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The power and impact of community in the law: How networking helps me become a better lawyer

The power and impact of community in the law: How networking helps me become a better lawyer

Bertha Ordaz, Associate General Counsel for McKinsey & Company based out of the Mexico office. She specializes in client facing and business-related legal matters. She is also the Antitrust & Competition law contact person for the Latam region. She is cofounder and Board member of Abogadas MX and is a Board member of Special Olympics Mexico.

See this post in Spanish here.

I was 18 when I decided to study law. I had just spent one year in Norway as an exchange student, and my choice of career had shifted from psychology to communications to law; all of which are bachelor’s degrees in Mexico. One of my favorite uncles was a successful litigator, but other than that, I had no relationship of any type with lawyers. I was born and raised in Oaxaca in southern Mexico. My closest contact with Mexico City was from summer vacations at my aunt’s, as well as cultural and academic visits. My late mother was the principal of an elementary school, and my father is a civil engineer and entrepreneur, specializing in the construction of oil refineries. So, with no clear vocational orientation, and no contacts whatsoever in the legal dominion that’s very much concentrated in Mexico City, I had no idea about the challenges I would face—not necessarily challenges to becoming a lawyer, but to building a career.

I knew it would have to be a great academic effort, and somehow, I was ready to devote my time to keeping up with readings and digest concepts, participating in discussions, writing essays, and passing tests, all the way from law school to my LLM graduate degree, and, as it later turned out, to my MBA. However, when it came to advancing in the legal profession, I was far from knowing that it takes much more than academic rigor and real-world experience to shape a career. I didn’t know how to develop the capabilities and skills that are not taught at universities, and, equally important, I was not aware that I would need to build a network to support my journey.

Over time, I realized the power of a strategic network that is aligned to one’s values and purpose. Cultivating a network happened almost by chance at first, but it has become more and more intentional as I continue to architect it. In my initial steps during my prior 20-year law firm career (from junior associate all the way to partner), I concentrated on delivering on and exceling at my essential responsibilities because I wanted to prove myself. Later, while developing a cross-border transactional practice, I increasingly had more contact with colleagues at other law firms and in-house legal departments, with top executives in board rooms as well as with officers in regulatory agencies, professional organizations, and academic faculties. Within these dynamics, I discovered that listening to others, finding common understanding, being myself, and making connections with people, and not with their roles, made our interactions genuinely more productive and projects more rewarding both professionally and personally.

At a certain point, I found spaces to meet leading female lawyers with whom I shared an interest in supporting women’s advancement in the legal profession. I didn’t want other young women to face the many hurdles I’d encountered, especially in my early years in “Big Law,” by not having a strategy or a network. This common interest developed into the creation of Abogadas MX, a pioneering NGO in Mexico of which I am a cofounder and board member. It’s an organization with a dedicated community focused on creating an environment where female attorneys have the tools and opportunities to develop their careers, reach leadership positions, and be agents of change. During its almost eight years of existence, Abogadas MX has formed a community of female and male attorneys, business leaders, universities, law students, sponsors, and other stakeholders supporting the cause through several initiatives, including a mentoring program, scholarships for law students, leadership and skill development workshops, and a powerful network.

The power and impact of community in the law: How networking helps me become a better lawyer
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My career has taken an exciting new turn at McKinsey, a switch that had not even been imaginable in part without the insights from a diverse and inspiring network. When I started having second thoughts about whether I wanted to stay in the law firm model for another 20 years, as rewarding as it was, I was fortunate to have friends and people around me with the business acumen, bold views, and generosity that confirmed my intuition about never being too late to continue tailor-making my career, leveraging my prior experience, and exploring new horizons.

In this transition, I landed at a company that embeds values, relationships, and community across geographies, practices, functions, and tenures, reproduced in the way we work. It was the right place to develop and contribute at this stage in my life.

As I reflect on how being part of a legal and business community has pivoted my professional development and helped me become a better lawyer, from my day-to-day responsibilities to my most significant decisions, I identify the following areas of impact:

  • I can learn from other colleagues’ experiences. Someone has dealt with a similar legal challenge, is facing a groundbreaking regulation, or is reshaping the face of their legal department and is willing to conceptually share lessons learned. I am fascinated by learning from other people’s experiences and stories, especially those of women.
  • It gives me other perspectives. Whether in a personal situation, a legal discussion, or on a business topic, I know someone who would contribute a different view to enrich my analysis. A strategic network is not meant to include only those who have the same background, gender, culture, tenure, age, or profession as me. Conversely, based on my experience, the more diverse, the richer the network is, so that I get to challenge my own biases, learn about my areas of opportunity, and make visible my otherwise blind spots.
  • It demands self-awareness. Meaningful networking means you give and receive, contributing to creating synergies. It’s about making true connections in what matters the most. It’s not about collecting contacts; it’s about knitting a strong net that provides support for all. For that I have had to put my whole self into it, with humble self-awareness, to extract what I can offer to others (including my clients and stakeholders) that they might find of value.
  • It provides me trusted feedback and space for impact. My network has given me the chance to learn about both my value and my shortcomings. Maintaining trusted relationships has offered me honest and objective feedback. It also has helped me share my opinions and propose topics for discussion in a trusted environment—an audience that is open to hear my thoughts and amplify my voice to make an impact on topics I care about.
  • It is an avenue to pursue a higher purpose. When I have truly connected with people in my network, I have found common ground to collaborate on projects that are close to my heart, including women’s development, children’s health and education, mental health, and other voluntary work. For several years, it also led me to pursue pro bono initiatives at my prior firms. It never ceases to amaze me the power of a network when it’s put to work for a cause. It connects with my inner-lawyer impulse toward essential equity and justice.

Because I am a whole self, and the lawyer that lives inside of me does not act separate from the person I am, it makes sense to me to continue building a network of my design, in alignment with my values and purpose. In high-performance coaching, it’s called “architecting” connections. I’m just lucky I made the right career choice in my late teens; maybe it is so because as a lawyer, I get to be a bit of a psychologist and a communicator from time to time. But best of all, it’s because my ride in this amazing profession has given me, among many other wonderful things, the opportunity to be part of a community that continuously challenges me to find a better version of myself.