Having participated in mock trial in middle school, attended law camp in high school, interned at a district attorney’s office, and participated in a fellowship at the UCLA School of Law, Monica Heinze, a third-year associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, knew early in her life that she wanted to be a lawyer.
During law school at NYU, she earned herself a summer associate position at Wachtell, which enabled her to rotate through different practice areas. She went on to receive an offer to return after graduation and eventually chose corporate as her preferred practice area because of its team-based orientation and because she found that she truly enjoyed the M&A and corporate governance areas of the law.
Developing Communication Skills, Building Relationships & Asking for Feedback
Now in the third year of her practice, Monica is focused on developing her communication skills, building connections, and asking for feedback. She says that communication with peers, partners, and clients is an especially essential component of any successful career arc. “Law firms and major companies have intelligent attorneys who can all come to the right answer (or at least close to it), but the answer is only as good as how well it is communicated,” she says.
Monica also had several “career hacks” that can help lawyers at all stages of their careers:
Forge Relationships Wherever You Are — Underpinning communication and relationship-building skills, it is important to be the type of person who can exhibit confidence and formulate a connection with clients and colleagues so that people will actually listen, Monica says. “In order to be a successful lawyer, you need to not only have the technical capabilities to be able to do the very complicated work we do, but you also need to have the ability to connect with people and build strong relationships with them,” she explains.
To illustrate, Monica shared her most difficult career moment — one that occurred in her first year working on a very complicated deal as a member of a small team that included a senior partner, a more senior associate and herself. She recalls that her ability to formulate a very good working relationship with the associates on the other side of the deal and the more senior associates at her firm were key to being able to help close the deal. “The senior associates at my firm, for example, went out of their way to help me out by answering my questions or sending me precedents that I needed,” she says.
Monica also makes it a priority to have excellent working relationships with the support staff. She frequently and genuinely shares her appreciation for how much they help her. In fact, she receives great support from the paralegals and other members of the support staff because “they know that I am thoughtful and appreciative of their support.”
Sharpen the Confidence Muscle by Asking for Feedback — Building confidence is a work in progress, Monica says. To develop her confidence, she regularly seeks feedback from the more senior associates with whom she works. It is important for her to know what she is doing well and how she can improve in order to avoid her inner critic that can derail confidence by making her “think she is a failure.” She also knows that putting in the extra time to learn a subject thoroughly is a key ingredient for confidence-building. “I always invest extra time to make sure that I know the topic well enough to be able to sound confident in front of the client.”
For female lawyers of color, Monica has some hacks that are especially apt:
Flip the Script and Remember that Your Race and Gender are Strengths — Monica emphatically believes that women lawyers of color should not feel like they need to try to blend in with everyone else. In fact, she advises them to view their differences as an asset, noting that “clients want their legal teams to be able to bring diverse perspectives to the table, and women lawyers of color, with their unique perspectives and experiences, have the ability to do just that.”
Stand Proud of Your Achievements as the Foundation of Success — Monica also doubles down on her point about confidence: Wherever you are, know that you have a right to be here; own that, and be proud of it.
“Let it be the basis for your confidence — with an understanding that you are going to continue to grow and make mistakes, and that’s all part of the learning process.”