two small children, and she loved the practice she had at her law firm. Kantor, who had met Barshefsky only once, was evidently impressed, and he begged her to reconsider.

“I thought it over for about 10 days—which in the annals of Washington is unheard of for what is considered one of the plum jobs in government,” says Barshefsky. “Ultimately, I was commuting to work with my husband down one of the major roads, and my husband said, ‘You need to call Mickey Kantor and tell him yes or no. You’re really keeping him waiting, and you just need to decide.’ I said, ‘I remain very torn; I need a sign.’ At that moment—this is a true story—a white car passed us in the next lane and the license plate on that car said G-O-4-I-T, ‘Go for it.’ I said, ‘Oh my goodness! That’s the sign,’ and I went to my office, called Mickey Kantor, and took the job.”

Barshefsky served as deputy and acting U.S. Trade Representative from 1993 to 1997 and, for the remaining four years of the Clinton Administration, as the U.S. Trade Representative and a member of the President’s cabinet. The Clinton administration sealed more than 300 trade agreements during those eight years, including the completion of: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); the Uruguay Round; global agreements in financial services, telecom, high tech products, and cyberspace; and China’s WTO Agreement, of which Barshefsky was also the architect and lead negotiator. During this period, she notes, U.S. exports exceeded more than one trillion dollars for the first time in history.

“It was a very rewarding experience on so many levels,” she says. “Especially the honor of working with the President of the United States.”

Barshefsky returned to private practice at WilmerHale in Washington, D.C., where she chairs the international trade, investment, and market access practice group. She advises multinational corporations on their global strategy and government relations, market access, investment and litigation matters, and negotiations with governments and private parties. She is a member of and has been honored by many professional organizations, and serves on the boards of directors of the Intel Corporation, American Express Company, Estée Lauder Companies, and Starwood Hotels & Resorts. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has been listed with Best Lawyers since 2005 for international trade and finance law and government relations.

Related Articles

Moving With the World

by Best Lawyers

Attorney Adrián Vázquez from the Mexican firm Vázquez Tercero & Zepeda discusses the firm's 2019 award, changes coming to the WTO, Mexico's shifting trade strategy, and more.

Vázquez Tercero & Zepeda Law Firm of the Year

Contracts and Translations

by Christian Ray Pilares

Working with manufacturers in China can be profitable but challenging. Third party services like law firms and translation services can be helpful.

Safeguard Working with Chinese Manufacturers

In the News: Texas 2019

by Best Lawyers

A roundup of relevant news from lawyers listed in Texas.

Legal News Roundup Texas

Technology and the Changing IP Climate in Mexico

by Best Lawyers

Roberto Arochi discusses Arochi & Lindner’s 2019 “Law Firm of the Year” award for Intellectual Property Law in Mexico in an interview with Best Lawyers.

Arochi & Lindner "Law Firm of the Year" Q&A

The Economic Landscape Changing Capital Markets Law in Mexico

by Best Lawyers

Michell Nader discusses his firm's 2019 "Law Firm of the Year" award for Capital Markets Law in Mexico.

Nader, Hayaux & Goebel Interview

When the Levy Breaks

by Warren Friedman

Tariffs against China on construction materials are capricious, unpredictable, and often spectacularly ill-timed. How can the industry prepare?

How Tariffs on China Hurt U.S. Construction

Workforce Mobility at Risk Under a NAFTA Renegotiation

by Suzanne K. Sukkar

The assessments of President Donald J. Trump’s first year in office have had a recurring stormy theme.

Workforce Mobility at Risk with NAFTA Renegot

Compliance Confidence

by Jeffrey E. Stone, John Huang, and Michelle Gon

Turning risk into opportunity.

Compliance Confidence

Trending Articles

Presenting The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2025

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is proud to present The Best Lawyers in Australia for 2025, marking the 17th consecutive year of Best Lawyers awards in Australia.

Australia flag over outline of country

Legal Distinction on Display: 15th Edition of The Best Lawyers in France™

by Best Lawyers

The industry’s best lawyers and firms working in France are revealed in the newly released, comprehensive the 15th Edition of The Best Lawyers in France™.

French flag in front of country's outline

How To Find A Pro Bono Lawyer

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers dives into the vital role pro bono lawyers play in ensuring access to justice for all and the transformative impact they have on communities.

Hands joined around a table with phone, paper, pen and glasses

How Palworld Is Testing the Limits of Nintendo’s Legal Power

by Gregory Sirico

Many are calling the new game Palworld “Pokémon GO with guns,” noting the games striking similarities. Experts speculate how Nintendo could take legal action.

Animated figures with guns stand on top of creatures

Announcing The Best Lawyers in New Zealand™ 2025 Awards

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is announcing the 16th edition of The Best Lawyers in New Zealand for 2025, including individual Best Lawyers and "Lawyer of the Year" awards.

New Zealand flag over image of country outline

Announcing the 13th Edition of Best Lawyers Rankings in the United Kingdom

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is proud to announce the newest edition of legal rankings in the United Kingdom, marking the 13th consecutive edition of awards in the country.

British flag in front of country's outline

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Japan™ 2025

by Best Lawyers

For a milestone 15th edition, Best Lawyers is proud to announce The Best Lawyers in Japan.

Japan flag over outline of country

The Best Lawyers in Singapore™ 2025 Edition

by Best Lawyers

For 2025, Best Lawyers presents the most esteemed awards for lawyers and law firms in Singapore.

Singapore flag over outline of country

Announcing the 16th Edition of the Best Lawyers in Germany Rankings

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers announces the 16th edition of The Best Lawyers in Germany™, featuring a unique set of rankings that highlights Germany's top legal talent.

German flag in front of country's outline

How Much Is a Lawyer Consultation Fee?

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers breaks down the key differences between consultation and retainer fees when hiring an attorney, a crucial first step in the legal process.

Client consulting with lawyer wearing a suit

Celebrating Excellence in Law: 11th Edition of Best Lawyers in Italy™

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers announces the 11th edition of The Best Lawyers in Italy™, which features an elite list of awards showcasing Italy's current legal talent.

Italian flag in front of country's outline

Presenting the 2024 Best Lawyers Employment and Workers’ Compensation Legal Guide

by Best Lawyers

The 2024 Best Lawyers Employment and Workers' Compensation Legal Guide provides exclusive access to all Best Lawyers awards in related practice areas. Read below and explore the legal guide.

Illustration of several men and women in shades of orange and teal

Things to Do Before a Car Accident Happens to You

by Ellie Shaffer

In a car accident, certain things are beyond the point of no return, while some are well within an individual's control. Here's how to stay legally prepared.

Car dashcam recording street ahead

Combating Nuclear Verdicts: Empirically Supported Strategies to Deflate the Effects of Anchoring Bias

by Sloan L. Abernathy

Sometimes a verdict can be the difference between amicability and nuclear level developments. But what is anchoring bias and how can strategy combat this?

Lawyer speaking in courtroom with crowd and judge in the foreground

The Push and Pitfalls of New York’s Attempt to Expand Wrongful Death Recovery

by Elizabeth M. Midgley and V. Christopher Potenza

The New York State Legislature recently went about updating certain wrongful death provisions and how they can be carried out in the future. Here's the latest.

Red tape blocking off a section of street

Attacked From All Sides: What Is Happening in the World of Restrictive Covenants?

by Christine Bestor Townsend

One employment lawyer explains how companies can navigate challenges of federal and state governmental scrutiny on restrictive covenant agreements.

Illustration of two men pulling on string with blue door between them