Tara D. Elliott

Tara D. Elliott
Partner, WilmerHale

What do you consider your greatest strength, and how do you think it benefits your business?

I believe that my greatest strengths are my work ethic and intuition. I am highly motivated to get things done and to get them done right. Growing up, I heard the constant refrain from my mother, “No half-stepping.” This admonition was often in the context of household chores, but it nonetheless was ingrained in me from an early age to set very high standards and persist until I’ve given the task my very best effort—in academics, sports, or housework. Giving it my all is part of my internal constitution and this work ethic has carried into everything I do, from parenting to the practice of law.

Over time, I’ve also come to realize the value of trusting my instincts. I believe that my intuition is a gift. I only came to recognize it as such after coming to understand who I am, accepting myself, and gaining the confidence to be authentic no matter the surroundings or potential repercussions. In business, my instincts have served me well, in quickly understanding people and assessing strategic direction.

Who inspires you? What did they motivate you to achieve or accomplish?

There are too many to name—family, friends, clients, public figures, teachers, coaches, mentors, and colleagues. The characteristics of these people both inspire and motivate me in many ways: The tenacity and faith of my mother; the open-mindedness of my children; the fearlessness of my clients; the standard of excellence exhibited by my WilmerHale colleagues; the selflessness and generosity of friends; the steady hand and unflappable disposition of our president; and the relentless quest for justice, parity, and inclusion by so many.

At various times along the way, they have motivated me to keep working when I was tired, get back up after a stumble, give back of my time and resources when it appeared that I had none left, stand up and strong in isolating environments, and to close the laptop and play Xbox Dance Central or play with American Girl dolls at the request of my daughters.

How do you motivate others?

I believe the answer is probably in the eye of the beholder, but I try to motivate others by living my life and conducting my business through a prism of gratitude and optimism. I do not see barriers for myself or others, only clearable hurdles. I hope I leave others with the notion that we can do more than we think we can—and more than others may think we can. We do not have to confine ourselves to boxes in which others try to place us. I’d like to motivate others to be bold, get comfortable with rejection, be unfazed by bullies and naysayers, welcome challenges, and most of all, be positive!

What do you think is the greatest issue or dilemma facing the African American community today?

I continue to believe, as others have sagely declared, that education is the great equalizer. Access to excellent education, resources to pursue excellent education, and family and community support to prioritize excellent education remain the most important issues for the African-American community in my opinion. The problems are deep-rooted in our country’s history and persist in large part due to the intertwined nature of sustained poverty and disparities in public education.

How do you give back to the African American community?

I give back through mentoring—school-age students through college, graduate school, and practicing lawyers.

What’s the most important lesson you have learned in the course of your career?

I’ve learned so many lessons it’s difficult to name one as the most important. For me, I think the overarching themes are sincerity and perseverance—then let the chips fall where they may. I’ve learned to embrace the power of vulnerability.

What advice would you give to someone just beginning his or her career?

Whether fair or not, first impressions are enduring—so come out of the blocks very strong, as if you want to win. In non-metaphor speak, I believe that one starting his or her career needs to instill confidence in others by striving for excellence at every task, being responsive and reliable, showing interest and enthusiasm, anticipating beyond the present, being a good corporate citizen, and embracing a high ethical standard.

What is your favorite quote, and why?

Not necessarily my favorite quote, but one that immediately comes to mind is, “Do you.”

I think life (and work) is so much more worthwhile when we are in alignment with who we are—our purpose—and can be secure and assured in it. Someone else’s path will not be my path, just as the reverse is true. We can admire others, draw inspiration from their work, learn from mistakes—both ours and theirs, but our paths will be necessarily unique. I endeavor to be a better version of my best self, without comparing myself to others or trying to be someone I am not.