The Benefit of Paying it Forward

How Uber’s Ariel Ruiz got his dream job in the unlikeliest of circumstances—from his Morrison and Foerster colleagues

Ariel Ruiz Uber
Ariel Ruiz, Senior Counsel, Litigation, Uber (Photo by Seamus Mauk)

Kindness counts with Ariel Ruiz. If there’s one thing he believes in, it is giving colleagues, friends, and acquaintances a helping hand so that they can meet their professional goals.

Ruiz would know. He came by his new job at Uber in a very unconventional way: he got a heads-up and tons of interview preparation help from his colleagues at Morrison & Foerster, where he worked for eight years before joining Uber. Most people might find it awkward to get interview tips from their current employer for a job at different employer, but Ruiz really appreciated his colleagues putting his career development first. He always knew his career would take him to an in-house role at a technology company, and Uber in particular caught his attention.

“I was attracted to Uber because, frankly, it does cool stuff,” Ruiz explains. “It had created a two-sided market that enabled access to increased options for transportation and also gave people the ability to earn extra cash on their own time, at their convenience. I was also aware that Uber was expanding its research into artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, and vertical take-off and landing aircraft, which will not only change the way we live but also the cities that we live in. Uber is the future, and I wanted to be part of it.”

In January 2016, Ruiz was sitting at his desk when he spotted a job posting for a litigation role at Uber. That same day, one of the Morrison & Foerster partners called him to chat.

Naturally, Ruiz thought the partner was going to ask him to take on a new case even though he had just taken one on and was juggling a few others. “I had also been traveling back and forth to southern California a few times a week to defend depositions and didn’t feel comfortable taking on another project,” he says. But Ruiz did the right thing for an associate and grabbed pen and paper to take notes.

The exchange that followed was a huge surprise.

The partner knew someone on the legal team at Uber who told him they were looking for someone with Ruiz’s experience. Ruiz ended up getting interview pointers from the partner and from others at the firm. He received tips about the team at Uber he’d be interviewing with and ideas on how to talk about the company. Of course, Ruiz also did his own homework, including all night-research sessions and mock interviews with his husband. Ruiz says his colleagues at Morrison & Foerster assured him that if he did not get the role at Uber, his future at the firm would not be jeopardized.

“I didn’t want my colleagues at the firm to think that I was not a team player,” Ruiz says. “There’s a fine line you have to walk at a firm when you are interested in pursuing other opportunities. If everything went south with the interview at Uber, I didn’t want them to think that I was not interested in being there anymore, because that wasn’t true at all. I had found my home with some wonderful partners I loved working with.”

All of that interview preparation paid off. “It was just a wonderful surprise and series of events that led me to ultimately land this job,” Ruiz says.

It makes perfect sense that Ruiz got his current job the way he did. He believes strongly in paying it forward. Ruiz is grateful to the partners who took time out of their schedules to help him prepare for his interview, time that he says meant extra evening and weekend hours for them.

“It was just a wonderful surprise and series of events that led me to ultimately land this job.”

Ruiz has been at Uber since April 2017, and he’s still thriving in his new role. He describes Uber as a company that values diversity, which extends to the ranks of outside counsel that help on Uber’s legal cases.

“It’s very important for us to have diverse attorneys on our matters; women, attorneys of color, and LGBT attorneys,” he says. “We have to do our part to enable opportunities for folks to get experience in and out of the courtroom.”

When it comes to his own style of working with people, Ruiz stays away from the word “management” and leans toward “partnership” and “collaboration.” “Ariel is an extremely quick study, very strategic in his thinking, and a genuinely nice, thoughtful, and funny person,” says John Bovich, an attorney at Reed Smith. “He is an absolute pleasure to work with.”

It has always been important to Ruiz that people realize he wouldn’t ask anything of them that he is not willing to do himself.

“When people who you lead or manage, for lack of better terms, see you doing things because they are too busy, they respect you and are more likely to extend themselves in the future and to help you out, too,” he says.

Ruiz is more than happy to share his experiences with others and give advice when asked for it, whether it is about working at or applying to a law firm or in-house position or applying to or surviving law school, including reviewing résumés, sharing frequently asked interview questions and his go-to answers, and conducting mock interviews. He often acts as a sounding board for colleagues, including paralegals who express an interest in going to law school.

At Uber, Ruiz is planning a legal networking event among Uber in-house counsel, associates at law firms who partner with Uber, and law students. Uber attorneys from a few different groups will hold a fireside chat regarding best practices for partnering with Uber. The goal is to enable law firm associates to network with Uber in-house counsel, who typically interact primarily with law firm partners. It also enables law students to interact with associates at law firms where they may apply for a job and may also ultimately prepare them for how to think about client service once they start.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when reaching out for advice, he says, is not being specific or mindful of a person’s time. Broad questions won’t get you far with Ruiz, but if there is something specific you want to know and you’ve made an effort to come up with the right questions, he’s game.

“I find it hard to pay it forward or mentor when someone’s like ‘Hey, can you meet up for coffee and tell me about your experience?’” Ruiz explains. “An answer to this kind of generic question doesn’t go very far in helping a person understand what I do or what to do with that information.”

When it comes to helping others, Ruiz believes in doing what you can. If he doesn’t have an answer, he’ll try to connect you with someone who does. He pointed out that not everyone has the network or connections they need and that it can take as little as thirty seconds to connect people.

“I have no interest in someone coming to a wrong or misguided answer,” he says. “There is no benefit to someone spinning their wheels when all it takes is a few minutes for me to guide them to the right person who can help. It’s just the right thing to do.”