Rising Stars 2015

MCCA’s Annual List of Rising Stars proves that the profession has upcoming talent who may or may not be of a certain age group or practice law as a second career, but they all give back. Their backgrounds are as diverse as their practice areas, but what these Rising Stars have in common is their love of law, their diligence, and pursuit of excellence, while possessing a compassion for those in need and a strong desire to give back to others. They are dedicated to their profession, but have also learned the art of balancing work with a life that includes being expert speakers, authors, volunteers and leaders in their communities.

Though they are different ages and at varying stages in their careers, they share a common goal to pursue justice in its various forms. The nomination pool of talented Rising Stars was great, but the Minority Corporate Counsel Association narrowed the field down to 15 stellar attorneys whose accomplishments and dedication to the field and to their community place them among those “attorneys to watch” in the legal profession.
We salute the MCCA Rising Stars!

By Dianne Hayes

Alisha Cieslak

Alisha Cieslak

General Counsel
Gordon Food Service

“Bring your whole self to work; don’t be afraid to have a voice and an opinion, but be smart enough to know that not everyone always wants to hear it.”

She is a go getter who has always known exactly where she wanted to be and was prepared to work hard to get there. Alisha Cieslak began her law career at age 17 as a file clerk in a complex civil litigation law firm. She has continued to hone her craft through her work as director of legal affairs, North America for Benteler, which employs 30,000 people globally and has business units in automotive, steel/tube and distribution. She was the company’s first American lawyer, and was tasked with helping to form the first regional legal department outside of Western Europe to support Benteler’s $2 billion North American operations. She has also worked in private practice in Oakland County, Michigan. “I knew at 14 years old what I wanted to do,” Cieslak said. “While no one else in my family is an attorney, my family was not surprised at the path I chose because of a tenacity I developed at an early age.”

At age 30, Cieslak is general counsel for Gordon Food Service, a multibillion dollar food service distribution company. She was brought to Gordon to develop an in-house legal department and bring structure to the way the company engages external law firms. Cieslak is responsible for overseeing all legal aspects of the business for all locations and business units. Her team, the Legal Service Center, enables company strategy while also proactively mitigating and managing risk.

She is one of three women who sit on the North American Senior Leadership Team. She is a proponent for diversity and inclusion inside the company and throughout the extended legal service provider network serving Gordon Food Service. Cieslak is a member of the American Bar Association, Food and Drug Law Section; the State Bar of Michigan, Business and International Law Sections; and the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan. She has served as a panelist at the Women Lawyer’s Association Annual Meeting, and authored an article for the International Law Section’s e-magazine in 2013. In 2014, she was named one of Detroit’s Top Corporate Counsel by DBusiness Magazine. “Gordon Food Service is a company with a unique culture, grounded in its cornerstone values,” Cieslak said. “That culture closely aligns with my personal beliefs; stay hungry, be humble, and practice gratitude.”

Ian Clement

Ian Clement

Senior Associate
Wong Fleming


Find those things in life whether at work or outside that leave you inspired and fulfilled.

He has a nose for flushing out the truth and instinctive skills that work to the advantage of Wong Fleming’s Corporate Asset Recovery Group. Before becoming an attorney, Ian Clement was an undercover narcotics officer with the United States Army Criminal Investigation Division. He later worked as a deputy attorney general with the Casino Prosecutions Bureaus in Atlantic City, where he prosecuted financial crimes and gambling offenses. Clement is now a senior associate at Wong Fleming, where he manages a team of attorneys and paralegals representing several of the firm’s Fortune 500 clients in complex litigation. His team’s work includes representing a regional bank regarding corporate asset recovery of more than $29 million in defaulted commercial loans; litigation matters including fraudulent transfer complaints, asset investigations, contract disputes, deficiency and replevin actions.

“My work is primarily corporate asset recovery,” he said. “We help banks recover aircraft, automotive floor plans and large pieces of equipment. It brings me full circle to a lot of the criminal work I used to do. I have to do a lot of detective work to find out where the money is, if there is money to be recovered.” He has also prepared plaintiff civil rights cases for trial involving racial and religious discrimination, violations of the ADA, First Amendment political affiliation discrimination, hostile work and school environments and bullying.

A strategist with more than 15 years of litigation experience, Clement credits Dan Fleming and Linda Wong for serving as positive mentors. He is associate editor for Litigation News, a publication of the American Bar Association, Section of Litigation. Clement is published monthly online and quarterly in ABA’s publication on topics ranging from attorney ethics to civil procedure techniques. He has also developed a CLE seminar titled Handling the Police Liability Claim, addressing topics such as theories of liability and immunity, state versus federal jurisdiction, and filing a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. When he isn’t working, he mentors African-American boys in the Philadelphia area as a youth basketball and baseball coach.

Andrew Diaz-Matos

Andrew Diaz-Matos

VP, Assistant GC Dir., Enterprise Transactions Law
The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc.


“Focus on developing yourself and the people you work with so that everyone understands and is able to perform at a high level.”

His love of “the deal,” has served as a major asset to The Hartford Financial Services Group. Andrew Diaz-Matos joined The Hartford in 2006 from IBM, where he was the lead lawyer for the mid-range mainframes business. Currently, he is vice president, assistant general counsel and director of enterprise transactions law, where he leads a team responsible for overall legal support of The Hartford’s commercial and strategic transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, sourcing, real estate and technology. He played a significant role in the company’s strategic transactions in 2012, which were responsible for putting the company on a successful trajectory. Some of the recent transactions he and his team handled in 2014 include divesting the international variable annuity business to Berkshire Hathaway (UK) and Orix (Japan), negotiating a six year, $500 million cloud-based IT infrastructure outsourcing with IBM; and acquiring a new property & casualty insurance policy management system.

He is also known for his innovation in his team’s day to day work. He has spearheaded an overhaul of the library of template forms used in the procurement organization, developed training materials for use by negotiators, created office hours to train staff on which contracts to use and which provisions can be negotiated without escalation to lawyers, and has created an RFP process for soliciting alternative fee arrangements with outside counsel—which has led to reduced and more certain costs. He is keenly focused on his team’s professional development, an investment for which they showed their appreciation by nominating him for the Law Department Award of Excellence for Managers, which he won this year.

“I have had such tremendous support from my team and I try to reciprocate by building their skills and expertise,” said Diaz-Matos. “I spend a lot of time on development. The company reaps the rewards when people are engaged in cross training and sharing best practices.” He is a member of the board of directors of the Hartford Public Library and a veteran of the U.S. Army. He gives back through the through the Pro Bono Partnership which provides free business and transactional legal services to nonprofits.

Nicole Duclos

Nicole Duclos

Covington & Burling LLP


“With the profession of law being as demanding as it is, find something you are passionate about. If you are going to spend a lot of time at the office, find something you love.”

Nicole Duclos has proven that she knows what she wants and has the work ethic to achieve it. Beginning her study of law at the age of 16 in Chile, she came to Harvard to get an LL.M. and an S.J.D. in international law. After completing her LL.M. she put her S.J.D. on hold to join a law firm as a foreign associate doing arbitration work. “I really wanted to do more international work,” Duclos said. “I thought that having another degree would open new horizons. But after doing arbitration work, I never went back to get the S.J.D.”

Duclos is a partner in Covington’s New York office and draws on her Latin American background and Spanish and Portuguese language skills to lead a team of multi-cultural and multi-lingual arbitration attorneys at the firm. She focuses her practice on international commercial and investment arbitration, with emphasis on Latin America, where she has represented clients in more than a dozen Latin American jurisdictions. She is currently representing Latin American, European, Asian and U.S. clients in major international arbitrations involving projects such as copper and gold mines, biomass-to-ethanol plants, electricity generation and transmission, and oil and gas exploration. Duclos has published on international arbitration and is a regular speaker on commercial and investment treaty arbitration. “Most of my clients are in Latin America,” she said. “What I like about this work is that I am always learning about new industries and, legal systems. It’s a challenging, yet rewarding experience.”

She has served on the Programs and Courses Committee of the Latin American Arbitration Association and the Arbitration Committee of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution , and is a volunteer arbitrator for the Small Claims Court in the Bronx. She has also taught international arbitration courses in several graduate programs in South America. Recognized for her handling of cases, she has received honors from the Legal 500 U.S. and Latin America, Chambers U.S. and Latin America and Latinvex, and is noted for her international arbitration work in “Chambers Guide to World’s Best Lawyers 2012.” “It takes hard work, perseverance and a bit of luck,” Duclos said. “I am a woman who came to the U.S. alone to pursue a career in international law. A school teacher once told me that sometimes opportunities come along and you have to be willing to take risks to take advantage of them. I am pleased I did.”

Rudy Figueroa

Rudy Figueroa

VP Admin, Legal & HR General Counsel and Secretary
Mitsui Rail Capital LLCP


Build, cultivate and leverage relationships. Find ways to help people out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find a mutually beneficial exchange.”

Rudy Figueroa wears multiple hats at Mitsui Rail Capital, LLC. He is vice president of administration, human resources and legal, as well as general counsel and corporate secretary. He juggles time zones with the global conglomerate, where he manages rail-related assets and consulting. He manages operational infrastructure in North America and consulting/project management in Europe, Asia and South America. “We provide rail cars to a lot of big product manufacturers and shippers,” he said. “We need to move a lot of product at a time.” Figueroa previously worked as an attorney at Chuhak & Tecson, P.C., practicing in mergers and acquisitions, aviation, equipment finance and leasing, corporate and commercial transactions, insurance coverage and commercial litigation. He represented numerous companies (public and private), high-net worth individuals and organizations.

In addition, he was an attorney at Daley & Mohan, P.C., (a firm spun off from Ross & Hardies prior to the later merger with McGuire Woods), where he practiced mergers and acquisitions, private placements and fund formation, employment matters, complex mechanics lien litigation and FELA Defense for Class 1 Railroads. “Take your career and professional development in your own hands,” Figueroa said. “I am the son of immigrants that taught me to take control of your own destiny. You have to take a chance on opportunities even if you are not sure.” In the midst of his work challenges, he is committed to giving back to others. Figueroa has worked over the past three years to spearhead the establishment of the National Filipino American Lawyers Association. He has also led the organization’s advocacy efforts related to obtaining temporary protected status for Filipino refugees in the U.S. in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, immigration reform and other public policy efforts.

He also continues to lead efforts to make Filipino-American attorneys more visible in their own organizations as well, as well encouraging them to find good mentors. “I felt that I needed to give back,” Figueroa said. “One of the values of this profession is being an advocate. From the perspective of old world Asian countries, being vocal meant being disrespectful, but being vocal in the U.S. is different. We are working to help Filipino-American lawyers overcome professional barriers. We want to help them to become partner, GC or judge and make even greater inroads.”

Jamil French

Jamil French

Director and Senior Counsel
Pershing Advisor Solutions LLC, a BNY Mellon company


“You can’t just look at what’s in front of you; you must have a three-dimensional view of what’s going on. It’s important to understand all of the connections.” 

Jamil French’s drive to succeed came by watching his father work and go to law school at night to achieve his goals. But the biggest lessons he learned were from his mentors who taught him to dig deeper and to look for connections. “I try to keep that in mind,” French said. “Everything is everything. It’s a lawyer’s job to understand all of the connections. When you do that you gain a broader understanding of the client and the law.” French provides advice to more than 200 employees at Pershing Advisor Solutions, a broker-dealer focused on advisor custody services, where he’s contributed to a significant growth in new assets. He also covers Pershing’s multi-billion dollar mutual fund platform. “This kind of work keeps you on your toes,” he said. “It drives me to be my best. I like the idea that the work I’m doing in some small way is helping the financial markets to run. At the end of the day, I’m helping someone to preserve a legacy.”

He has nearly 15 years of experience in investment management and securities regulation, beginning his career as an Associate in the investment management groups at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP and Seward & Kissel LLP, both in New York City. Prior to his current role, French covered BNY Mellon’s Asset Servicing division representing the bank in its trust and custodial relationships with asset managers. He has worked and consulted for a number of investment advisors including Sandell Asset Management, Glenview Asset Management and CBRE Real Estate Investment Management. He has also served as chief of staff to an executive at Credit Suisse in charge of global Talent, Branding & Communications.

French is active throughout the industry, where he has played a role in joining other advisor custodians to offer the Securities and Exchange Commission an industry perspective on its custody rules, and he’s educating Pershing employees about game-changing trends in the financial advisor marketplace. He was awarded the 2013 Pershing Leadership Award for helping to bring “electronic signature” capability to clients. He is an active member of his company’s LGBT employee resource group and enjoys volunteering for causes of importance to the Black and LGBT communities at the national and local levels. He volunteers with a groundbreaking initiative providing LGBT people with an understanding of how federal tax law impacts their relationships. He serves on BNY Mellon Legal Department’s Diversity and Inclusion Council developing initiatives to attract, retain, train and promote diverse legal talent. He represents BNY Mellon on the Council of Urban Professionals. The National LGBT Bar Association named him one of 2014’s “40 Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40.”

Doris Gilliam

Doris Gilliam

Senior Attorney


“Continue to research new issues and educate yourself. Never get away from the law clerk experience.”

Doris Gilliam’s love of law and her strong desire to help others were perfectly matched with the needs and requirements of AARP, where she began as a law clerk to Leslie Nettleford and advanced to her current role of senior attorney at their headquarters in Washington, DC. AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a membership of nearly 38 million. Gilliam is the lead attorney for the state group of six, who provide legal support to AARP field offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Senior management has recognized her leadership in guiding the team, which handles issues ranging from intellectual property to membership. Gilliam manages the trademark portfolio, trademark prosecution, clearance and licensing, in addition to supporting several other departments. “For a non-profit, there is a huge workload, including providing counsel to AARP and its affiliates,” Gilliam said. “There are a lot of complex issues to be evaluated all the time. It’s very exciting.” “Always be willing to learn from other people. In a legal department, the best solutions typically come from a team effort. Unfortunately, sometimes in law a competitive atmosphere can be an impediment to getting the work done well. Sometimes we forget that we really need our colleagues. I’m blessed to work with wonderful people including General Counsel Cindy Lewin, who encourages me to be innovative. No matter what the issue is, I like to focus on customer service, serving my clients well, and doing it with a great attitude and really listening.”

Her department won the 2014 WMACCA In-House Innovators Award recognizing a new review approach that Gilliam put in place with the support of several colleagues, including Larry Cohen, Dan Koslofsky, David Morales and Charlene Wilson, which was implemented to address high review volumes. She is credited with creating more than 20 new policies, guidelines and processes that have been successfully implemented. “I’ve always liked helping people,” Gilliam said. “Law seemed like a good place to use that desire. I work with an amazing group of clients who serve the needs of the 50 plus.” When she isn’t working at AARP, she can be found giving back to the community including pro bono work at her church, where she serves as its general counsel, and is extremely involved in her children’s schools. Gilliam and her husband Darryl have two children. Her younger sister is also an IP attorney at Google.

Nicky Jatana

Nicky Jatana

Jackson Lewis PC


“First and foremost, be yourself. Provide the best service and counsel that you can to clients.”

A shareholder in the Los Angeles office of Jackson Lewis P.C., Nicky Jatana co-leads the firm’s privacy, e-communication and data security practice group. Jatana also focuses on complex employment litigation, advising employers regarding daily workplace and privacy issues. She is a certified information privacy professional with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Jatana has litigated numerous wage and hour class and multi-plaintiff actions and has significant trial experience. As part of both her litigation and counseling practice, Jatana regularly advises employers on privacy, social media and data security issues and their impact on business and the workplace. She is a regular speaker on these topics.

Her background includes litigation involving wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, breach of contract, systemic, wage and hour, preventive advice and training and other labor and employment and privacy-related matters. “What attracted me to law was the analysis that is required,” she said. “Not everything is black and white. More often than not, you are dealing with issues somewhere in the middle. I like problem solving.” She is a member of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the State Bar of California and a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, the South Asian Bar Association and the National South Asian Bar Association. She has co-authored articles on topics ranging from “The Impact of Employees Left to Their Own Devices: Top Ten BYOD Considerations,” Association of Corporate Counsel online legal esources; to “Advising Employers on the Use of Social Media in the Workplace” Los Angeles Lawyer Magazine.

Jatana also has a robust history of mentoring and sponsoring women inside and outside her firm. She is extremely active in the Women, Influence & Power in the Law (WIPL) network, including presenting on a panel during the 2014 WIPL conference discussing the importance of leadership for women in the law. She was honored in 2012 with the “Sharing the Power Award” at the Transformational Leadership Awards Western Conference presented by InsideCounsel magazine. She also serves as the firm’s partner liaison to the Association of Corporate Counsel’s national employment & labor law committee. She has also been recognized as a 2007 Southern California Super Lawyer Rising Star; and has since been recognized as a Southern California Super Lawyer in 2010 through 2014. She has served as litigation committee chair in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 on the Litigation Committee for the executive board of the South Asian Bar Association of Southern California.

Stephen Lessard

Stephen Lessard

Senior Associate
Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP


“If you really love what you do, you will do it well. I’m fortunate to have found two careers, the Navy and now the law, that I love.”

Stephen Lessard has proven that it’s never too late to launch a second career. After serving 20 years in the U.S. Navy, Lessard followed an almost lost dream of becoming a lawyer. A self-described military brat, with his father serving as a career officer in the U.S. Air Force. Lessard was commissioned in the Navy and enjoyed his time as a surface warfare officer.
“I always planned to go to law school,” Lessard said. “I used to watch Perry Mason as a kid. When I ended my Navy career I realized a law career was ever going to happen, 20 years in the Navy seemed like the right point to do it.” Lessard naturally gravitated to tax law and honed his skills at Orrick, where he advises on complex tax issues and represents clients before the IRS and the U.S. Tax Court. He has published a number of articles and recently co-authored a Lexis practice guide on the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act that will be used by lawyers in the U.S. and UK.

His practice is focused on the taxation of debt and equity offerings, cross-border transactions, tax controversy, and municipal finance. He is also experienced in counseling nonprofit organizations on federal tax law and corporate governance. He plays a key role in Orrick’s diversity and inclusion program, serving in leadership of the firm’s New York diversity committee and LGBT and Veterans affinity groups. He has been instrumental in planning a veteran legal career fair to be held in Washington, DC this May, which will include leading law firms and corporate law departments.

He currently serves as treasurer of the New York County Lawyers’ Association and a delegate to the New York State Bar Association House of Delegates. Lessard is dedicated to his pro bono activities, particularly in the service to low-income taxpayers and veterans. He founded and currently oversees pro bono programs in New York City that assist unrepresented taxpayers appearing at calendar sessions before the U.S. Tax Court (the first program of its kind in New York) and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder/military sexual trauma to upgrade the characterization of their military discharges so they can pursue veterans benefits. Additionally, he drafted legal arguments used in obtaining recent, groundbreaking decisions permitting transgender Army and Navy veterans to change the name on their military discharge certificates to conform to their gender. “Orrick is committed to providing pro bono opportunities,” Lessard said. “I’m fortunate to be able to be involved with pro bono including helping veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Tamika S. Mayes

Tamika S. Mayes

Senior Tax Attorney
General Motors Company


“The most difficult times or failures might be the most transformational. Seek to find the lesson in them – it will be worth gold.”

Through her experience as a certified public accountant at Ernst and Young, an attorney at top Chicago and New York law firms, and now in-house tax counsel for General Motors Company, Tamika S. Mayes has developed a practical, entrepreneurial, client-centric approach to problem solving and team work. Mayes is a senior tax attorney in the tax staff of General Motors, where she is responsible for global transfer pricing matters. Prior to this assignment, she managed the U.S. federal, state, and local tax issues and served as tax counsel to OnStar and General Motors Global Connect Consumer unit. “Each day, I know what I am doing matters in my community and in the world,” Mayes said. “Working at one of the world’s largest global automotive companies constantly provides innovative products, projects and issues to which I can add a unique valuable perspective.” Her more than 15 years of accounting and tax experience includes working in the areas of audit, federal income tax, state and local taxation matters, tax planning and controversy.

“My most recent role in transfer pricing has surprisingly been one of the most fulfilling. It is a multidisciplinary team (of economists, tax practitioners, and lawyers among others) all of whom are extremely passionate about the company and about providing the best service at all times. In that role, daily I must draw on all my legal and accounting knowledge and professional experience to deliver quick responsive advice on various global business and legal challenges.”

Mayes has co-authored “Separation Anxiety” (bifurcation of financial instruments) published in Practicing Law Institute and received special recognition for the contribution in the capital assets tax management portfolio published in Bloomberg BNA. She received the Rising Star Award for the 2014 Crain’s General and In-house Counsel Awards, and the Cornerstone Award from Lawyers Alliance for New York, which recognized her pro bono legal services to NYC nonprofits. Mayes serves on the board of several organizations and tax committees; and remains an active volunteer with various New York and Michigan nonprofit organizations and small business initiatives. Her passion is the personal and professional development of girls and women and entrepreneurship. She is frequently requested to speak at various career development and youth leadership events. She is a mentor in Women of Tomorrow Mentor and Scholarship Program, where she mentors 20 high school students from Osborn Academy of Math Science and Technology, where she exposes young ladies to various career options in STEM-related careers in automotive and careers in law. “I view mentoring as much of an opportunity to learn as it is to share. The insight and lessons I have learned have been invaluable.”

Alex Ponce de Leon

Alex Ponce de Leon

Google Inc.


“As a lawyer, assume nothing. People get in trouble when they assume.”

Working at two of the most desirable tech firms has been extremely satisfying for Alex Ponce de Leon. Since 2014, he has served as counsel for Google Inc., where he develops and implements innovative discovery strategies for a broad cross section of litigation matters. His practice includes patent litigation, complex commercial litigation, trade secrets litigation, contract disputes, internal investigations and employment matters. In addition to managing his own caseload, he also facilitates the implementation of new discovery policies and procedures designed to reduce costs and mitigate legal risk across the company. Prior to joining Google, he was a senior litigation counsel at the Intel Corporation for four years, where he focused primarily on discovery and general litigation matters. “You can win or lose a case in discovery,” he said. “It’s a fascinating part of the law. It’s also why it’s the most expensive part of litigation because you have to put in so many hours.”

Ponce de Leon is credited with going above and beyond what is expected. He is a national leader on e-discovery and diversity. At Intel, he developed and began implementation of a legal vendor diversity pledge to encourage firms and legal vendors to improve diversity. He conceived the idea, drafted the initial pledge, and helped lobby for its approval at Intel. He is also the national co-chair of the E-Discovery Institute’s Diversity Council. In that role, he is working on a similar legal diversity pledge to help improve diversity among law firms and vendors. He became a catalyst for diversity nationally. When Intel acquired McAfee, Ponce de Leon managed a challenging assimilation of the McAfee litigation discovery group. He managed the integration and reduced the legal risk.

He has been a national advocate and frequent speaker on the use of innovative e-discovery techniques from robust claw-backs to predictive coding. He is also a sought-after speaker on the topic of e-discovery law. He has been a part of the national organizing committee for the MCCA Annual CLE Expo since 2012. He recently served in the MCCA scholarship selection committee for the 2015 LMJ Scholarship. Ponce de Leon spent six months working with the Intel Education Service Corps. This volunteer opportunity culminated in a two-week teaching deployment at an orphanage and early education center in Kenya. He is a member of the California Bar Association’s Council on Access and Fairness, and was recently awarded the 2014 Young Hispanic Corporate Achiever Award.

Schuyler A. Smith

Schuyler A. Smith

Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel, LLP


“Embrace and be confident about what is authentic about you. Find the right balance between serious work and personal joys.”

Hailing from the hills of Central Jamaica, Schuyler Smith has always envisioned a career in advocacy. As a litigation associate in the Insurance Practice Group at Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel, LLP, her goals are being realized. “I love the practice of law because it is never boring and is always evolving, and constantly challenging,” Smith said. “I love the feeling of accomplishment I get from helping to zealously advocate for my clients—win or lose.”

Based in the firm’s Miami office, Smith advises clients on various complex insurance matters in Florida and the Caribbean, specifically the U.S. Virgin Islands. She represents hotels, physicians and medical providers, major cruise lines, product manufacturers and distributors, international businesses, transportation companies, underwriters, including major marine domestic and international underwriters in state and federal court in both jurisdictions. Smith began her legal career as a trial attorney for the State of Florida Department of Children and Families, where she prosecuted parents who abused, abandoned or neglected their children, and litigated dependency and termination of parental rights cases. Subsequently, Smith worked at a large Florida defense firm where she handled complex business and business tort matters, community association litigation, professional liability litigation and labor and employment litigation.

“One of the keys to success is to surround yourself with the best people in the world doing what you do,” Smith said. When she is not working, she is actively involved in legal and community organizations. Smith has served as elected Governor for the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division for the 11th Judicial Circuit since 2011, and as elected Director for the Dade County Bar Association, Young Lawyers Section. She was selected as one of approximately 15 applicants from across the country for the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Diversity Scholar in 2012. She also served as Vice Chair of the Women in the Profession Committee for the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division in 2013. In addition, she was the youngest elected president of the Caribbean Bar Association at the age of 26. She also volunteers as Guardian Ad Litem for children victimized by domestic violence. “I glean tremendous joy from my participation in organizations which give me a sense of purpose.”

David J. Tsai

David J. Tsai

Perkins Coie LLP


“You have to treat people the way you want to be treated. You can’t just make sure you make everyone happy, you have to be happy as well.”

After working late nights in a lab on weekends studying neuroscience and gene therapy, David Tsai realized he wasn’t being true to his calling. He has always had a passion for law, civil rights and finding ways to help ethnic minorities and LGBT individuals. “When I went to law school, my dean looked at all of my technical background and asked if I had ever considered patent work.” Tsai holds a degree from Harvard in biochemical sciences, a Master of Science in biological sciences from Stanford and a law degree from Santa Clara University.

Today, he is a partner at Perkins Coie in the firm’s litigation practice focusing on trade secret and patent litigation involving internet, software, semiconductors, set-top boxes, smartphones, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), pharmaceuticals, biotechnologies and medical devices. His legal experience also includes successfully second chairing a trade secrets arbitration case involving silicon technology, litigating in the areas of copyrights and trademarks preparing and prosecuting U.S. electrical engineering patent applications, drafting patentability freedom-to-operate and non-infringement opinions, and patent interference in the area of biotechnology.
He has written and lectured on internet software applications, Hatch-Waxman/Abbreviated New Drug Application (ANDA) litigationand stem cell gene therapy. He is the immediate past president of the Silicon Valley Intellectual Property Law Association. Prior to starting his legal career, Tsai worked in product management with internet/software startups. He is committed to pro bono work, and has represented pro bono clients at settlement conferences through the Northern District Court Assisted Settlement Conference Program. He has also worked on civil rights and immigration pro bono matters with the Asian Law Caucus and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, including successfully representing an HIV+ transgender Mexican client in immigration court.

Tsai led the filing of five amicus briefs related to the California same-sex marriage cases for which more than 100 organizations signed. He has served on the boards of 10 organizations, including the Asian American Bar Association and Bar Association of San Francisco and chaired the Minority Bar Coalition (and the ABA Section of Litigation’s LGBT Litigators Committee. He created joint scholarships with numerous minority bar organizations providing tens of thousands of dollars to minority law students. He also co-chairs Perkins Cole’s API Affinity Group. His accolades include being recognized as a top 50 California Lawyer on the Fast Track by The Recorder, Super Lawyer in Intellectual Property Litigation (2013 and 2014), Best Lawyer Under 40 by the National LGBT Bar, Best Lawyer Under 40 by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

Joycelynn Watkins-Asiyanbi

Joycelynn Watkins-Asiyanbi

Assistant General Counsel, Global Supply Chain and International Businesses
W. W. Grainger, Inc.


“Give a person a fish they will eat for a day, teach them to fish and they will eat for a lifetime.”

An MBA, attorney and chemical engineer Joycelynn “Lynn” Watkins-Asiyanbi brings the benefits of her background to her role in Global Supply Chain and International Business at W.W. Grainger, where she is assistant general counsel. A catalyst for change at Grainger, Watkins-Asiyanbi supports Global Supply Chain including Transportation (International and Domestic); Grainger Global Sourcing; Global Trade Compliance; Product Management; Environmental, Health and Safety; Corporate Social Responsibility and Fabory North America (a Grainger subsidiary). “In engineering there is a definite right and wrong,” she said. “In law, there are gray areas and flexibility. There is the ability to be creative.” Watkins-Asiyanbi is the primary legal advisor for the global supply chain and advises the international business units in various areas, including procurement, corporate social responsibility, and transportation logistics.

In addition to her normal legal duties, she has worked to help make the legal department more efficient, deliver better customer service and save money. Her background as a chemical engineer and years as an attorney (both inside and outside) have helped her to analyze processes and identify areas for improvement using technology. She has helped to revamp the department’s intranet site to be more user friendly. One of her most significant contributions includes leading a large project to evaluate outside counsel fees with the best providers at the most favorable rates. When completed, it is projected to save Grainger 15 percent annually on its outside counsel spend.

Coming from a family that was heavily involved in community service, she has a strong commitment to giving back. She has been a part of raising money and being a mentor for a scholarships program for high school students in Chicago for Links Unlimited Scholars. Her community involvement includes serving as a member of the Auxiliary Board for the Shedd Aquarium. She is an active board member of Women Employed, and active member of Jack and Jill of America (Chicago Chapter). In addition, she volunteers with the Girls Scouts of Greater Chicago & Northwest Indiana. She is also a recruitment committee member for the only all-girls public high school in Chicago. “My parents always gave back. They instilled the importance of an education. We stand on the shoulders and backs of others who have paved the way for a lot of what we have.”

Michael W. Weaver

Michael W. Weaver

McDermott Will & Emery LLP


“Don’t take yourself too seriously. Work hard, get the job done and then have some fun.”

A true people person, Michael Weaver grew up learning about hospitality in his family’s bed and breakfast at the base of a ski mountain in Vermont. He began his career in higher education working in undergraduate admissions and residential life. He pursued a law degree assuming that he would return to higher education, but after a clerkship he began as an associate in the trial department of McDermott Will & Emery and never left. Weaver is now a partner based in McDermott’s Chicago office, where he focuses his practice on complex civil litigation, trust and family business controversies and product liability defense. He has appeared in and represented clients in both federal and state courts across the country as well as before arbitration tribunals. His practice represents a diverse range of clients in cases ranging from toxic torts to estate litigation. Weaver is admitted to practice in Illinois and American Samoa—–one of the few mainland attorneys licensed to practice there. He is the author of “The Territory Federal Jurisdiction Forgot: The Question of Greater Federal Jurisdiction in American Samoa,” published in 2008.

Active at the firm, Weaver is the Chicago hiring partner and coordinates the recruitment of McDermott’s summer associates and helps to manage the 1L Diversity Fellowship Program. He is also co-chair of the Chicago office’s pro bono committee. He serves as the Partner-in-Charge for LGBT Diversity & Inclusion, where he promotes and develops supportive LGBT policies and programs which allows McDermott to maintain its perfect score on the HRC Corporate Equality Index for the past nine years. He also organizes McDermott’s LGBT Workplace Awareness Program, which promotes LGBT understanding through film and discussion. “I want to mentor others and make sure diverse attorneys feel welcome,” Weaver said. “I want LGBT attorneys to feel comfortable and to know that McDermott recognizes their work.”

As an associate, Weaver developed a legal clinic focused on legal issues facing LGBT youth and organized McDermott’s involvement in a legal clinic for LGBT individuals with the Center on Halsted—the largest LGBTQ community center in the Midwest. Weaver also serves on the boards of Equality Illinois PAC and the Family Defense Center, which helps families involved in neglect and abuse cases. Every year since 2011, Weaver has been selected as an Illinois Rising Star by Super Lawyers magazine.

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