For the sixth consecutive year, the Fortune–US Department of State Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership selected Morgan Lewis and Firm Chair Jami McKeon to mentor an emerging female leader. This prestigious annual partnership seeks to equip participants from around the world with critical business and leadership skills, expand their networks, and inspire them to “pay it forward” in their communities. Ordinarily, the participants would visit our East Coast offices and meet with a number of firm leaders over the course of about a week. But having an all-virtual program this year meant there was time for a much more in-depth connection with Guatemalan lawyer Gabriela Roca. She shares some of her experience in this open letter.
I am Gabriela Roca, a Guatemalan woman, a daughter, a wife, a mom, a sister, a friend, and a lawyer, but most of all I am person passionate about life. Yes, my passion is living a life full of meaning and surrounded by people that empower me with their energy and commitment.
In late 2019, I was invited to participate in the Fortune–US Department of State Global Women´s Mentoring Partnership Program. To be honest I didn’t understand at first the impact this program will have on my life. I expected the program to be similar to other programs where you learn tips or theory to handle different business and personal issues, and that was OK with me.
As part of the program, we were supposed to depart from our home countries to Washington, DC, on March 2020 and then to our host companies. But COVID-19 changed the course of that program, together with the course of the world´s story. When I was informed that my original mentor was still signed on for a virtual program, I was excited and curious. While my mind and my heart were open for receiving all that this program had for me, never was I prepared for what that really meant.
I had googled my mentor Jami McKeon, and I was struck by her photos. In every picture she was smiling. I will use that picture to talk about what I received, not only from her, but from Morgan Lewis.
Morgan Lewis is a firm with 2,200 lawyers and professionals around the world. ¨Oh my God,¨ I thought, ¨Me, a single lawyer was going to navigate that big ocean.¨ Yes, I was afraid about not being important enough to convince Jami or any other professional to spend the time with me and to share their experience. “Why should it be important to them? How I am going to get something out of it?”
Those questions disappeared in the first call I had with Amanda Bruno, chief business development officer at Morgan Lewis. Her formal responsibilities include working with the firm’s leaders to implement priorities for the firm, so I was quite surprised that one of those priorities including working with me and making sure this mentorship experience was what I expected. Amanda put up an agenda of more than 40 meetings with different professionals of the firm, and I knew, from the beginning, I was a priority for Jami and for Morgan Lewis.
From the moment I met Jami, I knew she is the type of leader that combines great strength with calm kindness. Her voice inspired me with the same feeling I got from her smile. She told me, ¨Be your true self¨ and ¨always bring yourself to the table.¨ If you think about these phrases, her advice doesn’t focus on how much success or power you have, but on who you really are and what you can bring to the organization.
But the good advice did not stop there. After meeting with Jami, I met with more than 40 lawyers and professional staff from Morgan Lewis, and from each one I received some of the best advice for my personal life, my organization, and my professional development. Each echoed the same song about Morgan Lewis, telling of “collaboration,” and how “we have each other’s backs” because “we are a real family.” That support played out at the firm for the women I met who made changes in their careers to explore new areas, and the firm was open enough to explore those changes with them. It also showed in the way that more than 2,200 professionals organized around reaching out to clients to check in both personally and professionally during the pandemic. To make those clients feel that someone cared, and not for business reasons, showed that for Morgan Lewis, everything is ¨personal.¨
Programs like the ML Alumni showed the reality of what the mantra “once you are in the family, you stay in the family” means for a big company such as Morgan Lewis. ML Women is a great initiative that shows how women doing focused networking can be a great benefit to overall business. Mobilizing for Equality was, for me, the way on how a Fortune 500 Company walks the talk, having not only those “courageous conversations,” but actually activating to do something. The action implies the firm understands this is not a partisan conversation, but a real cry for justice, showing the real purpose of being a lawyer and a law-related professional.
So, after thinking that there was no way I would matter to Morgan Lewis and Jami McKeon, I can say this experience showed me that the firm, and its leader, has a clear vision of what really matters and that is people and collaboration.
Now I have a lot of “paying it forward” to do, but I feel supported by Jami and all the great people I met, and more important by such a great organization like Morgan Lewis. “Once you are in the family, you stay in the family,” and this is how I feel. Guatemala needs more leaders that are ready to take one step at a time in making sure that future generations will have a better country, and it is my turn as a lawyer to make real changes for social justice, female empowerment, and the professionalization of Guatemalan corporations. And with the knowledge I gained in this program, I know I can. Thank you Jami and Morgan Lewis, this experience changed my life.