Ashley grew up in Richmond, Va with her parents and younger sister Brittney. From our conversation it became evident that Ashley is a product of great parenting. Both parents went to college and were first generation college students. She affirmed “They were always very supportive. Always pushing my sister and I. They would never let us doubt our ability to do something, no matter what.” When Ashley was in the 2nd grade she tested into a gifted program that really shaped her as an adolescent. Some things from our childhood are just pivotal and just stick with us forever. Drive, #Focus, and Achievement have stuck to Ashley like Velcro straps.
Ashley and I met up at the law offices of Jones Day in Washington, DC. It was a weekend, but Ashley had no problem getting us cleared through weekend security. For as long as I’ve known Ashley, she’s always been a high achiever. She even graduated Hampton a year early which allowed her to earn an MBA in four years. What I admire most about Ashley is that despite her being exceptionally gifted, she is buoyant and down to earth. Probably even too modest at times. We chatted about blogs and she shared with me a hidden interest in creating a Food & Travel blog one day. She knows her stuff and possess the gumption to do it. Ashley’s drive has put her on the laborious road to success as a young female minority attorney. I think there is much inspiration to be found in this week’s #ShineHard conversation.
What is your passion and when did you know?
Ashley: You know, people always ask me “Are you like really passionate about the law?” and I’m like “uhhh.” Actually, I would really say my passion is just being successful and doing whatever gets me to that point. I see a way for the law to make me successful, so I’m passionate about doing whatever I can to get there. Every day just trying to get to the next level. To obtain the lifestyle that I want, and at the end of the day, just trying to make a name for myself.
Johnny: As an extraordinary student, I’m sure you were offered scholarships.
What made you choose Hampton University?
Ashley: I grew up in an urban area, all black kids. When I got into that program in elementary school, I got moved into a different class. At first I was the only black person. Separate lunches from all of my friends. And you know how with kids “She’s a nerd, she’s stuck up, she thinks shes better” and I’m just in the class. I didn’t know what was going on *chuckles*. So I had to get all new friends. I remember the OJ Simpson trial was going on, all the kids saying “he’s guilty, he’s guilty” and i’m like “well my parents at home say he’s not..? uhh I don’t know.” It was an interesting time where I was trying to find myself and all my friends changed. My grade school experience is a big reason why I wanted to go to an HBCU. Hampton is the only school I applied to!
Who did you look up to as a kid? Mentors?
Ashley: Well, before anything, I always looked up to my parents. As a kid and even now, whenever I have a question about something I go to them. Whatever they say I’m like “Yeah, they know what they’re talking about.” The person who first got me thinking about being an attorney is a friend of the family, Lawrence Cooper, who I just went to lunch with the other day. He’s from Richmond and lives in DC now too. He was one of the top attorneys for BET. I wanna say he was the General Counsel. I remember talking to him in high school and he was successful. I didn’t know he was attorney, it was me thinking,”Wow, This guy is successful.” I wanted to figure out what he did! That is when the seed was really planted. And also, Darryl Dennis. He went to Howard Law and worked in the Clinton Administration. We met through an Intern program I did before I really mentioned Law School. Now we talk about Law all the time. He suggests other things I can do and we talk about my next steps, etc.
What do you do here at Jones Day?
Ashley: I’ve been at Jones Day since October 2012. When I first got here I was in a group where I got to try different practices of the law and figure out what exactly I wanted to do. When I came here I thought I wanted to be a corporate lawyer and do merges, acquisitions, and transactional work. But I found out in DC they really don’t do that much of that. I thought I would end up in New York, but I ended up here because I really don’t want to live in New York. So when I got here I kinda explored to figure out what I like besides transactional work and I found Anti-Trust law. Which is like a segment of transactional work, meaning we don’t do the actual deal. We do the competition part of the deal. To explain; When two companies merge, the government will review the transaction if they think it will be a competition issue. If two big competitors merge, like Coke and Pepsi, the government might not let the deal go through because they can have a monopoly over the market and control prices. They want to keep it competitive so consumers can get fair prices.
What we do is; Whenever there is a transaction that the government is reviewing, we try to help our client get the deal through. It’s like consulting work. I do a lot of stuff on excel. I’m not the typical attorney. You’ll never see me in court arguing before a judge. The closest thing I might do is a deposition. Which is when I question a witness. Generally our work is more in-house council, negotiating stuff, and meeting with the government.
Tell me about your experience at Harvard Law School..?
Ashley: It was very different from Hampton. I’m very grateful that I had the HU experience, because all my classes at Harvard were between eighty and 100 students. At Hampton, if you missed class they would ask you where you were the next day. At Harvard they didn’t even notice if you came to class. I remember when I went to admin I felt like I was the only black person there. It was about 560 people in the class and about 60 African-American. When you get to law school as a first year, everybody is in a section of about 80 people and you take all your first year classes with just those people. It was a different experience. I learned a ton. Some people asked me, “Did you feel like you weren’t prepared because you went to Hampton?” and to that I say “No, it was fine. I actually felt like going to an HBCU gave me a certain confidence.” I feel like all of us in law school were learning the same things from the bottom-up. The stuff we learned you don’t learn until law school.
How did you feel when you Graduated Harvard? Distinguished?
Ashley: Well some people there; their parents went to Harvard, all their friends, it’s like their whole circle or legacy. But for me, it’s just me. So when I go back home I just feel like a regular person. When we graduated one of our professors said, “No matter how regular you try to be or how much you down play it, y’all are the elite in the country. It’s only a certain amount of people in this school. YOU are Thee Harvard Attorneys.”
What type of things inspire you to succeed?
Ashley: People who have a purpose and are certain that what they’re doing is right. The summer before I started law school I did this internship program for minority students and we all got to work at big firms. When I was there, my assigned mentor was a lady who was the only black female partner at the firm. When she walked into the room she just had a presence. She never second guessed herself and she knew what she was doing. I think sometimes when you’re the only woman or only minority you can kinda doubt yourself, thinking, “maybe they know something I don’t know” or “Maybe I’m not doing it right,” but everyone in the room would turn to her and ask “What do we do?” She was driven, confident and powerful. Those are the type of people you want to follow.
Whats been the biggest challenge in your career this far?
Ashley: First figuring out exactly what type of Law I wanted to do. I’ve been thinking about law school since high school. I’m the type of person that plans. I plan everything. “I’m gonna do this internship to go on my resume, then I’m going to meet this person…” Then the whole time I was in school I’m like “Oh I wanna be successful, I wanna be an attorney, I wanna work for a big firm.” So then once I got through all that, I had to figure out the details. “OK you’re at a big firm and you finished law school. What type of Law do you want to practice?” Figuring out the long term plan, the angle, that’s kinda hard for me. Because up to now I’ve had all these short term plans to get to here. Four years of undergrad, did my MBA, Study for the LSAT, then three years of law school. I did all that, but now I’m at a point where it’s like, “So what’s the plan now?” Right now the plan is to do the best that I can do here. But I think that was the biggest thing.
Johnny: Clearly it wasn’t an accident that you ended up at Harvard Law.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Ashley: Making it through the first year of Law School, because the first year for me was difficult. When you talk about doubting yourself?! That’s when I was like “This is Crazy! I have no idea what I’m doing.” It was just all new material. At Harvard, the way that they teach and test is different. It’s like come up with a creative idea, problem solving, it’s different. Also, going there and not always being the top of the class and not being the smartest; I think that’s hard for every student at Harvard. Because a lot of us were always the smartest and always got A’s, it’s kind of a shock to just see “pass” on a paper. I had never taken an exam and thought to myself “Did I fail the exam??” Never had this crossed my mind, but here it would cross my mind! I mean, I never did but it really challenged me. Just really made me doubt myself *chuckles*. But once I got over that hump, second and third year was OK. I started to become more like that female attorney I was talking about.
What did you learn from making it over that first year hump?
Ashley: I think that doubting yourself pushes you a little harder. It also told me that even if I’m in an unfamiliar environment, I still have intelligence that I can take to any group. It let me know that I can make it anywhere.
What frustrates you the most about today’s culture?
Ashley: The superficial stuff. I talk to my friends about relationships and dating, and we ponder “What’s different about our generation compared to our parents? How did they make everything work?” It’s like they stay in their jobs for thirty years, they stay in their marriage for thirty years+. In our generation, with instagram, it’s all about the instant gratification or “How many likes can I get?” Nothing is like let me go do this to do this. It’s let me go do this so I can get a picture for instagram to tell people that I did it. To me it’s just.. its’ not real. We miss the purpose of life. The purpose of going out and enjoying yourself. The purpose of building a relationship with somebody and putting in the work. I think we all get sucked into it sometimes, but that’s just the culture we’re in right now.
What would you say is the #1 factor behind your success?
Ashley: The number one factor behind my success is my drive to want to be successful. In the sense that, I put more pressure on myself than anyone else could ever put on me. If I don’t think that what I’m doing is good enough than I’m the one that’s pushing myself to do better. I’ve always set my own goals for myself. It’s never really been about what someone else would say, so my mom is like “Oh you did a good job!” I’m like “Noo I didn’t do a good job… until I get to whatever my goal is.” I think my parents planted that into my sister and I when we were kids. If we came home with a “B” they’d be like “Where’s the A+?” You know? That’s not good enough. So that mindset of being the best I can be and pushing myself to do better is what drives me.
What advice do you have for the aspiring Attorneys out there?
Ashley: There are so many different things I would tell them. I think the first thing is to figure out what type of attorney do you want to be. Think it through. Have a full plan. Even further than my plan. If I could go back I would say “What school do I want to go to and why?”, “Where is this going to put me financially?”, “When I come out what type of opportunities am I going to have?” Because the goal is to be a successful attorney and have financial freedom packaged into one. Certain things will change, but as much as you can, have a plan and find a mentor.
Johnny: Sound advice from a trusted attorney. I rest my case. Keep Shining Ash! Welcome to the @ShineHardFamily!