Amandla! Woman to Watch
Counsel at King & Spalding, USA.
I do not recall there being a particular moment when I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer. For as long as I can remember, I was drawn to the idea of being an advocate, promoting justice and being able to use my oral and written words to persuade. In addition, growing up a mere twenty minutes from the South African border, during that country’s transition from Apartheid to a multi-racial democracy, had a deep impact on my worldview and I was intrigued by the role that lawyers could play to right those wrongs.
My proudest professional moment was when I introduced myself for the first time in court as a federal prosecutor and said “I represent the United States”. Representing your community and playing an active role in pursuing justice for all is an awesome responsibility and honor and it was an equally proud and humbling moment.
Investing more time in getting to know my colleagues in college, in law school and during my various work experiences. I made life-long friends at each stage but I wish I had appreciated the value of developing meaningful relationships with a broad array of my colleagues at school and at work.
The professional challenges that I have faced as a woman have become more acute the more I have risen in seniority. The single greatest challenge has been motherhood and the daily juggling act that is the reality of working mothers. You simply cannot devote the same amount of time to your work as those who do not have significant caretaking responsibilities and that often works to limit your opportunities.
The second most significant challenge has been the need to re-establish myself in multiple different fora because I have built a multi-faceted career (e.g., white collar criminal defense lawyer, prosecutor, international disputes lawyer). Establishing yourself and demonstrating your value in a new legal space is always challenging but even more so for women and people of color. You cannot rely on assumptions being drawn in your favor and have to be proactive in ensuring you have a seat at the table.
First, it’s important to have an objective sense of what you bring to the table – a clear understanding of your strengths and capabilities. Although you should be receptive to constructive criticism it is important to cultivate a clear sense of your value proposition.
Second, be deliberate about finding people who believe in you and are going to be invested in your development and take the time to build deep and lasting relationships with them.
Third, be dogged about seeking out practical legal experience. The best legal education will be meaningless without practical application. It is only through experience that you can grow and once you have it, no one can take it from you.
Last, in everything you do, no matter how small or ministerial, try to do it to the best of your ability. This commitment to excellence will set the right tone for you personally and professionally.