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Mentor in Law: Volume 4 | August 2020 | Advice from Practicing and Non-Practicing Lawyers

 

VOLUME 4 | AUGUST 1, 2020

Topic: Advice from Practicing and Non-Practicing Lawyers

Contributors: Shreya Ley, Dennis Garcia, Alexis Robertson, May Samali


 
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Meet Shreya Ley
 
Shreya Ley is a Lawyer-Human with LayRoots. While on a surfing trip in Westport, WA, she chose to open a practice with her partner in life and business focusing on estate planning and asset protection, with a special interest in how small business owners can protect their personal assets including their intellectual property and provide for their families in case of an emergency.
  • What is your current role and practice area?
I am a business owner and attorney, and I work in asset protection and small business law.
  • Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school? 
It’s hard to say what I would have done differently, as I truly believe that people are the sum total of their experiences. I’m pretty happy with where I am in life right now, and if I had done things differently, then I’m not sure that I would be here today! That said, if I could do it over, I would have gotten to know more of my professors and befriended more practitioners.
  • What is something you wish you knew about the practice of law during your first 5 years of practice?
I wish I’d known the importance of being more firm at managing client expectations. I also wish I’d understood that everyone makes mistakes, but lawyers just don’t talk about it – with each other or with clients.
  • What is one myth you’d bust about being a lawyer?
That the documents that we draft are specialized and exclusive every time that we draft them. They can be, but there are many aspects of drafting (and many things that we draft) that can be automated and that don’t need to be done by someone who went to law school. The value we provide comes from the following: 1) time and research we have put in to be able to provide solutions; and 2) the advice and the human elements of working with someone who is embarking on a new venture or facing a life-changing event.
  • What is one prediction that you would make about the future of law?
I foresee more law firms becoming distributed as lawyers and clients push for the flexibility that working from anywhere can bring. I really hope that one innovation is to allow for the e-signature of wills and estate planning documents. If people can conduct multi-million dollar deals with e-signature, then I don’t see why we can’t figure out how to do this for a will. Moreover, with vulnerable populations, making them leave the house for a will signing (or forcing them to invite people over as a witness in the midst of a pandemic) is not an acceptable solution.
 
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Meet Dennis Garcia
 
Dennis Garcia has practiced at the intersection of law, technology, and business for over 20 years to drive positive impact at leading technology companies such as Microsoft, Accenture, and IBM. He also authors a blog entitled “In-House Consigliere” where he periodically shares his insights about the practice of law. 
  • What is your current role and practice area?
I provide lead legal support function to the Microsoft US Enterprise Commercial Sales, Small, Medium & Corporate, and Marketing & Operations business groups. In this role, I have the privilege of leading a team of 16 outstanding lawyers and legal professionals as we deliver a wide range of legal support to our world-class sales teams across the US. 
  • Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school? 
In hindsight, I would have participated in more leading clinical law programs. While Columbia Law provided me with a great foundational legal education, I believe that it’s also very important for law students to try to gain practical legal experience during law school so they are better enabled to deliver high impact legal services early on in their careers. 
  • What is something you wish you knew about the practice of law during your first 5 years of practice?
I wish I knew the importance of being a highly effective public speaker and communicator so that I would have spent more time honing those critically important skills earlier in my career. 
  • What is the best career advice you've ever received?
The best career advice I received always came from my father. While he taught me so many life lessons, here’s three that make the top of my list: (1) Actively embrace change as the only constant is change; (2) Don’t be shy in highlighting your positive impact as a lawyer to senior leaders in your organization (e.g., “tooting your horn”); and (3) Try to meet at least one new person every day. 
  • What is one myth you’d bust about being a lawyer?
Sometimes, lawyers are unfortunately stereotyped as being “luddites” who resist using leading technology. However, I know many lawyers – and not just at Microsoft – who are power users of technology to ignite greater collaboration and to better serve their clients. I’m also a big believer that technology is a lawyer’s best friend.
  • What is one prediction that you would make about the future of law?
Last year, I wrote this article where I shared my thoughts on three practice areas that will be more in demand for lawyers.
 
"You know, you do need mentors, but in the end, you really just need to believe in yourself." Diana Ross
 
Meet Alexis Robertson
 
Based in Chicago, Alexis Robertson is a diversity and inclusion professional after working in BigLaw for several years. As part of her role, she hosts a podcast called The Path & The Practice about the stories of lawyers beyond their professional bios.
 
  • What is your current role?
Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Foley & Lardner LLP
  • What kind of law did you practice before?
In my previous life, I was a litigator for 7.5 years. I spent 6 of those years as a complex commercial litigation associate at Kirkland & Ellis, and the remaining time at Seyfarth Shaw as a labor & employment associate.
  • Why did you decide to leave the law?

After landing in what I thought was my ideal practice, I found that I still wasn’t professionally fulfilled. I decided to take the leap into legal recruiting as it seemed to better align with my interests. Frankly, it felt less like “work” as it allowed me to make a career out of something that I was doing anyway—helping friends and colleagues navigate their careers. Once I became a recruiter, I ended up working with a lot of diverse lawyers which served as my professional entrée to the world of diversity and inclusion.

  • What legal skills do you still use today?

I still use many of my legal skills today, but communication skills top my list. I learned how to take complex ideas and make them simple in both written and verbal communications. People often think that litigators spend all of their time in court, but that’s not true. Most of your time is spent writing, and when you’re not writing, you're talking. The time I spent refining my communication skills was invaluable. It’s a skillset that I constantly use and that I’m grateful for.

  • Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school?
I would have taken more advantage of my professors’ office hours. Not all law professors are there for the students. Many of them are focused on research. But given the immense costs of law school, I think it’s important to take advantage of time with the professors. So, go to their office hours. Ask them if you can see an old exam. If they refuse, that’s fine. But at least you asked. Also, really get to know your classmates. They will form the basis of your professional network. Additionally, realize that your career services office is sharing with you the trends they’ve seen and that their insights and advice are not gospel. When in doubt, consult with others to see what advice they have in terms of career prospects.
  • What advice would you give to those looking for opportunities outside the law?

All of the networking rules and job search rules still apply regardless of whether you’re practicing as a lawyer or not. Use LinkedIn to your advantage. Creating content is a way to credential yourself in a new field and the search capabilities allow you to see who in your network can help ease your professional transition.  

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Meet May Samali
 
May Samali is passionate about investing in people and ideas that can change the world. As a lawyer-turned-investor-turned-entrepreneur-turned-coach, May is well versed in navigating career and life pivots.
 
  • What is your current role?
I currently wear three hats. As a trained leadership and personal coach, I work with professionals, entrepreneurs, and students to unlock their purpose, power, and potential; and to unleash the career and life of their dreams. I am also the CEO of Ventures at High Resolves, where I am building and incubating a portfolio of technology ventures in the education sector. In addition, I am a Venture Partner at NextGen Venture Partners, a network-driven venture capital firm.
  • What kind of law did you practice before?
During law school, I volunteered in the criminal defense department at the Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency in the Northern Territory. The year after graduation, I worked for an incredible Supreme Court judge (Justice Margaret Beazley, who is now the Governor of New South Wales in Australia). I, then, spent a few years in corporate law, working at the Sydney offices of international law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills. I did rotations in various practice groups including litigation and dispute resolution, competition and anti-trust law, commercial real estate, and financial services.
  • Why did you decide to leave the law?

I grew up thinking I wanted to dedicate my entire career to law, so I spent a lot of time, energy and resources working towards this goal. When I started practicing law, I realized it wasn’t for me. Instead, I craved working with individuals and entrepreneurs to help them bring their ideas to life. Realizing I didn't want to be a lawyer felt like a "failure" at the time. However, without the courage to try new experiences and challenge my own expectations of myself, I wouldn't have been able to pivot my career and land in new roles that bring me so much joy and fulfillment. I believe the biggest regrets we have in life are the chances we don't take and decisions we wait too long to make.

  • What legal skills do you still use today?

My legal training comes in handy on a daily basis! In my role as CEO of Ventures at High Resolves, I am responsible for designing and implementing the legal infrastructure for the technology platforms we are launching in the market. To this end, I work with attorneys across the US and Australia on issues related to terms of use, intellectual property, and privacy rights. I have also used my contract drafting skills to create employment contracts for our US hires, as well as drafting and negotiating contracts with vendors, service providers, and other partners.

  • Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school?
I had a fantastic time in law school, especially as President of the Sydney University Law Society and as an exchange student at New York University School of Law. If I could do it again, I would participate in more practical subjects and simulations such as negotiations and mock trials. It’s the experiential aspects of law school that are the most impactful, and I would love to have delved even more deeply into these activities.
  • What is one prediction that you would make about the future of law?
The world is rapidly changing. As more legal tasks become automated, a higher premium will be placed on lawyers’ emotional intelligence and ability to respond to clients' needs in interdisciplinary ways. Lawyers who embrace systems thinking and adaptive leadership, and understand how their skills complement future technologies will thrive.
  • What advice would you give to those looking for opportunities outside the law?

1) Know yourself. What is your passion? How would you spend your time if there were no constraints? Reflect on times in your life when you’ve felt most alive or most “in flow.” What were you doing? How can you make a career out of this? Be curious about yourself. Self-awareness and self-knowledge are key.

2) Be curious about others. Who inspires you? What careers do you want to learn more about? Interview people who inspire you from fields you’re interested in. Find out more about the values that drive these individuals and how they made life decisions. Ask the hard questions.

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