Attorney, Fish & Richardson
MY GREATEST STRENGTH
While I take pride in my work ethic, communication skills, and reasoning ability, my greatest strength is my ability to exercise good judgment. In the legal profession, and in life, good judgment is an invaluable asset that enables those who have it to maximize opportunities and minimize problems. As a lawyer, major corporations rely on my judgment when the stakes are extremely high. In many instances, I have to make difficult decisions in the absence of perfect information, while under tough time constraints and intense pressure. Good judgment allows me to make sound decisions which lead to positive results for my clients on a consistent basis. This engenders a significant amount of trust, which is essential to healthy and enduring attorney-client relationships.
My parents, Larry and Vanessa Clayton, are a constant and profound source of inspiration to me. When I was still in elementary school, I dreamed of attending an Ivy League college. One year, my guidance counselor told my parents and me that my Ivy League aspirations were unrealistic. I’ll never forget my parents’ reaction. They marched me right out of the meeting and instructed me to disregard everything the guidance counselor had just told me. They assured me that I could get into any school in the world with hard work, discipline, a commitment to excellence, and a positive attitude. Their confidence hit me like a lightning bolt. I took their words to heart. Long story short, in the fall of 1995, I was a freshman at Harvard.
My parents’ advice resonated with me because I had witnessed them live those principles every day. For years, they worked swing shifts at a glass factory and pulled physically demanding double shifts while maintaining a loving and stable household with four kids. To this day, their sustained effort over time, against all odds, inspires me.
OUR GREATEST CHALLENGE
From my perspective, the greatest issue facing the African-American community today is our society’s collective inability to truly understand the complex, systemic issues facing black Americans with depth and nuance. The problems facing our community today are vast and varied. Some of the problems I face as a black professional in corporate America are very different from the problems I faced as a black teenager growing up in a working class community, and different from many of the problems facing black women on a regular basis. Too often, I hear people misdiagnose, under-diagnose, and oversimplify what these problems are. There are no silver bullets. Instead, we all need to develop a more comprehensive and thorough understanding of what these issues are and take personal accountability for fixing them in rational and thoughtful ways on both macro and micro levels.
Whatever you do, take ownership of it. Try to pretend you physically own your client’s underlying business, so that you go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure a positive outcome. When professionals “take ownership” they pay meticulous attention to detail. They work later. They find solutions. They focus on results. They go the extra mile, because they perceive the issues they’re working on as extensions of themselves. As a lawyer, taking ownership of my clients’ issues can be the difference between victory and defeat. My only caveat to this critical lesson is that despite taking ownership, we have to simultaneously maintain a certain level of detachment to ensure that we make rational, clear-headed decisions that are not influenced by emotion or ego, but are in the client’s best interest.
I have learned that all of the things that make me unique—my skills, interests, talents, knowledge base, life experiences, perspective, and personality—are what make me uniquely qualified to add value in ways that only I can. As a result, I’ve learned to become more self-evaluative to identify all of the ways in which I can uniquely deliver results, while simultaneously evaluating team members in order to help them do the same using their special attributes.