“In God we trust / But we’ll never really know what got discussed / Click-boom then it happened.” — Lin-Manuel Miranda, “The Room Where It Happens,” Hamilton.
In September, the Corporate Counsel Women of Color (CCWC) held its 12th Annual Career Strategies Conference in Las Vegas, NV. As one of the featured speakers on a panel, Sonya Som had the privilege of sharing with her audience of around 1,000 attendees that she had just been promoted to partner at her firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. So not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Just leave it to Above the Law to share some good legal gossip.
Last week, I had the opportunity to catch up with Sonya Som. It’s been a long journey for Som to once again be named a partner in the legal profession. Along the way, she’s had quite the renaissance education. She was born in Pittsburgh, raised in Detroit, did her undergraduate studies at Kalamazoo College, studied abroad in Spain, and graduated from Cornell Law School.
Nowadays, Som often thinks about her children, mission, and legacy. Sometimes it’s all she can focus on to keep moving forward. As she often reminded me during our chat, “it’s hard to hit a moving target.” Without further ado, here is a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation:
Renwei Chung (RC): We both had the opportunity to watch Hamilton in Chicago recently. Do you think lawyers could take anything away from this musical that could help them in their own lives and careers?
Sonya Som (SS): Especially now, I think Hamilton resonates as a story about resilience. There will be many ups and downs during the course of your long life and long legal career (if you’re lucky). Develop your craft, build your brand, nurture your network (you’ve got to be in the room where it happens!), be strategic and thoughtful and passionate about what you do and believe in, and you can always “write your way out.” Think about the impact you want to make with your life’s work, the legacy you want to leave behind. Do not throw away your shot!
RC: Much is said and written about “cultural fit.” As a legal recruiter, how would you define “cultural fit” and what can candidates do to learn about a firm’s culture?
SS: “Cultural Fit” has a lot of nuances to it, but if you think about organizations as families, everyone knows what kind of family they have: loud or quiet, talks about issues or doesn’t, hugs or doesn’t hug, opens presents on Christmas morning or on Christmas Eve, etc. The most obvious way to learn about what kind of “family” an organization has is to ask. Ask the recruiter. Ask the people with whom you are interviewing at the organization. Ask other people you may know who have worked at the organization. Read what the organization says about itself on its website and on social media. Read what others say about the organization in articles and on social media.
But understand that true understanding of the organization won’t really come until you have joined it and determined your place in it and how you feel about it, so it’s always a bit of a leap, even when you have done all your due diligence. And, of course, things happen and cultures change, so you may have to reassess.