My Interview with Mentor In Law: Thoughts on Law School, Grief, Self Discovery, and Attitude
In Ali's words: "I'm a lawyer, non-profit director, author, educator, and most importantly, lifelong student!"
What is your current role and practice area?
I am Senior Corporate Counsel at The Clorox Company. I am responsible for mergers and acquisitions, debt and equity financings, our North American subsidiaries, and for overseeing the legal aspects of our finance, tax and treasury operations. I also am the lead counsel for our Middle East operations, and since March have been part of our strategic COVID response team led by our General Counsel.
Since hindsight is 20/20, what is one thing you would have done differently in law school?
I lost my older brother (who partially raised me) to a very painful, prolonged illness right before I started law school. I was a little checked out my first semester because of that experience, but unexpectedly, I got the best grades of law school during that semester. I sincerely believe I did best that semester because I didn’t over-try, over-think, over-study, and over-commit. As that grand perspective on life waned, and I got sucked back into the day-to-day hustle of law school, my grades suffered, too. So the advice is: Don’t over-think; learn the essential rules and let your own mind and voice fill in the details.
What is something you wish you knew about the practice of law during your first few years of practice?
I was miserable during my first year of practice in BigLaw. I had gone to law school to practice international human rights, and here I was, pushing paper, working on “Guaranty and Collateral” agreements for big Wall Street banks - that is, until the “airplane story” happened (which I often talk about in my presentations). It changed my perspective and career trajectory. I watched, over an 8-month period, how my colleagues at the firm orchestrated a merger of two companies with thousands of employees and airplanes, across multiple jurisdictions, languages, cultures and legal systems, managing all kinds of issues from personalities and management structures to tax and accounting and HR and IP and stock market rules. I realized that I was there to learn not about guaranty and collateral agreements (who cares?), but about how to successfully complete massive, complicated, amazing, global, life-changing projects.
What is one practical skill that you wish you would have learned in law school?
How to resolve my insecurity and self-confidence issues! I feel a little guilty because 2020 has been the best year of my life, and for my career. I think it’s because this is the first time in my life that I have no self-doubt. It took years of counseling, reading books, and working on myself and my relationships, and I wish we systematically tackled these issues that impact us all in law school.
What is the best career advice you've ever received?
When I moved from my law firm in New York to my new law firm in San Francisco, I had a hard time adjusting. I called one of my mentors and started complaining: “They’re not hiring enough associates and we’re overworked! They’re not creating a community environment and we feel isolated! They’re….” My mentor cut me off: “Ali, stop!!! It’s YOUR company, YOUR firm!!! Do something about it! They’re not hiring enough associates? Did you reach out to your friends, colleagues to get them to apply?! They’re not creating a community environment? Did you set up happy hours, lunches, or informal coffee chats?! It’s YOUR firm, YOU do it!” That blew my mind. He was right. We sometimes “they” “they” “they” a problem, as if someone would magically appear to resolve it - that someone is us, me, you!
What is one myth you’d bust about being a lawyer?
I hate, absolutely hate, the “unhappy lawyer” jokes. They’re not funny, they’re not positive, and they’re not true for many, many lawyers. Next time you’re about to unwittingly make or participate in an unhappy lawyer joke - as a matter of habit - stop yourself!
What is one prediction that you would make about the future of law?
I’m realizing more and more that most people are often lost, as to where to even start, when they need a lawyer, a trusted advisor. This creates a massive gap between the value that we, lawyers and trusted advisors, can bring to the table, and the everyday (but often life-changing) needs of our communities. I hope we can work to lessen, and eventually bridge, that gap.
What is one way we can improve D&I in the legal profession?
By increasing mentorship and coaching resources for law students, and college students interested in pursuing a career in law. I went to law school because my brother said to me, one random day, “You’ll make a great lawyer.” I didn’t even know what that career path was like until my brother had mentioned it. This is why, more than financial assistance or job search help, we need to focus on education and culture-building to increase D&I in law.
Read the full issue here: https://mailchi.mp/78bcfb153258/mentor-in-law-volume-9-october-2020?e=fd09b72df6