In planning her recent talk at Michigan Law, Dara Pincas, '97, considered giving her student audience a simple overview and chronology of the twists and turns her career has taken in the nearly 25 years that have passed since she was in law school.
Instead, she opted to share five "golden nuggets of advice" she would have appreciated hearing as a law student: 1) Find mentors who are different from yourself; 2) Understand that your differences are your strengths; 3) Know you can choose courage or comfort when making career decisions, but often can't have both; 4) Find your purpose; and 5) Give back.
Pincas returned to Michigan Law for the Leading Women talk sponsored by Latham & Watkins that features women attorneys who are leaders in business. Pincas is senior associate general counsel at Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, and leads the company's 40-lawyer Healthcare Law Group.
Pincas drew on more than just her experiences at Genentech, though, to advise the law students attending the event. Prior to joining Genentech, she spent time working in-house at Pfizer, as an associate at the law firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed in New York, and as a government attorney.
For example, she focused on her job at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in her discussion of mentorship. Somewhat unexpectedly, Pincas said, FTC Commissioner Tom Leary became one of her "most cherished mentors."
"I've found value in finding mentors who looked nothing like me, came from a variety of backgrounds, and were able to provide me with a different perspective," Pincas said. In describing her relationship with Leary, Pincas said, "We couldn't be farther apart in terms of our characteristics, and yet he was that safe place for me to go and share fears about my career as well as my personal life."
In fact, Pincas said Leary was the one who advised her to leave government for the private sector so she could further develop her advocacy skills, complementing the substantial experience in prosecuting and investigating that she had gained during her time as a federal prosecutor and FTC attorney.
Pincas's willingness to leave government and transition to private practice at a large law firm exemplified another lesson: "In your career you can choose comfort, or you can choose courage. But often you can't choose both at the same time."
She described the challenges of arriving at a firm as a sixth-year associate and being required to meet the same billable-hours targets as her colleagues who had had more time to establish relationships and connections with partners. "I proved myself, and showed that I could bring value to the firm," Pincas said. "Whatever it is, do your best with what life has given you."
Pincas also emphasized the need to "find something that you really believe in, and that you're not going to compromise on for any reason. For me, my purpose was being a mother." Pincas became pregnant with her first son just six weeks after she started a new position as general counsel of Pfizer Israel in Tel Aviv. Pincas realized the timing was not ideal but she understood that becoming a mother was something that she could never compromise.
In her life, Pincas has found that her differences are her strengths. "My father said to me, 'If you decide to go into law, you need to know two things: People are going to underestimate you because you're a woman and because you're black,'" Pincas said. "Let them underestimate you. Why? Because you don't want to give them a heads up that you are a formidable opponent and see you coming. My father's advice was to let your brief or your oral argument speak for itself. Don't let what other people may think of you define who you are."
Lastly, Pincas emphasized the importance of volunteering and giving back to your community or causes you believe in. She quoted from a commencement speech given by Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court to highlight "the role of chance in life and to understand that your success is not completely deserved and that failure of other others is not completely deserved either." Pincas said one of the many reasons she gives back to her community is because she understands that others have worked just as hard but may not have had the same luck to pursue the opportunities that she has been given. It keeps her grounded, Pincas said.