Celebrating Latinx Heritage Month + The Power of Mentorship

Editors’ Note: As part of MoFo’s celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, San Francisco-based litigation partner and Women’s Strategy Committee co-chair Stacey Sprenkel interviewed her mentee, San Francisco-based Investigations + White Collar Criminal Defense associate Lauren Navarro. As a Latinx attorney at the firm, Lauren spoke with Stacey about her experiences in the legal industry, her involvement in affinity groups at MoFo, and her take on encouraging aspiring Latinx attorneys to join the profession.

Stacey: I’m pleased to be speaking with my mentee Lauren Navarro and discussing her experience as a Latinx attorney at the firm. Lauren, let’s jump in! Can you start by telling us a little bit about your decision to make MoFo your professional home?

Lauren: I come from a family of no lawyers and so didn’t know anything about law firms or how to go about selecting which to apply to. When I went through the interview process, I approached it by looking for a place where I could fit in and felt that women attorneys (and particular, attorneys of color) were welcome and would be supported. When I interviewed at MoFo, it really stood out in both of those areas (from the initial on-campus meeting to the callback interviews). I was struck by how many impressive attorneys and, particularly, how many impressive female and diverse attorneys I met with during the interview process. I felt like MoFo was a place that would promote and foster professional development for diverse women in the legal profession, which was really appealing.

Since making MoFo my professional home the past seven years, I’m happy to report that the initial impression I had continues has proven true. I’ve been fortunate to have so many great mentors of all kinds, including diverse attorneys, since joining the firm. I truly believe our attorneys are what set MoFo apart from other firms and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to learn from this group every day as I develop my own legal career.

Stacey: That’s great to hear. Let’s dig in further on that. Tell us a little more about your mentorship experience, and specifically, how did these relationships come about?

Lauren: I think that mentorship is something that MoFo does extremely well. We have both a formal mentorship program and an informal program and I’ve had the benefit of getting mentorship through both of those avenues. As far as a formal mentor goes, he/she may be assigned early on when you’re quite junior and so it may or may not be someone that you end up working closely with. It can be beneficial to have a mentor that you don’t work with, to have a different perspective and contact outside your normal day-to-day within the firm. Then there are the more informal mentor-mentee relationships that develop organically and in connection with your daily work. I think this kind of informal mentorship is where the firm really stands out because the attorneys here are so willing and excited to take younger attorneys under their wing and teach. They really want to talk about our work, the clients, and the practice area, and are very willing to put in time to build that relationship and help younger attorneys come up through the firm.

What’s great about my relationship with Stacey is that we have the benefit of having both a formal and informal mentoring relationship. Originally she was assigned as my formal mentor when I came back to the San Francisco office after working in D.C. for four years, but we work together all the time, so we also have this more informal and organic relationship that’s great. Again I think the focus on and dedication to informal mentoring are really some of MoFo’s strengths. It is critical for young attorneys, including young diverse attorneys, to feel like they are valued members of their case teams and that more senior attorneys are invested in their career progression. Establishing those relationships early in your legal career can make all the difference in your overall experience at the firm as well as your professional development.

Stacey: It’s interesting that you say that, because, while I do have a formal mentoring title in terms of our relationship, I don’t actually know how materially different our relationship would be if I didn’t. Likely not at all, but that’s just to say that I think, in our particular case, maybe the formal and the informal mesh.

What can you tell us about your involvement with affinity groups or associations, inside the firm, that are dedicated to the advancement of women or diverse lawyers that you’ve been actively involved with? What has been meaningful to you from those experiences?

Lauren: At the firm, I am on the Women’s Strategy Committee (the WSC), which is focused on the advancement of women and mentoring women within the firm. Additionally, I am also a member of our Latinx affinity group. Again I think it’s a testament to the firm’s commitment to the advancement of both women and attorneys of color that we have groups like these (as well as a variety of other affinity groups) as they give attorneys a chance to bond over common or shared experiences and can foster mentorship between and among members.

Stacey: What exactly has been meaningful to you from those experiences?

Lauren: I’m so grateful to have been brought into the WSC. It has been a great learning opportunity to see how much work is going on behind the scenes in terms of developing programming for women and fostering support for women within the firm. It is encouraging to see the kinds of programming the firm is constantly working on and thinking about. The various initiatives include finding ways of advancing or being more inclusive in terms of women and attorneys of color in so many ways. For example, the WSC works on the firm’s pitch materials and with our business development resources to find ways of highlighting our diverse roster of attorneys and ensure that we are always being proactive and thoughtful about inclusivity initiatives. The WSC has also been a great way of connecting with other female attorneys in the firm, both partners and associates, especially during this unusual time with the global pandemic when it can be more challenging to keep in touch.

As far as the affinity groups, MoFo has lots of different affinity groups that support different ethnicities, sexual orientations, and working parents, to name a few. This is another strong area at MoFo—these groups are a great way to be more informally and casually connect with the other diverse attorneys at the firm, especially during the global pandemic. Like with the WSC, it’s nice to have recurring meetings every month to touch base with colleagues and talk about how other diverse attorneys are handling working from home and sharing other personal experiences/connecting on a more human level.

Stacey: I’m really curious, and I’d like to dive in a bit around your perspective on what meaningful things we can do both as a firm and as a profession to ensure that more young Latinx individuals take interest in and really gain access to the field of law.

Lauren: I think that is a really important question and not one that can be answered with a “check the box” approach. In other words, it is more a journey—less a destination. To get started or at least be on the right path, I think amplifying voices within the firm who represent these different groups is important. Like what we’re doing today—highlighting different stories, career paths, types of work—these can all be helpful to de-mystifying the practice of law for young people, particularly those who come from underrepresented groups or who have not historically had much access to professions like the legal profession.

I know from this year’s virtual summer associate class that multiple young attorneys of color reached out to me after one of our WSC panels. They were so grateful and interested in learning more about our work and wanted to set up times for virtual “coffee chats” to ask more questions about my career path and my work. This overwhelming response really highlighted for me the importance of getting the word out there about the great attorneys we have, including attorneys of color, and showcasing our diversity initiatives. I had multiple virtual chats with summer associates who said, “I didn’t even know the kind of work that you do was an option,” or “I didn’t even know lawyers did that.” Law school prepares you for a very specific set of legal skills but it’s important to share our experiences so that young attorneys are aware of all the different ways you can practice law. Highlighting our different practice areas and our diverse team of attorneys opens the door for young attorneys to reach out, ask questions about our work, and get interested in it early on. I think these are all invaluable steps for us to take if we want more diverse representation the legal profession.

Stacey: Everything you’re saying really resonates with me. When you talk about having those conversations or even just exposing people to options that they may not be cognizant of, I think of going even further away from the law firm and the law schools and even down the path toward folks that are at the undergraduate level or even in high school. I’m always wondering, is there more that we could be doing in the community to open people’s eyes to the fact that this is a viable career path for them, that this is something that they should seriously be considering? It’s not a career that’s limited to a certain type of person that looks a certain way or has a certain background; rather, the legal profession is better and our clients are better served by having teams that reflect a more diverse background.

I’m curious what you think, having grown up with a diverse background as a Latina who moved toward the legal profession and saw that as a viable career path for yourself. How do you think we can reach young people to show them that this is something they should consider for a career?

Lauren: I agree with everything you’re saying. It really resonates with me because I remember being in high-school and even early college not being sure what lawyers actually did (other than what is portrayed on TV), if that was a profession I should pursue, and if so, where to start. I think we now have a responsibility to take more steps to be integrated in our communities and engage in outreach to younger, pre-law-school folks to educate and talk about the legal profession and our career paths. I think there are still a number of barriers holding young people back from making that leap to decide, “Oh, I think I can go to law school,” or at the very least, “That’s an opportunity I should explore” and I don’t think there are necessarily resources available that can always bridge that gap. For me, and looking back on my own experience, that is an area where law firms could be doing more—stepping into the conversation earlier and trying to make connections with the younger generation of aspiring Latinx attorneys.

Stacey: I agree. The first time that I made an appearance in court, I was the only woman. And this was less than two decades ago. I think for a long time the legal profession was heavily dominated by the white male, and there’s a perception of the typical attorney and what that attorney looked like and represented, and it’s just not accurate now. Our firm, I think, reflects how much the profession has changed and also just how diverse the profession can and should be, from every different perspective. I still think we’ve got a long way to go, and I worry so much about young people coming up. Not just with regard to the law, but in general, seeing what they see and feeling that their options for their future are limited. I tend to think that, the more that we can do to get impressive folks, like yourself, Lauren, in front of younger people to show them that you can be successful in this field coming from any background and that our profession is better when we are more reflective of the diverse society in which we live, the better.

Lauren: One hundred percent. This is also reflected in what our clients want from us as outside counsel. Many clients today have various diversity quotas in terms of staffing their matters—there is no doubt that diversity and inclusion are top of mind for our clients and so in addition to all the other benefits associated with these initiatives, they also make good business sense. I think these trends are encouraging in that reflect the future and will only become even more engrained in how we do business. To that end, it’s more important than ever to invest in a pipeline of young diverse attorneys.

Stacey: I agree; you and I are aligned, as we normally are. Thank you so much for taking the time, Lauren, to chat with me. This has been an interesting discussion.

I encourage you to continue to be as actively involved as you have been in mentoring younger lawyers, diverse lawyers, and women lawyers. I know you will continue to model the things that you stand for, as you always have.