Chaka Patterson spent much
of his childhood surrounded by academics. He grew up in Evanston, Ill., with
Northwestern University in his backyard. After his mom completed her PhD in
History at the university, she was offered a position as a history professor.
So the family set down roots for good in the near-north Chicago suburb.
As a history professor,
Chaka’s mother educated her children about the most important aspects of
American history—most notably, the Civil Rights Movement. While acquiring
knowledge about this era of American history, Chaka grew a deep appreciation
for the Civil Rights leaders he now refers to as his heroes: Thurgood Marshall,
Charles Houston and William Hastie—all of whom were lawyers.
When considering his path
to a legal career, Chaka looked again to his heroes. He noticed that many followed
a similar path: Amherst College for undergrad, Harvard for law school. “I
wanted to follow in their footsteps, so that’s exactly what I did,” he
Chaka graduated from
Harvard Law in 1994 and set himself on a path that would ultimately lead him to
the DGC seat at Adtalem, a leading workforce solutions provider.
from the U.K. to the United States would be a tough transition for any middle
schooler. But Robert and Estelle Watt—West Indian immigrants living in London
with their daughter Verona—sought better opportunities than what London could
provide at the time for their pre-teen daughter. They saw that opportunity in
New York—so the family packed their bags and headed across the Atlantic.
down new roots in Brooklyn, Verona made an effort quickly to fit in. “My
neighborhood Crown Heights wasn’t as gentrified then as it is now, so I relied
on American TV to help me pick up the accent, so I didn’t stand out,” she says.
“Growing up in London and New York—the adversities I faced in those
environments—really shaped who I am today, and I loved having that
In middle school, D. Cameron Findlay got one of the most interesting assignments of his young life. His sixth grade teacher tasked her class with writing an autobiography. But the students had to write it from the future—looking back on their long lives and fruitful careers. Findlay didn’t hesitate when he scribed a few pages about his accomplished legal career, which included snagging a US senate seat, but only after successfully graduating from the revered Harvard Law School.
“I don’t know how I came up with it,” Findlay says. “I didn’t know any lawyers and I honestly have no idea how I had ever even heard of Harvard Law School. … And anyway, I was only half right.”
While Findlay may not have pursued a career in politics, he’s no stranger to success. Growing up in a loving Midwestern home, his parents—a dentist and former social services worker—encouraged Findlay to pave a path to happiness, both personally and professionally. After graduating from high school in his hometown (and mobile home/recreational vehicle manufacturing capital of the world) of Elkhart, Ind., Findlay headed to Northwestern University. More
John Albright spent the early part of his childhood living all over the world. An army brat, he moved every few years—which forced him to be outgoing and constantly make new friends. Albright made his last childhood move from Australia to North Carolina when he was in the fifth grade, finally setting down roots.
As a student, Albright excelled in math and science throughout his formative years. He graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Institute of Technology. Right out of school, he went to work for Shell Chemical Company, selling plastics into the automotive and transportation industries. It was there that Albright had the opportunity to work closely with and get to know some of the lawyers in Shell’s legal department—and he realized, he might find the work rewarding.
Having traveled a lot with his Shell job, Albright got to know—and fall in love with—Nashville. So when it came time to pick a law school, he set his sights on Vanderbilt. “It was a laid back city, and the school had a strong recruiting pipeline, so it made sense,” he said. More
Born in Cuba, Luis Machado came to the U.S. with his mother and sisters when he was only four years old. He and his family settled in Union City, N.J., where he spent his childhood—not only developing a love for Springsteen’s music, but also attending the local Catholic schools and then Saint Peter’s Preparatory School in neighboring Jersey City.
For as long as he could remember, Machado had always planned on becoming a doctor. After graduating from Saint Peter’s, he headed to the University of Michigan, where he began a pre-med program. But it didn’t take long for Machado to realize the medical profession wasn’t his dream.
“I realized one day I didn’t want to be a doctor, so I was confronted with that dreaded scenario: Break my mother’s heart and leave the pre-med program or continue studying for a career I knew wouldn’t make me happy,” he explained. More
W. Scott Nehs had an idyllic childhood. He grew up in a log cabin along the Rock River in southern Wisconsin. He spent his winters playing hockey and focused on golf whenever the weather allowed. Both of his parents were teachers—so the family of five spent long relaxing summer breaks together playing sports, being active and traveling—often to Ohio to visit Nehs’ grandparents.
It was during those summer trips to Ohio—when Nehs spent as much time as he could with his grandfather, William C. Leonard—that shaped the career he would have later in life. Bill Leonard, a local attorney, was not only a well-respected pillar of his community, he was also an extremely proud and involved grandfather. He would let Nehs tag along with him to his law office, a gesture that made an enormous impression on his young grandson.
“In my mind, I thought I was helping him at work. I realize now, in his mind, it was more about showing off his grandson,” Nehs says. “But it was on those trips that I saw him interacting with his partners and clients. His approach was that law is a serious business, but it’s ultimately about helping people solve problems. He also felt it was important to keep a sense of humor.” More
If anyone fits the description of being “self-directed,” it’s Diana Chafey. She grew up in a military family with no lawyers around her, but decided in fifth grade that she would one day practice law. In her young mind, a legal degree was as versatile as they come—she could likely apply a legal education to any field she may decide to pursue.
During her senior year at Arizona State University, Chafey made another firm decision—she was going to live in Chicago. She had always wanted to move to a large metropolis and -after visiting the Windy City with a friend her senior year, she found the perfect new hometown.
Chafey took a year off after her college graduation to work as a paralegal at a big law firm in Phoenix, then headed to Valparaiso University Law School, about an hour outside of Chicago. Not surprisingly, her career flourished upon graduation. More
By the time Minneapolis-area native Jason Brown was in high school, he already knew he wanted to be a lawyer. During a civics class his sophomore year, Brown participated in a mock trial, in which he served as lead defense counsel. From preparing for trial and creating presentations to participating in deep strategic thinking and gaining skills that could serve to help those in need, Brown fell in love with the work and the idea he could actually make a living doing it.
Around that same time, Brown’s mother introduced him to an old childhood friend of hers who was a professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. After the professor gave the 16-year-old a personal tour of the Howard campus, Brown fell in love again—this time with one of the country’s prestigious colleges.
Brown’s destiny was set. After high school, he attended Howard University—where he excelled as a student—and immediately upon graduation, went straight to Howard University School of Law. “Being an African American kid from the Twin Cities, it was a huge and strikingly sharp contrast to go from there to an historically black college that is so rich in history as Howard,” Brown says. “I jumped at the chance to do something that would be different and challenging.” More
As a young man growing up in Delaware, Jeff Carr was always hard at work. Whether he was fixing banged-up cars in his family’s body shop, refinishing beautiful pieces of furniture in his uncle’s artisan furniture store or preventing drownings as a lifeguard at the local pool, Carr was slowly and carefully developing skills that would become critical to his success as a legal department leader in the years to come.
Carr has a reputation among his GC peers as being a visionary in changing the way legal departments and law firms deliver legal services. “Innovators are only considered to be visionaries after they’re proven successful,” Carr says. “Before that, we were just thought of as crazy.”
In the early days, Carr’s out-of-the-box ideas may have seemed crazy, but before he retired after a long tenure in the GC seat of Fortune 500 company FMC Technologies, Carr worked for years with law associations and other forward thinkers to shape the way legal departments partnered with law firms and bought legal services—not only helping put the terms “alternative fee arrangement” and “fixed fee” on the legal services map, but also creating efficiencies within the legal department world that previously didn’t exist. More
Ever since she was a child, Talita Erickson has had a passion for culture, diversity and the global experience. She grew up in Brazil, near the border of Argentina and Paraguay near Iguazu Falls, a national park that attracts tourists from around the world. This unique childhood piqued her curiosity—and woke the world traveler inside of her.
As she graduated high school, as is custom in Brazil, Erickson had to decide her life’s profession before entering college. She was only 17 years old and unsure what she wanted to do, but she knew she wanted to be able to direct—and, if necessary redirect—her career any way that might make sense to her. Following in her older brother’s footsteps, Erickson chose a career in law.
“A law degree is very flexible,” she says. “If you’re passionate about sports, you can be a sports attorney. Or in my case, if you love food, you can go to work in the food industry. A law degree gives you the flexibility to work in any industry you want.” More