Bridging the Experience Gap
Marie Ma ‘09 was in the midst of researching law schools when she began as a corporate paralegal at Gap Inc., and she saw the job as more than a way to work while attending law classes in the evenings. She also viewed it as a way to supplement her education while she earned her law degree.
Over time, Ma realized that Gap was someplace she would love to practice, but she knew that Gap rarely hires attorneys straight out of law school. In hindsight, she realized her time at Gap during law school was a “four-year job interview” for the attorney position she landed after graduation.
Ma has now worked for the company for 11 years, with the last six as an attorney. (She is currently the only attorney at Gap, Inc. who didn’t come from a law firm.) As corporate counsel and director of global equity administration, Ma provides legal advice on a range of corporate, securities, finance, public communications and disclosure, corporate governance, and compliance issues. She also oversees all reporting and filing obligations with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and oversees the team that administers all equity-based compensation programs throughout the company.
Before starting at Gap, Ma worked as a paralegal for Fenwick & West in Mountain View, an experience that first introduced her to corporate law. “Once exposed to it,” Ma said, “I was immediately drawn in.”
I wouldn’t be a lawyer today without a night program geared towards people like me, who are not able to pursue a full-time law school program.”
By the time she entered law school, she knew she wanted to work in corporate law as an attorney. By day, she was already working in it as a paralegal; by night, she was studying it.
“USF’s evening program was huge for me,” Ma said. “It played a key role in my career. I wouldn’t be a lawyer today without a night program geared towards people like me, who are not able to pursue a full-time law school program. The other piece is that the experience of working full-time and going to law school tested my work ethic. In some ways, pushing myself that way gave me a lot of confidence in what I was capable of.”
Ma’s efforts include her personal passion for pipeline and pro bono work. She chairs the Mock Trial Committee of the Bar Association of San Francisco, which works with San Francisco public high school students, and at Gap she began the company’s pro bono program for U visa applicants, a limited visa available to victims of certain crimes. The first clients Ma took on through the U visa program were recently granted permanent legal residency in the United States.
The opportunity to take on new professional challenges, whether through her job or outside of it, keeps Ma energized.
“In some ways, you could say that I value a degree of discomfort on the job, with a real possibility of failure, to feel like I’m developing and learning and pushing myself,” she said. “This discomfort pushes me to work harder and to become better and more adept at what I do.”