Bio for this week's Superwoman JD:
Andrea Chavez is an Executive Partner and a co-founder of VLP. Andrea has spent her entire professional career negotiating and closing large technology transactions in the semiconductor, networking, software and digital media areas. For over ten years, she has represented both early stage and established companies in licensing, joint ventures, technology transfers, outsourcing, intellectual property acquisitions and other commercial and strategic pursuits in the United States and abroad.
After completing an AB cum laude in Philosophy at Harvard and a JD and MS in Computer Science at Stanford, Andrea started her legal career at Venture Law Group. She subsequently co-founded and ran all sales, business development and legal initiatives at Mediabolic, the leading provider of embedded software for next generation consumer electronic products. At Mediabolic, Andrea sourced and closed deals with semiconductor, manufacturing, codec, content and consumer electronics partners in the United States, Europe, Japan, China and Taiwan, resulting in the deployment of Mediabolic software in millions of consumer electronics products across the globe, including DVD players, media adapters, computers, personal video recorders, and AV systems. After the sale of Mediabolic to Macrovision, Andrea co-founded Lion Tech Law, a boutique law firm based in San Francisco, prior to co-founding VLP. Andrea is a member of the State Bar of California.
1. How has being a woman affected your career or legal education?
I don’t think it’s affected my education much. I was appalled by some of the killer instincts/nastiness some of my classmates demonstrated in law school, but that behavior emanated from men and women alike. I can’t say the same thing about my career, unfortunately. I worked as a business development/sales executive, and experienced blatant discrimination and misogyny on multiple occasions. I responded how I always do – by working harder and accomplishing more than the next person, and letting my record speak for itself. I recently became a mother of twins, and am sure that will add additional color to my professional career, but I’m only four months into it right now. I did have to ask colleagues to stop scheduling breakfast meetings at 7:00 AM thirty miles away!
2. What advice do you wish someone had given you when you first started practicing law?
I was actually fairly level headed about law because I never anticipated staying in the field for the long term. I thought I would permanently spin out into business development/sales. Imagine my surprise to find myself founding a new law firm three years ago! I would tell new attorneys to work hard and learn as much as possible the first 4-5 years, and leverage that experience as a stepping stone into something else. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you think: “I have to do this for the next 40 years.” We’re not trained to think that way. For example, college is only 4 years, law school is only 3 years. Think of each job as a 3-5 year commitment, and you’ll be much happier.
3. What do you think the legal profession can do to increase the number of senior level females?
Allow more telecommuting/flexible arrangements. I’m willing and able to work very hard, but I doubt I would want or be able to return to a traditional office. My first law firm learned that they could trust me to work hard and get the job done, and basically let me set my hours and work from home almost exclusively. I do the same at VLP.
4. Being a first year attorney anywhere is tough. How do you think young attorneys can really hone their skills in their first few years?
As I said before, consider your first job a 3-5 year stint (5 years is really ideal) and learn as much as you can and expose yourself to as many interesting projects as possible. Align yourself with a smart and accomplished mentor. Again, if you treat this as something you’re doing for a few years, versus the rest of your life, your outlook will change and you’ll be able to learn more and accept the less savory experiences with a grain of salt. Some of my first mentors were tough, but I appreciate them (now, more than ever) because they cared about me, wanted me to improve, and weren’t afraid to be honest with me. Don’t align yourself with people who tell you how great you are all the time, and don’t be afraid to accept criticism and toughen up. You’ll be much happier if you develop a thicker skin. I learned the most from people who criticized me, not people who told me how fantastic I am. Even when people judge you unfairly, you learn about the world and how to maneuver and overcome obstacles.
5. Our profession is male dominated. How can young women balance being feminine and professional at the same time? I meet many women that simply act like one of the boys; I do not think that is the solution. Do you have any advice for handling social situations, outings with clients, etc.?
My perception is probably skewed because I work in a law firm (VLP) that has an equal number of women/men, with women who are comfortable being women. Someone also advised me early on to act and look as much like a man as possible in order to succeed. This advice (horribly distorted and inappropriate) was an important learning experience for me (see above re learning from criticism, unfair and constructive alike). Contrarian that I am, I decided to adopt the OPPOSITE approach and exploit my femininity wherever possible. During tough negotiations, I often dressed in very flattering, feminine clothes. Men would perceive me as being soft or an easy target – giving me the element of surprise! I can actually be quite prickly/tough. Men are not afraid of exploiting their advantages; women need to learn to do the same. I have hair down to my waist and an impressive tattoo collection. I have started and sold multiple businesses, and am very proud of my accomplishments. Life is too short to stay in a job that requires you to be someone you are not.
6. There is a perception that senior female attorneys think that they had it tough and so should you. Do you think that this sentiment is true? If so, do you think there is value in figuring things out on your own like women before you had to?
I don’t know about this. I try to mentor and protect the women who work with me whenever possible. On the other hand, I do think that most people benefit from experiencing some hardship and developing a tougher shell. Although I am honest (perhaps to a fault) with people who work for me regarding their strengths/weaknesses, I think everyone knows that I care deeply and want them to succeed.
7. What advice do you have for young female attorneys looking for a mentor? Do you feel that there is added value in finding a female mentor? What should they be looking for in a mentor, and what can they do to make themselves someone you would want to mentor?
I never really cared about gender when aligning myself with mentors. Indeed, most of my mentors were men. Find someone you like and admire, and someone who’s interested in mentoring you: man or woman.
8. We all have to make sacrifices for our careers, what sacrifices have you made and which would you make again?
I worked extremely hard for the first ten years after I graduated from law school. I would not change a thing, because my hard work enabled the enviable lifestyle I enjoy now, with a wonderful family, work/life balance, an enjoyable job, and financial resources to enjoy all of it.
9. What is your favorite thing about being a lawyer? I am sure you have a moment of achievement that made the sacrifices seem worth it. Can you tell us about a highlight in your career?
I cannot think of a pivotal moment. I do not think that you have to be particularly passionate about law to succeed and enjoy the work. I am paid very well for interesting work that helps my clients succeed – that’s enough for me – and I have time for my other passions: family, exercise, travel and music.
10. Men still get paid more and get promoted faster. What advice do you have for young women to help them accelerate their careers?
I personally never worried about accelerating. I tried to learn as much as possible, and do the best I could, at each step. I do not encourage anyone to be single minded about advancing – you’ll make yourself miserable! When one door closed, another opened, or if it didn’t, I went to the garage, pulled out my tools, and created my very own door.
11. What are your interests/hobbies outside of the legal practice? How important do you think those interests/hobbies have been in maintaining some work life balance?
Where to start? I have 4 month old twin girls. I’m an exercise fanatic, play the violin and piano, and love great food, wine and travel. Because I have created a somewhat unconventional law platform for myself (Virtual Law Partners), I work from home on my desk treadmill (http://ergonomenon.com/?p=485
12. What has changed the most and the least since you started practicing law? How have these changes affected you?
I realized early on that I probably would not fit in or thrive in an unconventional law firm, so I have helped create a platform that works for me. Others may find the concept very radical – I find it fairly obvious and practical.
13. If you could go back, what would you have done differently in how you approached your legal education and career?
I really would not have changed anything other than perhaps my legal focus. I work on intellectual property transactions. If I had to do it over again, I would have probably trained as a corporate attorney, to broaden my experience base and the range or projects I am able to handle.
14. What is one change you would like to see in the legal profession in the next 20 years?
I think it’s obvious that the big law business model is broken. Almost no one cares about the infrastructure large law firms maintain (staff, fancy offices, etc.), and even fewer want to pay for it.
15. If you could give one piece of advice to new female lawyers, what would it be?
Try not to be too goal oriented. Think of your career in three year blocks, and make the most of each block. Try to keep an open mind so that you are not disappointed when your career deviates from its expected course, and so you can enjoy and take advantage of the curve balls life will surely throw your way.
Bio for the author of the column: Noha Sidhom is a proud graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Law. Before attending law school, Noha interned on Capitol Hill for the Honorable Charles Timothy Hagel and went on to campaign for Senate candidate Peter Ricketts. During law school, she clerked at Husch Blackwell Sanders, formerly Blackwell Sanders. She also did an internship at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Enforcement and an internship at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where she is now an attorney in the Office of General Counsel. Noha is licensed in New York and New Jersey, and currently resides with her husband in Washington, D.C.
A Message from the Author: This column is a Q&A with senior level female attorneys offering advice and mentorship to young female lawyers. The questions below were sent to the interviewees and responses have not been edited for content. The advice, experiences, personalities, and approaches of these women are extremely diverse and more importantly very useful to future generations of female attorneys. I hope this column will offer helpful advice, and inspire healthy discussions. I have an exciting lineup of female leaders in the profession, but if you have someone you would like to nominate, or you yourself would like to be interviewed, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow me on twitter at superwomenjds and check out my new blog at www.superwomenjds.com