When Teemu Alexander Puutio was studying at Fordham Law, he would complete a twelve-hour workday at the headquarters of the United Nations before traveling across town and taking his seat in class. While his schedule was hectic, he never felt overwhelmed; Fordham had made it easy for him to hold a full-time job and take classes in the evening.
“There’s nothing else in New York in terms of the quality, the flexibility, and the location,” said Puutio LL.M. ’17 of his experience in Fordham’s part-time LL.M. program.
One year after his graduation and Puutio is moving up at the UN; his new title is administrative officer. In an average week, he might find himself mapping out financial transactions and drafting and negotiating contracts. He works on 10–20 cases per week, some of them with values of over $500 million.
“Thus far I have ushered in deals in almost every imaginable industry that provides goods and services for corporate and peacekeeping use,” he says. “Some of the biggest deals in terms of financial value and risk are in the areas of physical security and defense—for example, counter-rocket and mortar defense systems, electronic counter-measures and drones—fuel, pharmaceuticals, and complex IT systems.”
“The scope of this job is immense,” he says. “Every decision that involves more than a million dollars comes here.”
Originally from Finland, Puutio began his career at Scandinavian law firm Roschier Attorneys, where he anticipated the usual professional climb from associate to partner. But after taking a break to work in the trade and investment division at the UN office in Bangkok, Thailand, Puutio found himself drawn in by the UN’s globally oriented work.
Now in his eighth year at the UN, Puutio holds an economics degree from the London School of Economics, as well as legal degrees from the University of Turku, in Finland, and King’s College, London. He has also taught as an adjunct professor at NYU.
In 2017, thanks in part to the guidance of Toni Jaeger-Fine, assistant dean for international and non-J.D. programs, and Anthony Agolia, director of the same office, Puutio chose Fordham’s part-time LL.M. program, where he was able to keep working at the UN, at the time as an international transactions attorney, while he pursued his degree.
“You have people like the communications manager of Citibank’s Consumer Disclosures and the managing director from Allianz Risk Transfer, sitting there next to you in class, thinking about contracts at 8 p.m.,” he says. “I don’t know what other venue would bring these people together consistently, twice a week, to discuss things that are instantly applicable to your work.”
Part of what makes Puutio’s work so rewarding is its often-global scale and its real-life implications. “The gratification you get is on a different level, because you’re intimately involved in cases that actually do help people,” he says. “I am able to help a very senior official preview cases and arrive at a decision about how to feed people, how to protect them.” Puutio’s supervisor, the assistant secretary general for the UN Secretariat, is responsible for operationalizing the finances, travel, and procurement transactions for the entire 193-member organization.
For Fordham Law students interested in a career in international public service, Puutio has sage advice: “As early on as possible, find some people with whom you can discuss the roles and entry points.” He acknowledges job applicants to UN positions often do not realize that they are qualified for a number of jobs with titles that might be unfamiliar to them.
Puutio highlights the diversity of work within the UN system, which includes entities like the World Bank and the Secretariat, with all its subsidiary organizations. “There are so many ways people can contribute and work for the international community within the UN system alone,” he says. “It is the government of all governments.” Particularly in demand, he adds, are lawyers with transactional skills.
Puutio calls his work “a continuing challenge.” “The UN is needed,” he says. “We still need the peacekeeping arm, we need billions of dollars to stabilize countries that deserve much better.”
“In a very real sense all of us are working toward one day being in a position where this organization, and ones like it, are no longer necessary.”