According to Claudia Sanchez Wilson, her passion for learning started with her mother. An immigrant from Colombia, her mother was determined that Sanchez Wilson receive access to the many opportunities available in the United States.
“My mom had not been fortunate enough to have a very lengthy education, but despite that, she is probably the most well-read woman I have ever met,” Sanchez Wilson says. “She raised me with a very strong emphasis on education and with the belief that education was the best way to take advantage of every opportunity.”
For Sanchez Wilson, honoring her mother’s teachings has meant forging a nontraditional path in the legal field. Today, as vice president of legal at social game developer Zynga, she uses that path to her advantage to navigate the challenges of legal leadership, litigation and compliance, and interdepartmental relationships.
Although she initially followed the expected career trajectory of joining a large law firm out of law school, Sanchez Wilson soon diverged from that path by leaving the firm to clerk at a US Federal Court. “It was originally supposed to be a two-year commitment,” she says of the clerkship. “It ended up being six and a half years, but it was the best legal job I’ve ever had.”
By the end of those six and a half years, Sanchez Wilson knew that she wanted to go in-house. However, she first circled back to a law firm to ease the transition. “It felt like a really large leap at the time,” she admits. “But now that I look back on it, there was such a great payoff to taking that nontraditional path. I never practiced law the same way after my clerkship.”
Sanchez Wilson’s evolution as a litigator continued in her next two roles. The active litigation docket at SolarCity—a company dealing in solar energy generation systems—gave her ample opportunity to shift her perspective from outside to in-house counsel, all while preparing her to make the jump over to Tesla after the electric vehicle manufacturer acquired SolarCity in 2016.
When Sanchez Wilson left Tesla to come on board at Zynga, she found herself not only in a different industry but also on a different type of team. “I’d moved from being one member of a litigation team to a role where I could make decisions about the litigation, because Zynga had, by that point, streamlined into a very lean team,” she explains.
Sanchez Wilson has only seen her legal and leadership duties expand over time. On top of directing ongoing litigation, she now serves as one of Zynga’s chief compliance officers. In that capacity, she has contributed to the rollout of a company-wide data retention program and to the development of global compliance protocols as the company continues to expand internationally.
“You can still arrive where you are meant to arrive by taking a nontraditional path.”
Beyond her legal achievements at Zynga, Sanchez Wilson is proud to have played a part in strengthening the legal team’s connection to its business partners. “Part of what helps us succeed as a legal team is being open when the business comes to us with an issue or a problem or a new initiative. We hear them out and then think really practically about how we can get them from Point A to Point B,” she says.
Sanchez Wilson’s partners at Orrick celebrate her dedication to the business. “Claudia has an incredible strategic mind for litigation,” says Amy M. Ross, chief practice officer at the firm. “She can see around corners and mitigate risk. Her business-first mindset and proactive approach leads Zynga and its outside counsel to the right solution for the business.”
Sanchez Wilson highlights the importance of emotional intelligence in her interactions with the business and the legal team alike. “To me, emotional intelligence boils down to reading the room, focusing on people, and understanding where someone is coming from and what that person is communicating,” she explains. “Trying to grasp the overall context in which you’re operating is absolutely key in terms of being able to get to the right result in the end.”
Within Zynga’s legal department, Sanchez Wilson fosters collaboration through open and direct communication. Her leadership style involves creating space for her reports to talk through problems, appreciating what each individual member adds to the conversation, and incorporating humor and relatability into the workplace. She also seeks to guide her team members through their development as attorneys and as leaders.
As Sanchez Wilson’s own experiences have taught her, growth can come from anywhere—regardless of the path that you choose. “You can still arrive where you are meant to arrive by taking a nontraditional path,” she says. “Throughout the years, I’ve gained confidence and the ability to trust my own judgment. It’s been such a great journey, and I want to continue to move toward a place of balance, where I can rest in that knowledge.”