It certainly isn’t uncommon for lawyers fresh out of law school to endure endless hours of low-level associate work in order to gain knowledge and start moving up the pecking order at firms. They’re often relegated to the granular details and small scopes of much larger cases and expected to handle the grunt work. But that experience was not shared by G. Michelle Ferreira.
Following her summer internship at the IRS, Ferreira was offered a job before even graduating from law school. Her successful bar results came in November 1995, and she was due to be first chair on behalf of the IRS commissioner at a trial the following month. “I was sworn in early because I had to be admitted to the bar to try the case,” Ferreira remembers. “Luckily, I had a friend whose dad was a judge who could swear me in before my law school class. I was going to be in the middle of a trial by the time the mass swearing at my law school was scheduled to take place.”
Today, as a comanaging shareholder of two offices at global law firm Greenberg Traurig, Ferreira believes she’s ascended to the highest levels of leadership as a result of the extraordinary amount of hard work she’s put in—but also because of the foundation laid and built by the variety of influential mentors over the course of her career. In her present role, she provides her own brand of mentorship to young entrepreneurial and determined lawyers, and she believes Greenberg Traurig represents what can be built when diverse voices are allowed a chance to speak.
The Perfect Fit
Ferreira’s success can be linked to the lumps she was willing to take and grow from as a young lawyer at the IRS. “I loved it,” Ferreira says. “I led all kinds of complex tax litigation, and it was usually just me as the sole counsel for the commissioner.” On one side of the table was a taxpayer with, at times, a bevy of representation. On the other side, it was often just Ferreira.
After eight years at the IRS, the attorney was looking for a new challenge. “I was really interested in going to a law firm, but I didn’t know anything about them,” Ferreira says. “I hadn’t summered at one and hadn’t pursued the traditional legal career up to that point.” She rattled through a roll call of interviews, but one in particular stuck out. “Greenberg Traurig was so compelling to me because of their story,” Ferreira explains. “It was a firm that was rooted in diversity, partially founded by Jewish lawyers who couldn’t get a traditional job in 1967 Miami simply because they were Jewish.” In 2004, Ferreira leaned into Greenberg Traurig’s message well before diversity and inclusion initiatives became a proper (and long overdue) worldwide talking point.
Just as important for Ferreira was the latitude she’d be provided. “Greenberg Traurig is very entrepreneurial, and they said they would give me the structure and the law firm to practice the way I wanted to practice,” the attorney says. “It was a perfect fit.” Ferreira began as a counsel whose goal, start to finish, was to build a practice of her own. “I didn’t really have aspirations to be a shareholder,” the lawyer says. “But I built a significant tax litigation practice with the support of a wonderful law firm that values my opinion.”
“That’s always been my mantra. The more mentors you have—and the more diverse they are—the better lawyer you’re going to be.”
Ferreira made shareholder and then comanaging shareholder of the San Francisco office. Then she was selected to become a voting member of the executive team, before adding comanaging shareholder of the Silicon Valley office. “I’m so honored to be brought to the table and put in a position of leadership here,” Ferreira says. “But a title doesn’t make you a leader at Greenberg Traurig. Leadership is demonstrated through action.”
The Better Lawyer You Will Be
Ferreira says that at her firm, diversity isn’t just about its lawyers. “It’s our staff and our vendors, too,” she explains. “We choose vendors that value diversity. It’s something that we’re obviously very serious about and something that is easily seen from the outside.”
Diversity is also an important factor Ferreira considers when asked what advice she may have for young lawyers. “I’ve always had great, strong female role models, first at the IRS and in my law firm,” she says. “I’ve also had wonderful male mentors. That’s always been my mantra. The more mentors you have—and the more diverse they are—the better lawyer you’re going to be.”
Over the course of her career, Ferreira says that as she’s seen progress in the representation of minorities in law, she’s become thankful for both the generation before her that broke the ground and for the next generation whose ideas of inclusivity are ingrained from an early age. And though leadership at the firm is earned, Ferreira says she’s empowered to bring in entrepreneurial and motivated talent from wherever she finds it. “When I recruit from other law firms, I promise them the moon,” Ferreira says. “Because Greenberg Traurig is the place to be, and I need to make sure that happens for them.”