Where do you live? New York, NY
What is your profession? I’m an attorney. I decided early on not to be pigeon-holed into one practice area. I started off working for one of the top law firms in the nation (“BigLaw”) where I’d have more exposure to different specialties. I made important, valuable relationships there that I still nurture to this day. I’m so happy I started my career at that firm, because the training I received was bar-none. It gave me the confidence to step out on my own. Now I help entrepreneurs, small businesses and startups with their legal needs.
How did you get this role and what was your path leading up to this? I always knew I wanted to be an attorney because I love to read and have a very methodical, analytical way of thinking. The cool thing about becoming a lawyer is you don’t need to specialize in certain subjects before going to law school. Three years of intense studying in grad school and you’re done (are all three really necessary? Debatable). So in college, I decided to study whatever topics interested me, even if they seemed impractical at the time. Japanese literature? Check. Jews in Medieval Spain? Check.
Looking back, that was one of the best things I could have done because it made me more of a multi-faceted person. It prepared me for my line of work. I’m able to interact with people from many different backgrounds without feeling uncomfortable or out of place. I wasn’t caged into one school of thought or limited by a predetermined “path.” I definitely suggest always keeping an open mind with your education and not forcing yourself down a certain path just because it’s what you’re expected to do. You may just surprise yourself.
What did you study in school? I majored in Latin-American Studies and minored in two subjects: Linguistics and Spanish.
What advice do you have for someone looking to do something outside their field of study and how should they approach it? I applaud anyone who’s looking to do something outside their field of study, because that takes courage and a lot of self-confidence. I think the best thing they can do is empower themselves before taking the leap. That way, they minimize the risk of failure or at least are prepared in case things don’t immediately pan out.
What does that mean specifically? Educate yourself by speaking with industry professionals. What was their path? Is that path viable now given current market conditions? Is it viable considering your own personality and circumstances? Do you have enough savings to float you if you don’t immediately land a position after going back to school?
I’d network like crazy, because the most important knowledge is gained by interacting with other people. And not just self-interested people who want you to switch because it somehow benefits them. I’d seek out people whose opinion you respect who have nothing to gain by giving it to you. I’d also try freelancing in that field or volunteering at industry events — basically approximating a trial run to see if you’ll actually like your new career. I’d find ways to dip my toe in before taking permanent steps. That’s very important and can save lots of time (and money) in the long run.
Has anyone been a mentor to you? What role did they play and how do you feel about mentorship now? I’ve had many mentors during my career. The most important thing I’ve learned is that your mentor doesn’t have to look like you. That may sound obvious, but for a woman of color in a male-dominated industry, I initially thought I could only get true mentorship from women who shared my cultural background. Or women, period. I quickly found that it’s important to have mentors from various backgrounds because they can all bring something special to your relationship that you wouldn’t encounter otherwise. One of my mentors also made an excellent point: sometimes, the most important conversations about your career take place when you’re not even in the room. If you don’t have a seat at the table, isn’t it important to have an advocate who does?
What’s the hardest thing that you’ve had to deal with in your career so far? Accepting disappointment. The reality is, when you pour your heart and soul into something and it doesn’t work out, it hurts. But you really build character based on how you react. I’ve taught myself to keep pushing. I can’t let disappointment overwhelm me or paralyze me. I don’t let it prevent me from reaching for higher goals in the future.
What has been a really rewarding moment in your career? The most rewarding moment in my career so far has been mentoring. Besides the good feels I get from helping others, mentoring helps me, too! It helps me gain perspective on how far I’ve come. Sometimes you don’t take the time to look back and think about your accomplishments (or even recognize them as accomplishments in the first place!). In the moment, your main focus is purely survival. It’s on getting through it.
But when you break down your journey to others and retrace what steps you took to get there, you relive your experience in a neutral space, without the intensity you experienced in real-time. Remembering what I was capable of in the past gives me greater confidence to continue tackling new obstacles and pushing myself in the future.
Other rewarding experiences center around client feedback. Especially when I’ve won difficult motions at trial, during crucial moments that could’ve made or broken my client’s case.
In one instance, the General Counsel of a Fortune 500 company reached out to me and other trial team members to personally thank us for saving the company millions of dollars in a very sensitive case that he was afraid of losing. I put in so many all-nighters and became a jack-of-all trades with little or no direction — it was all-hands on deck. I also lived out of a hotel room in a different part of the country for a month (coincidentally, the hotel was converted from a courthouse, so I always felt like I was at trial!).
Knowing the General Counsel was aware of my hard work and took the time to praise me really hit home. When you work for major companies (as opposed to individuals), you don’t always get a personal “thank you” where you know the quality of your work is recognized and appreciated. That moment was definitely a highlight of my career.
What do you want to accomplish in your lifetime? This is a deep question! I have many goals, but the common thread is knowing that I made someone even incrementally better off than if they hadn’t known me at all. I constantly think about my legacy and the effect I have on others’ lives.
What’s something you want young women to remember when thinking about their future? I went to an all-day tech conference for women of color recently. One of the organizers brought his nine year-old daughter because he wanted her to be inspired by us and to envision herself as an entrepreneur one day. He wanted her to reimagine her full potential.
During lunch, she came up to me with a notebook and asked me to write down advice I wish I could’ve given my younger self. I wrote: “Don’t let others define you. Be confident in your vision. Trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself.”
Ultimately, you only learn what you’re truly capable of when you test your limits. I truly believe there’s beauty in the struggle, even if it is cliché!
What’s one thing you want to try to make an impact on in your lifetime? Education. One of my goals is to create a college scholarship for students of West Indian descent who live in Brooklyn or Queens, the boroughs where I grew up.