SVUDL Salutes Champions of the Legal Pipeline Challenge
Volume #5, Week of October 15, 2018
When Ana Iacovetta was growing up in an impoverished neighborhood in the South Bronx, her entire vision of the legal field was limited to the trial lawyers she saw on television. She had never heard of in-house counsel or the countless other opportunities you could pursue with a law degree. But a debate program where she commuted an hour to her Catholic high school opened her eyes to new possibilities for her future. Now, after 27 years working as corporate counsel for IBM, Iacovetta is Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer, VP and Deputy General Counsel at VMware.
Back in high school, the coaches at her debate program were law students who also served as mentors. Iacovetta identified with these law students, whose backgrounds resembled her own, and soaked up their knowledge. “I started to learn about corporate law, and the possibility of working at the UN,” she said. “These young aspiring attorneys explained there are a whole bunch of things to do in law other than hang out with criminals.”
Iacovetta was learning valuable skills in debate, public speaking, and socialization that could be transferred to careers of law or politics. Under the guidance of her mentors, the debate team traveled extensively, and Iacovetta once qualified for Nationals.
Sponsorship Beyond Mentoring
She believes the importance of active role models continues throughout a lawyer’s journey and is crucial to achieving and sustaining diversity. Moreover, she sees the need for a type of “sponsorship beyond mentoring,” by pairing partners up with young attorneys early in their careers to help “hold them up.”
There are also cultural factors to address when working to achieve diversity. For people from low-income backgrounds, a law firm environment can be daunting. “It’s a different lifestyle,” Iacovetta explained. “Most of us who come from underrepresented backgrounds have huge debt.” By comparison, many others “can spend their money and network in different ways: country clubs, yachting, expensive restaurants.” Even if they recognize the need to network, those places are simply not accessible to young attorneys still struggling to pay off huge student loans.
But Iacovetta believes there’s some responsibility to breach the cultural divide from both sides. There’s a learning curve to “getting comfortable working with people who are different than you, for example, if you didn’t go to an Ivy League school,” she explained. “You’re engaging with people who are upper middle class, wealthy. The cultural differences are huge. It’s not the same as when you’re in college, and you can gravitate to people who are like you.” According to Iacovetta, finding your place in the legal field is “about feeling comfortable in your own skin and how you connect.”
Having known SVUDL’s Board Chair Willie Hernandez since they both worked at IBM, Iacovetta had the inside track on SVUDL during its formation. She and Hernandez—now VP and Deputy General Counsel at HPE—would discuss SVUDL at diversity conferences for corporate counsel. Later, Hernandez invited Iacovetta and VMware to participate, by donating through the Legal Pipeline Challenge (LPC) and attending student events. She looks forward to becoming even more involved with SVUDL in the future.
According to Iacovetta, “VMware is unique within the [Silicon] Valley in terms of community.” As a company, the leadership believes in service learning—for example, by making sure attorneys give back to the community on work time. She believes these values, coupled with VMware’s diversity movement, align well with SVUDL’s mission.
Iacovetta would advise urban debaters, or anyone else considering a legal career, to keep their options open. “Learn to be a really good lawyer, and then experiment,” she said. “Don’t lock yourself into particular area because of money or any other reason until you find your passion within the law.” For instance, she pointed out that a career in law doesn’t have to be limited to the United States: “Think globally.”
Every year since its inception, SVUDL has amassed a coalition of leaders across the legal profession to make generous financial contributions to support SVUDL’s debate teams in partner schools and after-school programs through the Legal Pipeline Challenge (LPC).
The LPC is a meaningful opportunity for law firm partners and corporate counsel to address, on a micro level, some of the inequalities in access that exist to educational enrichment opportunities in Silicon Valley. By supporting SVUDL, attorneys can help extend the skills and power of debate to talented and motivated low-income high school students and inspire some of these students to consider future careers in the legal profession.
The 2018 Legal Pipeline Challenge will take place from October 15-26. For more information, please contact Willie Hernandez, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and SVUDL Board Chair, at email@example.com.