Sonya: When did you first realize that you wanted to become an attorney? What first drew you to a career as an attorney? What do you enjoy most about your career now?
Ray: I realized I wanted to be an attorney when I was in the 6th grade. I wanted to be a professional and I wanted to fight for the rights of those that seemed to not have an equal start in life. My hero was Martin Luther King and I wanted to emulate his spirit, leadership and commitment. I thought that by becoming a Civil Rights lawyer I could help bring his “Dream” to reality. I had an epiphany while in law school that led me to change course while aiming for the same destination. After an incredible all-encompassing experience as a post first year law school summer intern with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, I realized that we have real life heroes already making very impactful strides in the area of Civil Rights, and I also realized that I should complement these efforts by training to become a lawyer that could help take the movement into a next phase of economic empowerment. I wanted to be a corporate lawyer, and trained accordingly. I enjoy my current role and career thoroughly. After a number of shifts in the broad area of Corporate Law, from starting off as a Securities Lawyer, to transitioning to Transactional IP and Internet law, to moving in-house and expanding to Financial Services law, to moving into a role that prepared me to become a general counsel, and then ultimately becoming a general counsel, I have been blessed with roles that have fit my skill-set and personality, while challenging me and rewarding my family and me. I appreciate the diverse nature of my work and I really love that my company is dedicated to helping small businesses grow and thrive in a new era of technology driven business. I get to apply all the experience I have gathered over the years to traditional legal and business issues, as well as unique and novel issues posed by the current transformation in our economy and social spaces.
Sonya: Have there been specific people (real or fictional) or pivotal situations/events that have inspired you, helped shape your career?
Ray : My parents and the rest of my family growing up, really had a tremendous impact on me by first and foremost allowing me to feel loved and destined. I was always inspired by those around me who told me that education was the key and that I could go on to do whatever I wanted as long as I focused on education and God.
Sonya: Are there particular traits that you believe successful attorneys share? Traits that you believe you have yourself and which you look for in hiring outside and in-house counsel? How about common traits you’ve observed in other successful GCs?
Ray: The most effective attorneys I have worked with exhibit excellent communication skills, business acumen and proactivity. It is important that communication be authentic to the personality of the attorney, that the counselor also be able to apply the business acumen to our industry and products and that the proactivity focus on the most relevant information and developments that meet our needs. When I hire outside counsel I look for a recognized expert in the field who is known to be innovative and aggressive, who exhibits savvy and understanding of my company’s business, and that is sensitive about costs and finding unique ways to be efficient. Successful GC’s know their business like a top notch business person, are respected supremely for their integrity and ingenuity and drive results and reduce exposure for the business, using the many tools afforded by corporate law, litigation techniques and risk mitigation.
Sonya: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? What would you like your legacy to be in your company/law department? In the legal profession?
Ray: I am most proud of becoming General Counsel, managing an entire legal department, while helping to drive an effective and efficient integration shortly after the merger of two decades old companies (the SuperMedia and Dex One merger). Providing leadership, legal advice and business savvy in the midst of a hyper competitive industry that is transforming almost daily, has provided me with challenges, goals and achievements that I relish. This position has allowed me to expand and provide honed services in areas that I have deep experience in, while strengthening my skills and management with issues that I have had less experience in prior to this position.
I would like for my ability to drive results for my clients and my company in an efficient and impactful manner to be my primary legacy. I would also like to be known as someone who was committed to transforming the legal profession by developing and initiating innovative solutions to the pressing and consistent problem of a lack of diversity and inclusion within the legal profession.
Sonya: Have you had mentors/sponsors? Have you acted as a mentor/sponsor to others? Is mentorship/sponsorship important? How? Why?
Ray: I have had a number of very special mentors who devoted their time, energy and expertise to having me grow in meaningful ways throughout my childhood and legal career. While in high school, I was a member of the NAACP Youth Counsel of Paterson, NJ. There the adult advisors in the organization sought to nourish any budding talent they might see. I was encouraged to pursue leadership positions and guided on the most effective ways to lead young people. In college, I participated in Inroads, a leadership and internship organization, dedicated to placing talented minority youth in positions of leadership in corporate America. The training I got was invaluable and I considered the leader of my local NJ affiliate a true mentor and inspiration. While in law school I had an incredible mentor through an organization called Practicing Attorneys for Law Students who taught me the basics from professional dress, to legal writing and career advancement. I have also had partners at law firms who invested in me, giving me exciting opportunities and providing practical guidance on how to become a better practitioner. I have had business partners in my in-house career who I feel have equipped me with business acumen that rivals a business school degree. All of these individuals and their collective influence and direction have been critical factors in my growth and any success I have achieved.
I try to provide mentorship when at all possible. I am involved with the local graduate chapter of my fraternity and try to support and provide mentorship through our mentorship organization dedicated to guiding young men through middle school and high school and into college. I also try provide one on one mentorship to young men from my Church and other social connections. Mentorship is about passing along wisdom to make the path of the less experienced easier and richer. I have benefitted from very unselfish and thoughtful mentors and I aspire to provide the same sort of leadership to others.
Sonya: Think about the legal profession over the course of the next 10 years. What do you see as the big changes that are coming which you believe will most significantly impact the profession and the role of the GC/in-house legal department?
Ray: I believe the most impactful developments in the next 10 years will be the two-fold advancement of technology in the legal profession. On the one hand, technology will transform the dynamics of legal department operations, which will prompt the GC to become much more facile with data and metrics arising from the use of online contract management solutions, to sophisticated e-discovery tools, to the advent of artificial intelligence. On the other hand, technology will drive an explosion of new and novel legal issues arising out of the application of technology in consumer products and business tools that will require lawyers and the GC to adapt existing laws, rules and legal techniques to these issues and develop new laws, rules and techniques as well. This will require a fair amount of training and re-training, as well as the need to mesh different generations of legal professionals into a multi-faceted legal organization that draws on the strengths of the different generations while using their varied and unique capabilities to cover up for some of the deficiencies from the respective generations.
Sonya: Describe a significant challenge you have faced in your life or career. How did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?
Ray: I overcame the loss of my mother by reflecting on her life, her guidance to me and with the support of family, friends and colleagues. This incredible loss triggered my re-evaluation of my career and allowed me to realize that I needed to broaden and strengthen my legal training by moving on to a new job and new superiors who could help guide and support me.
Sonya: What does Diversity & Inclusion mean to you? How important is D&I to you personally? As a GC? To your company/legal department? What advice do you have for GCs and others seeking to make a positive impact on the progress of D&I in their organizations and in the legal profession?
Ray: Diversity and Inclusion means giving everyone the same opportunity to contribute to your organization by reducing and/or eliminating barriers that have historically led to the non-participation or the reduced participation of certain groups of individuals. Barriers are often intentional, but far more often unintentional, and it is the imperative of organizations to eradicate those barriers in order to more fully realize the maximum potential of that organization and the individuals within that organization. Diversity and Inclusion is very important to me, since I realize that organizations that are more able to achieve Diversity and Inclusion perform better in the marketplace and also because the people that I care deeply about, including family and friends, have simply not been allowed and/or allowed themselves to achieve their maximum potential for a variety of factors that arise out of historical and current discrimination. We are all shooting ourselves in the foot with the failure to fully eradicate these barriers. I want the best people no matter their background to contribute to my organization, and I take steps to help that happen. I encourage other GC’s and executives to simply stretch themselves and their organizations out of their comfort zones and challenge their assumptions to reach for and develop talent no matter where it comes from. We will all benefit from this.
Sonya: If you were not General Counsel of your company (or of any company or even a lawyer at all), what career do you think you would most like to pursue?
Ray: My most likely other career would involve marketing and/or music. I have a passion for all things music and I seem to have a facility for stitching together ways to advance the message of products, ideas and brands in simple and appealing ways.
Sonya: Knowing what you know now about being a lawyer and a GC, if you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be? At what point in your past would you give yourself that advice?
Ray: My one advice to my younger self would be to realize that attempting to please everyone will inevitably not be successful. I would focus on core goals, with character, determination and fairness, and not attempt to tackle every issue, and please individuals who may not have my best interests at heart. I would make sure to take this approach from day one of my legal career and personal journey.
Sonya: Tell me something fun about yourself. A personal skill or hobby that, while not directly related to your day job, you feel makes you more well-rounded, helps you be better at your day job and/or helps relax and focus you to do your job as a GC better.
Ray: My love of science fiction, technology and all things future related leads me to read books, watch movies and stay up on the latest developments in these areas. The intersection of these interests with my “day job” is constant as my company emerges as a leader in the development and implementation of cloud based software designed to make it easy for small businesses to run their businesses more efficiently and connect with and manage their relationships with their customers. This intersection of my hobbies and interests with my job makes my job that more enjoyable and engaging, allowing me to stay on top on the latest developments in things like intellectual property ownership and licensing, and privacy and data protection rather seamlessly.
Sonya: Hashtag/Brand yourself in 5 words or less (For example, mine is #SelfiesWithSonya )