Black History Month Roundtable: Zuhairah Washington, SVP

The Law Preview Lawyer Roundtable Series gives you a look into the minds of diverse lawyers from across the country. Get advice on everything from your 1L year to how to leverage a mentorship opportunity in law school, and throughout your legal career.

In celebration of Black History Month, we’re highlighting seven accomplished African American lawyers in this month’s edition of the Law Preview Lawyer Roundtable Series. Check out the interview below!

Zuhairah Washington
SVP, Expedia Group
Attended the Harvard Law School
Law Preview Alumni

Tell us a little bit about you.

My name means “radiant light” and at my best that is exactly what I am.

As an entrepreneur and seasoned business professional with 15+ years of operations, technology, and leadership experience, I am passionate about building and investing in innovative businesses and teams.

Throughout my career I have worked with global Fortune 500 companies, VC-backed startups, and government and non-profit organizations. As an early executive at Uber, I grew businesses from startup to scale and ran one of the top 5 US markets. In this capacity, I had full people management and P&L responsibility, led the successful launches of uberPOOL and uberEATS, and grew the core business to a $1B run rate. Prior to Uber, I was Founder & CEO of a innovative, vc-backed relationship startup.

Internationally, I’ve lived and worked in Barcelona, Dubai and London where I led business development partnerships for Europe’s largest local search and user-generated review website which was subsequently acquired by Yelp. Prior to entering tech, I served as a Regional Vice President at MacFarlane Partners, a high-growth, real estate private equity firm with $20B in AUM.

I am deeply and actively committed to enhancing the availability of capital and entrepreneurial opportunities in low-income communities and I currently sit on the US nonprofit board of Accion. My public speaking and writing are focused on supporting efforts to increase diversity and inclusion – specifically women and women of color – in business and technology.

Knowing what you know now about the legal profession, what advice would you give to students (particularly young men and women of color) who are about to begin their 1L year?

Don’t follow the herd. Follow your passion. Many people go to law school because they are intellectually curious and want to do good in the world and aren’t sure exactly what they want to do with their career. That is Ok but be sure to stay clear on what YOU are passionate about and what change YOU want to bring about in the world. It is very easy to fall into the herd mentality interviewing for law firms and other companies you know in your heart of hearts are not going to take you down a path that you will find true professional fulfillment. Now being over a decade out, I can see that the lawyers with the most fulfilling careers are those that bucked the herd and forged their own path.

In what is clearly a very impressive legal career to date, list one job, a specific project or a case you that you are most proud of, and describe why. If you can’t pick just one, it’s okay to list a few!

Uber. Hands down. Working at the startup stretched me the most both personally and professionally. Not many people get the opportunity to build a billion dollar business from the ground up and for that I am grateful. I believe my joint law and business degree helped me secure the role because I joined the company at a time when UberX wasn’t yet regulated in most jurisdictions in the country. I played a leading role in getting first of its kind, business-friendly legislation passed in DC, Maryland and Virginia, opening doors for other jurisdictions to follow suit.

Giving back is important. Provide one organization (legal or otherwise) you have volunteered with and what made that experience so meaningful to you.

The most meaningful and rewarding volunteering work that I do is mentoring young women and minorities on their startups and careers. I have a passion for coaching and mentoring and am a fierce advocate for women – especially ambitious, driven women of color looking to defy society’s low expectations of them.

We all need to ask for help at some point. Did you ever ask someone to mentor or sponsor you as a law student or early-stage attorney (or have you served as a mentor)? If so, given your experience, what is your best advice for leveraging that type of relationship?

I’ve never formally asked anyone to be my mentor but I have several mentors. These are people who light up when I tell them about my success and who are the first people I call when I need a lifeline. They are invested in me, rooting for me not because they have anything to gain personally, but because they believe in my potential and genuinely want to see more women like me win. These are the best type of mentorships – the ones that flow naturally. Of course, you need to get into the room and develop a relationship with leaders to get to this level but its worth taking it slow, being consistent and strategic with your touch points and interactions.

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