Women Worth Watching 2015

Heather Zachary

When Cybersecurity Counts, Businesses Count on this WilmerHale Partner


web WilmerHale_ZacharyAs a partner with WilmerHale, Heather Zachary counsels and advocates for industry-leading clients on a wide range of privacy and data-security issues—from routine matters to cutting-edge issues where the law is far from clear and the enforcement risks are high. She helps clients draft and implement privacy policies and procedures; comply with federal and state laws regulating privacy and data security; navigate complex and often conflicting foreign laws across six continents that regulate data protection and marketing; investigate, report, and remediate data breaches; prevent and respond to “deceptive” and “unfair” trade practices; exploit “big data” obtained by tracking consumers online and offline; craft information-security programs and policies for consumer data and confidential business information; comply with legal requirements for marketing; and configure transactions and new product offerings to avoid privacy and data-security pitfalls.

“…failing to evolve would have been far riskier than leaving my comfort zone.”

Heather also represents wireline telecommunications providers, wireless carriers, broadcasters, video providers, industry trade associations, and Internet service providers in FCC proceedings and appellate litigation. She counsels communications clients on their statutory and regulatory obligations and, for some time, has been their go-to attorney for a variety of high-profile issues, including net neutrality, privacy, cybersecurity; and more.

“My biggest career leap was transitioning my practice from telecommunications to privacy and cybersecurity,” said Heather. “Though I still do some of the former, the latter were (and are) huge growth areas, and they were a natural fit given my tech expertise. In retrospect, failing to evolve would have been far riskier than leaving my comfort zone.”

Heather was selected as a leader in telecom, broadcast and satellite law in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 editions of Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers in Business, and she was recommended in the area of data protection and privacy law in the 2013 edition of The Legal 500. She regularly presents webinars and participates in panels on privacy and data-security issues.


Education: BA Political Science, University of Southern California (Valedictorian); JD, Yale Law School

First Job: A short, ill-fated run as a barista at an independent coffee stand.

What I’m Reading: “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline, “On Such a Full Sea” by Chang-Rae Lee, and “The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’ve been a sucker for sci-fi/fantasy since I was a kid

The most important quality a woman leader should have is…

…accommodating different working styles to empower team members to do their best work (alone and collectively). Teams where everyone works and thinks just like you do are comfortable and easier to supervise, but you get better results when team members can be themselves, complementing others’ strengths and countering others’ weaknesses.

The career advice I’d give my former self:

Practicing law always feels like a sprint, and it is. But when you put those sprints together, you have a marathon. Develop a sense of perspective and find a way to productively focus on long-term goals and growing as a person, notwithstanding the urgent challenges immediately at hand.

Words I live by:

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Once I’m in, I’m all in.

The one thing I’d do differently in my career, knowing what I know now, is…

…do other things (government, in house) before joining the firm. It’s essential for outside counsel to understand where regulators and our clients are coming from. Though I’ve learned to adopt different mindsets over time (and over drinks with my non-firm friends), I wish I’d spent some time in their shoes.

When I really need to focus on a project, I…

…lose myself in the trees and let the forest come into focus naturally. I’ve always been a details person, and even when I’m responsible only for bigger-picture issues or strategy calls, I’m at my best when I sweat the (ostensibly) small stuff.

My biggest career leap (and what I learned from it) was…

…transitioning my practice from telecommunications to privacy and cybersecurity. Though I still do some of the former, the latter were (and are) huge growth areas, and they were a natural fit given my tech expertise. In retrospect, failing to evolve would have been far riskier than leaving my comfort zone.

Being a woman in my profession has been…

…occasionally frustrating, but far more often empowering. I’ve had it easier than women who preceded me by even a few years, in large part because I have benefited from their experiences. I owe a debt to some truly excellent mentors; without them, my career path would have been very different.

I’ve learned that failure is…

…always painful in the moment, but it’s necessary for long-term growth. Perhaps counterintuitively, my failures have emboldened me to take risks, because I’ve learned that the sky won’t fall even if all doesn’t go according to plan.

I maintain a healthy personal life by…

…taking downtime whenever possible, even if that means merely leaving early on an unexpectedly slow day. Having hobbies that punish me if I don’t make time for them; I hike and garden. And I lean heavily on my husband, who is an endless source of support.

I knew my present career was what I wanted to do when…

…I had a year under my belt at the firm! I never saw myself as a law-firm lawyer, but I kept an open mind and wasn’t afraid to jump at opportunities when they arose. Indeed, I’ve found that flexibility and adaptability have been the keys to my success thus far.