Grace Wen, a co-founding partner of O’Prey Wen LLP, has maintained a successful legal career as a litigator in private practice, an in-house corporate investigations counsel, and a privacy regulator with the New York State Attorney General’s (NYSAG) office.
Over her fascinating career, Wen found passion in the diverse legal work that she has performed, whether representing a financial institution or individual in a white collar criminal matter or solving legal problems at the intersection of technology and privacy. And now, she is excited about her opportunity as a legal entrepreneur because having enjoyed a broad range of experiences representing diverse clients on novel and interesting matters, she can build a practice that is as varied as her interests. She does not have to commit to one practice area or be limited in the types of matters on which she works or industries she serves.
“I am excited to forge my own path, and it is what prompted me to start our firm,” she says.
Developing Inquiry and Active Listening Skills as a Career Growth Strategy
Wen and her partner, Patricia O’Prey, believe that by founding O’Prey Wen, they will be able to draw on past successes to create a firm committed to providing top-notch legal service and representation for their clients in a smaller firm setting. And fortunately for Wen, she had the opportunity to proactively ask questions and listen during the early stages of her career.
Seeking career opportunity — One of Wen’s most creative moves in her legal career was how she gained experience to pursue her interest in technology and data privacy volunteering at the NYSAG’s Bureau of Internet and Technology, the state agency where data breaches are required to be reported and are investigated. During her time there, Wen was exposed to some of the biggest data privacy breaches and even participated in drafting of a proposed amendment to the then-existing New York SHIELD Act, which was recently signed into law.
Moreover, she became a certified information privacy management specialist so that she can develop and implement data privacy and information management programs as well as drawing on her regulatory experience to offer post-breach services such as executing an incident response plan, managing the internal investigation, determining whether notification to consumers is necessary, and designing any remediation measures.
Translating complex legal speak into simple terms — The most critical skill that Wen has learned in her legal career is active listening. “I am good at learning new things because I’m a really great listener,” she says, adding that because she has worked with many professionals from traders to engineers, she has honed her ability to break down very technical or complex knowledge into a concept that anyone can understand.
“I’m a type of person that people feel comfortable explaining things to,” Wen explains. “I take the time to listen, absorb and learn. Then, I draw upon my experience, having dealt with other types of businesses and other types of experts, and use that knowledge to break down what it is that the technical expert is trying to explain. To ensure accuracy, I test that theory with the expert.”
And when she does not understand something, she is not afraid to ask questions until she does understand, which is almost antithetical to the majority of lawyers. “Lawyers shouldn’t be afraid of asking technical questions because you’re a lawyer not a technical expert,” she notes. “What you are tasked to do is to learn the technology or the trading strategy in a way that you can make sense of it yourself and to other people.”
Learning how to be an entrepreneur — Wen also used listening and inquiry to learn how to be a law firm entrepreneur. Indeed, as the co-founder of a firm, she is taking on the activities of the CEO, CFO, CMO, and COO. To learn what she needed to do, she reached out to a lot of people, including her mentors and other legal entrepreneurs. She also relied on the recommendations of others to determine how to prioritize operational tasks. “We’ve been able to launch quickly by tapping into our network for help and asking the right questions,” she says.
Building a Workplace that Values Collaboration and Belonging
Wen’s excitement about her new journey as a law firm start-up is noticeable when speaking to her. She attributes her enthusiasm to the fact that she has “worked with really smart, talented, and kind people, and it is what she wants for her firm.”
More specifically, she wants to create an environment that encourages open communication and mutual learning. “We are a woman- and minority-founded law firm, and we know that for long-term success, we need to embrace diversity of thought and opinion,” Wen explains. “I believe that creating a firm culture where people feel supported and comfortable at work is critical to getting the best work product.”
Indeed, building an organization from the ground up that puts open dialogue and collaboration at its core is at the center of Wen’s investment in herself as a leader and her vision for the future.