Fatima Garcia, International Tax Associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and new member of the advisory board of Thomson Reuters’ Next Gen Leadership: Advancing Lawyers of Color initiative, started her legal career in Fall 2017. To get to where she is today, however, she had to dig deep to overcome several challenges from almost being dismissed from college twice because of a lack of financial aid to dealing with a cancer scare in her final year of law school.
In this interview, she shares her career journey, how a mentor helped her feel like she belonged in the tax law practice, and what she hopes to bring to the advisory board of Next Gen Leadership: Advancing Lawyers of Color (NGL: ALC).
Building Grit through Life Experience
From Fatima’s journey of humble beginnings during her childhood to a member of PwC’s tax law team, it appears as if the law chose her. She grew up with a strong sense of “community duty to give back and to help others who did not receive the same guidance or opportunity.” Along the way, she developed grit and “try-again-and-again-until-you-succeed” mentality. Fatima credits her choosing tax law as her area of practice because of a law school professor who mentored her. Initially, she was nervous about focusing on tax law because there were not many Latino tax lawyers.
As a Latino himself, her mentor encouraged her to do so because of the fact that there were very few Latinas. Fatima claims her mentor would not “let her go” until she could see that she would excel. “When I decided to go into tax law, I became comfortable with the idea and the possibility that there would be many moments or situations where I would be the only Latina woman.” In fact, out of about 50 students in her Master’s class, she was the only Latina.
Providing Guidance Digitally is Exciting
Fatima said she joined the advisory board of NGL: ALC because she wants to share her experiences with not only future attorneys but also with current attorneys of color who work in-house. She wants to provide some guidance and support in dealing with obstacles that are placed in their pathways. At the same time, she has some guidance to share with legal employers, in particular “an increased understanding of the issues that we, as lawyers of color, face, how these barriers can be removed, and how we can work together to in this field.”
“When I decided to go into tax law, I became comfortable with the idea and the possibility that there would be many moments or situations where I would be the only Latina woman.”
Her own experience being the only Latina in her Master’s class underscores this point. She recalled that, even with knowing she would be the only Latina, there were moments of doubt. “I really wanted to quit on the first day of orientation because it felt so uncomfortable to be the only Latina,” she said. “It felt like I just did not belong.” Even though legal employers are aware of this, they underestimate how mentally taxing it is on the energy levels of lawyers of color to deal with this discomfort every day.
Fatima also views the fact that she is an early career lawyer as an asset to the NGL: ALC advisory board. “As a millennial, although I hate the term, we have a lot to offer, especially our voice,” she explained. “I think we have become the ears and the eyes of the minorities facing these obstacles. Because we are early into our careers, we witness what is going on and we see it on a firsthand basis. As a millennial, we can bring these challenges to the surface where existing practices are not working any longer and provide creative solutions to get them resolved.”
Finally, the fact that the initiative is exclusively digital is exciting for Fatima. More specifically, she likes that the platform is accessible from anywhere and that she can be gaining inspiration and insights on her phone sitting on her couch or on the train. “I feel like when these programs are made in person, it is more challenging to attend and get the full benefit of the content because I am still learning how to manage my time, and often I am unable to commit an entire day to attend a program,” she added.
Lack of Knowledge of the Unwritten Rules and Pitfalls are Big Challenges
Fatima stated that throughout her law school career and especially when she was completing her masters, she was offered workshops of how to build up your resume, how to network, and how to interview, but never received training on how to actually succeed at work in terms of knowing the unwritten rules or work norms. For example, she shared that during her first in-house counsel internship, there was an “open-door” policy that anyone was welcome to come into the lawyers’ offices and speak with them whenever needed. However, she noticed that their doors were closed most of the time, and she did not know how to respond to that when she had questions about projects. Further, she was unsure about how to speak to a director or a partner when she first started work. “I did not know what was most appropriate way to request time with them,” Fatima said. “Should I send them an email? Should I send them a Google Hangout? Should I directly walk into their office? Is that appropriate? Is it inappropriate? It’s just the small situations that, if I messed up, could have a big negative impact on my career or my brand.”
At the same time, Fatima acknowledges that lawyers of color place barriers upon themselves too. “I think, as minorities, we don’t really believe in ourselves early on,” she noted. “We need to learn that it is okay to speak about ourselves, tout our achievements, and discuss the value we bring. We need not worry about coming off as narcissistic, entitled or arrogant.”
We welcome Fatima to the advisory board of Next Gen Leadership: Advancing Lawyers of Color.