Attorney at Work’s “Women in Law” series focuses on successful women lawyers who have carved a path for themselves in the legal industry and beyond. Meet Michelle Banks.
San Francisco Bay Area
UCLA Law School, J.D., 1988
Michelle Banks took a huge leap early in her career when she accepted an assignment in Tokyo as the only woman lawyer in a company’s legal department. From there to the legal department of an NBA team and then on to a global clothing brand, Michelle has experience in a variety of roles. She says it’s all about trusting yourself and taking advantage of opportunities. Now she is a senior advisor and executive coach at BarkerGilmore, where she specializes in executive leadership coaching for women general counsel. Below, we talk with Michelle about her path to success.
How did you get started in the legal profession?
Michelle Banks: I was inspired to become a lawyer after interviewing my next-door neighbor, a practicing lawyer, for an elementary school assignment about potential careers.
How did you go about finding the opportunities that helped grow your career?
MB: One thing I never lacked was the courage to try new things and trust in my ability to succeed at whatever I choose to do. I had the confidence to take risks in my education and later in my professional career because I had substantial support from my family and other people. But I never really looked at it as taking risks; rather, I was embracing exciting opportunities. Beginning when I was a third-year law firm associate, I started taking career risks. Each time, I lacked some experience, but I jumped all in anyway. All the risks I have taken in my career have broadened my experience and my perspective, and in some way contributed to my becoming a senior corporate legal executive.
How did you find your way to your current position?
MB: While in corporate law practice, closing the deal and pleasing people energized me. After retiring from serving as general counsel for 10 years, I decided to follow my passion, which has been to help more women reach the top of the corporate world. And, while for many years it was something I did in addition to my primary job, now it is my job and I love it. I was approached by BarkerGilmore and asked to help expand its service offerings from solely in-house legal and compliance recruiting to include advising legal and compliance leaders. I jumped at the opportunity to become focused on helping legal leaders achieve their professional development goals. In my coaching, I typically support newer general counsel and those who are going through other transitions — for example, going global or public, or changing industries.
How do you define success?
MB: Today, I am a mother, spouse, daughter, executive coach to general counsel, and an advocate for women lawyers. In both my professional and pro bono work, I enjoy helping others achieve their career goals. As Gap founder Don Fisher famously stated: “Do what you love.” It took me 53 years to get there, but now I truly do. In both my business and my nonprofit board service, I have the opportunity to support a diverse set of corporate lawyers on a daily basis. I love helping people — especially underrepresented lawyers. When I joined BarkerGilmore to help start a general counsel coaching business, I knew immediately it would be for me. And it is. I know now that this is my life’s purpose.
What advice do you have for women lawyers or law students?
MB: Have the courage to follow your own path and say yes to opportunities that present themselves. You never know where those opportunities will take you. Don’t be afraid to go for the things you may not necessarily feel you are fully qualified to do — it isn’t always about qualifications, it’s about hard work and determination. Adopt a growth mindset — the belief that you are not just what you are born with and that anything can be learned through continuous education, effort and experience. I believe that one of the most important aspects of growth mindset is learning from our mistakes. I make my fair share of mistakes. They make me more resilient and a better leader.
More Q&As in Our Women in Law Series:
“Q&A With Heather Stevenson: A Less Traditional Path”
“Q&A With Lauren A. Tetenbaum: Reflections of Pride”
Inspiring Stories From Women in Law
Read more about Michelle and 22 other inspiring stories from accomplished women lawyers in Women in Law: Discovering the True Meaning of Success available on Amazon.
Proceeds go to Ms. JD, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the success of women in law school and the legal profession.