In a virtual fireside chat, Morgan Lewis partner Michelle Park Chiu sat down with partner and Advisory Board member Joan Haratani to discuss Joan’s career and previous experiences, including being the first woman of color to serve as president of the Bar Association of San Francisco. Joan also shared her advice on how associates can be proactive and engaged during these trying times—with internal colleagues, with clients, and with others.
What advice can you give our summer associates about this remote summer experience, and to our associates about sharpening their skill sets?
The situation we find ourselves in is incredibly challenging. We are living with this physical distancing going on, and it is almost as though we are lacking one of our senses. So how do you succeed when some of the regular tools in your toolbox are not available to you? I believe that when you are deprived of one sense, your other senses are heightened.
This is a time to draw on your “senses” of being open-minded, resilient, and brave. Start to build a team and a community that you can rely on. Please try and stay connected. Our partners are here to support you, so feel free to reach out to us when you need help. This is also a great time to reach out to partners to see if they need help with a case, with research, to join an article, or do pro bono work.
Who was your first mentor/sponsor at Morgan Lewis? Why is it important to develop mentor relationships during a global pandemic or other challenge?
This is a great time to reach out to mentees, mentors, and sponsors with an empowering message. When I was at my previous firm, my first mentor and sponsor at Morgan Lewis, Jami McKeon, touched me by saying “come to Morgan Lewis, we know how to support strong women like you.” Her positive energy and centeredness showed me by example that the firm brought out the best in people, and true to her word, Jami and this firm have enabled my personal and professional growth.
Having mentorship relationships in and outside of your work is important. Mentors can give you advice on how to navigate situations in your work and personal life. You should also keep good relationships with sponsors who may be in a position to put in a good word for you on a case or recommend you for a position later in your career.
My support system has about 10 to 20 mentors at any time. A mentor can be a coworker, a supervisor, a person in a different practice, someone you know in a different industry, or a friend. It’s important to keep in mind that “one size fits all” does not apply to mentorship and sponsorship. I recommend seeking out mentors from all walks of life, including those from an affinity group with whom you may share experiences, and others with whom you may not.
I’m a strong believer in “you can take any two people, put them in a room together, and they will find a common bond.” I challenge myself to do that, and I encourage you to develop the skillset of being able to bond with a variety of people. The ability to collaborate and gain the trust of colleagues and clients are among the most important pillars of success.
How can we continue to develop or create connections during this pandemic?
Any type of relationship-building takes effort. To have the best summer associate experience, the best associate experience, reach out to others in ways that time and technology allow. Find a comfortable medium, whether it’s WebEx, a phone call, or even just an email. You can do touch-bases, happy hours, book clubs, or virtual networking with others inside and outside the firm.
Take this time to connect to people on a deeper level, write a thoughtful email or letter. Reflect on your values and incorporate them into the conversation. Set a modest goal for yourself to reach out to one person every few days. You can reach out to old law professors, mentors, mentees, clients, or friends. Bring who you are to your interactions.
What do you wish you had known as an associate?
There is so much to address in this, how much time do we have? Many come into this job timid and sensitive. I was the first lawyer in my family, and I felt rather clueless during my first law firm experience. What I can offer in terms of advice is don’t try to be someone who you are not. We like you and hired you for who you are. Do not copy what you think should be done, but rather emulate the work habits of those colleagues whom you admire and respect.
For our summers, give yourself permission to enjoy the experience. And for our associates, give yourself permission to recognize this is your long-term career, so give yourself the time and space to grow, develop, and ask for help.
Realize how much you have to offer regardless of level. Be confident in who you are in your career at this moment. Don’t give up and, once in a while, give yourself a pat on the back.
And finally, listen, be involved, engaged, and ask questions.
What are some best practices you would recommend for working from home or working through stress?
It’s important to acknowledge this situation and to recognize your feelings. When necessary, take a break, take the time. Whether it’s just getting outside for some sun or exercise, make the time. Physically, mentally, and spiritually, you will be happier for doing so.
Furthermore, be mindful of the simple and positive things in our lives such as families, friends, and our health. You want to come out of this situation as individuals who are more resilient, stronger, wiser, and more empathetic, who have taken care of themselves and others.