Diana Abril is constantly on the go. As corporate general counsel for Whitney International University System—a leading provider of services and best practices to optimize universities—she crisscrosses Latin America, visiting the offices and campuses of Whitney’s network of schools, which are located in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, and Paraguay.
“I’ve always loved to travel and I knew I wanted a career with an international focus,” Abril says. “My parents always encouraged me to pursue higher education and find a professional vocation. I thought about medicine (the family business), but it wasn’t for me. After some soul searching, I knew I could combine my passion for other cultures with my personal skills, and it lead me to pursue a career in international corporate law.”
While Abril’s home base is Miami, she’s frequently out of the country. Moving around is in her blood. Born in Colombia, her family moved to Massachusetts when she was 10; she followed her family to Florida after graduating from high school.
Post-law school, Abril spent three years at the private law firm Carlton Fields in its corporate, securities, and tax department. She credits the experience with providing her a good law base. She then took a job as general counsel for eLandia International, Inc., a US-based technology networking company with operations in Latin America. “I’m very driven,” she says. “I’m most proud of being able to start my career in-house as general counsel at the age of 30.”
Abril joined Whitney in 2012. She says she was looking to make a move, and the company was looking for a general counsel who was familiar with Latin America. “I like to challenge myself; I think the law poses challenges every day and keeps you on your toes,” she says. “I was drawn to Whitney because of the mission of the organization. It’s about transforming higher education by promoting access, inclusion, and quality distance learning.”
Diana Abril’s Top Tips
When working outside American borders,
- Understand the culture and market of the country where you are operating.
- Find solid local partners you can rely on.
- Communicate frequently with your team and with your partners.
While every day is different, Abril starts each morning organizing her daily priorities, which are “subject to the emergencies of day,” she says. “You have to be flexible and communicate constantly with local counsel and local team members. I deal with a wide range of legal issues that come across my desk, and often participate in operational focused meetings as well.”
Abril especially enjoys mergers and acquisitions, and at Whitney, she’s helping to foster best practices in processes and procedures. While every company is different in how it operates internally, Abril says the goal of every in-house lawyer should be to provide efficient and effective services through high-quality work. “If you are working as outside counsel, you would do that for clients,” she says. “When you are in-house, you have internal clients.”
Abril says she works to be seen as someone who can help execute and get things accomplished. “The legal department shouldn’t be a nuisance to the achievement of an organization’s goals, but rather a partner of the business,” she says.
Abril is involved in her field as well as in her community. She is a member of the National Association of Women Lawyers and the South Florida Group of Regional Counsel. “The key is to work hard. People do notice that,” she says.
She encourages young Latinas to be assertive and confident. She also believes they should seek mentoring relationships with others, which she calls incredibly valuable and enriching. Abril credits the help of mentors she found during school and during her early career with where she is today. “It’s important to invest in yourself with professional and personal development and through valuable relationships,” she says. “And always continue to learn.”