By Akunna Ofodu • March 01, 2018•Ms. JD, Conference
“Always remember that no matter the toughest challenge that you’re facing, have faith that there is always an end to it. Choose joy while going through hell, buckle up, know you are growing stronger and there will be light on the other side” were the last words that Lily Hughes gave me before ending our call.
When Lily Hughes was only 11 years old she and her family immigrated from Hong Kong to East LA. Lily’s mother was illiterate even in Chinese, and her father repair shoes during the day and was a busboy at night. From a young age, her parents instilled in her that education is the silver bullet out of poverty. Lily went on to be the first in her family to have a high school, college and post graduate education. Despite the immense number of odds stacked against her, today Lily is the general counsel for a S&P 500 company, Public Storage. Her perseverance and resilience is evidence that it is possible to get where she is without having a silver spoon in your mouth.
Lily Hughes is the Keynote speaker at the 2018 Ms. JD Conference, during this interview she was able to give advice that doesn’t just relate to the law but to life.
You’ve been a volunteer leader with the Southern California Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel for 7 years, what has that organization meant to you?
The Association of Corporate Counsel is the largest global in-house bar association whose principal focus is to help in-house counsel members succeed. Our Southern California Chapter Board is comprised of thirty volunteer in-house leaders, many of them General Counsels. Southern California is one of the largest ACC chapters with over 1,500 members. We are diverse, representing different size companies, different industries, and broad geographies across the Southern California region. We work in partnership with our members and sponsors to increase knowledge and excellence, build long-term and valuable networks, enhance leadership development opportunities, and grow professional success for our members. We also work to effect positive change across the legal profession, including supporting a diverse pipeline through mentoring and supporting law students. ACC has over 40,000 in-house lawyers as members, operating at a global and local level. ACC has members based all over the globe, including in-house lawyers practicing in the US, Europe, Asia, Latin America, Middle East, Africa and Canada. ACC provides practical and business-oriented programs and resources, and lead many pro bono and diversity initiatives to benefit our communities. I have been active with ACC at the global and local chapter levels. ACC has helped me to develop leadership skills, grow in my career and has provided many opportunities for me to give back to our legal profession.
You’ve accomplished so much in your career did you have any challenges in law-school?
Yes. I have found that choosing the right frame of reference and attitude to deal with them help me to be more peaceful and calm in the midst of storms. I like to think of challenges in increments of whether they are a 5 hour, 5 month, or 5-year problems. You have to keep things in perspective. Are they short-term distractions or are they significant issues? Be mindful of how you allocate your energy and resources to the challenges. Also, keep in mind you are never going to please 100% of the people all of the time. To be successful, we all need be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Failures and things that don’t work out propel us to the next level. They help us be better tomorrow than who we are today.
If you’re comfortable you will never grow, stretching and facing challenges are part of the process of getting to be more excellent than you have been.
Within these challenges there are three different categories of people: First, there are people who will like you and support you no matter what you do; the second group of people, depending on the time of the day, may or may not support you; and the third group of people are those who will never support you, no matter what you say or do. Focus your energies on those people who support you, not those who drain your energy.
You were the first in your family to get an education, did you have any mentors that helped you during your career?
I have not had an assigned mentor, but everyone that I meet and touch is someone that I choose to learn from. There are people in my career that I have been close to and I am thankful for their wise counsel along the way. I think we should view mentorship not as just those which are official assigned mentor/mentee relationships but as everyone you meet you can learn from them -- some people more than others.
I always look at people that way -- I really like how they did this, how they reacted to this, how they analyzed or how they think. Having an innate curiosity about people and also understanding how they approach problems and come up with solutions help me to expand my horizon. Do not discount people you do not like because sometimes we learn the biggest lessons from them.
You’ve been an attorney for over 20 years, what have you seen change in the legal field?
The biggest change whether working in a law firm or working in-house is that the expectation has now changed. Today you must become conversant and be able to think about how our advice as lawyers affect the business. This requires more than legal reasoning and recommendation. We need to step outside of that to understand how that legal advice affects different business issues and problems.
We must give practical advice using our specialized training. However, we must know how to speak the language of business people, much more so today than it was 20 years ago. The role of what lawyers’ play today is more than “just a lawyer” because everything we recommend has a consequence for the business. If we do not understand that, we will not be viewed as valuable and trusted advisors to the businesses we serve.
What inspires you to keep driving toward success?
I want to leave a rich legacy of positive influence with everyone that I touch.
Ultimately, the legacy that I leave behind -- of seeing what is possible and helping to bring out the best in people as they grow in their career and personal lives-- will be more impactful and important than money, title or material things that I can accumulate.