Growing up, Virginia Chavez Romano wasn’t too sure what she wanted to be, but one thing was certain: her love for writing, literature, and the visual and performing arts.
“Until high school or college, that’s what I thought I would do with my career,” she explains. “Maybe I could devote myself to my writing and to literature, but I also had a very practical side and felt a pressure to be more realistic about my plans.”
That’s what made her consider a legal path, while hoping that she wouldn’t have to leave her artistic passions behind as she pursued it. For that reason, during law school she took creative writing classes in her spare time, spent a summer interning at the Authors Guild in New York, and edited the book of a professor who specialized in art law. After she graduated from Stanford Law School in 1997 and spent her first four years at a law firm as a litigation associate, she concluded that she was in the right place.
“I realized what being a lawyer was about and that it had elements of the arts, required creativity, and I could have all the passions that animated me in the first twenty-something years of my life and apply them in this totally new field,” she says. “It was a circuitous path, but I ended up where I belonged.”
Things came full circle again in 2023, when Chavez Romano came to Havas to serve as deputy general counsel and US general counsel. She had spent over twenty years in various roles as a lawyer in both private practice and the government: as an associate at a law firm, as a federal and then state prosecutor in New York, as a senior attorney at the Department of Justice, and as a partner at White & Case—experiences that gave her the discipline, attention to detail, problem-solving skills, and empathy she’d need as an in-house attorney.
The opportunity to work at Havas gave Chavez Romano not only a chance to work at one of the world’s largest global advertising and communications groups and to expand her legal expertise but also the opportunity to return to her creative roots.
“It’s the first time that I’m in a professional space [where I’m not] surrounded by lawyers,” she says. “I was surrounded by them in government and at law firms but here, all of my peers are pretty much creative people. It’s really fascinating to be surrounded by the kind of people that I wanted to be twenty-five years ago.”
Today at Havas she leads the lawyers in the US and is focused on unifying the legal teams in the company’s three divisions.
“From a legal perspective, there’s a lot of commonalities in the needs of each division, so we’re having our teams go from focusing on a division to focusing on the agency as a whole and applying their specialty expertise across the board,” she says. “I think it’s challenged us to think outside the box and to find new ways of doing things. It’s been for the better, and I appreciate how amenable people have been to the changes.”
Chavez Romano, who’s nearly a year into her tenure at the company, admits that it isn’t easy to be a new leader spearheading new changes. But she’s tried to earn buy-in through transparency, flexibility, and being open to feedback.
“Many people on my team have been at the company longer than I have, so it’s been important to be as open as possible. I’ve been transparent by telling the team exactly why we need a particular approach and I’ve been open to listening, hearing them out, taking in their views, and understanding their experience,” she explains. “I have a vision about where we want to end up, but I also understand I’m not the only person moving in that direction. I have others with me, and I know from experience that many times a path to a goal isn’t linear.
“There will be detours, twists, and turns,” she adds, “so you have to be open to the possibility that there may be different paths.”
For young people who wish to apply their passions to a new area like Chavez Romano did, she advises to “be open and have self-assuredness.”
“Have confidence that you’ll find the right path. There are no shortcuts, and everything will be hard work. In your first few years, go into a space that keeps the most doors open. Learn the craft, do your best, and then, think about the bigger picture and about what you’re contributing. Make sure you understand that,” she advises. “Once someone has experience under their belt and understands what they’re doing, that gives them the tools to take the next step. From there, your career just starts building on itself.”
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