Women's Leadership InitiativeQ&A with Michelle Wong-Halabi

Michelle Wong-Halabi is a partner in the firm’s Corporate Department where she focuses her practice on estate planning and wealth preservation as well as sports law. 

Describe a pivotal moment that influenced your career path.

Moving to Columbus was probably the biggest game changer for my career path. When I started my career in California, I was in my home town where I had long established relationships and connections. There was little emphasis on expanding my network. But relocating to a new state where I had absolutely zero contacts forced me to re-evaluate the importance of networking and business development. I became very intentional about my networking efforts and engaged in community activism, taking on leadership roles and board positions that I would have previously declined. That effort has opened many doors over the course of my career.

What advice do you wish you could give your younger self, just starting out in the legal field?

I wish I could have told myself, “Learn from the example of others but don’t be afraid to do it your way.” As attorneys, we like precedents but what worked for some will not work for all. It took me a while to learn that the path to my success is of my own design. Being different and having my own point of view is an asset, even if it might contradict a more traditional approach. I would also tell myself to accept change. Not only is it inevitable, but it also makes room for growth.

How has your previous experience helped you in your current role at Porter Wright?

Prior to my life as an attorney, I spent many years working in one of several family businesses. Whether it was the insurance agency, real estate office, or the local racquet and swim club, I was often put in client-facing roles and was responsible for all customer service issues. That was pretty uncomfortable for me, especially if someone was misdirecting their frustrations towards me due to another person’s actions. But I learned important life skills such as empathy, listening for the underlying issues, identifying solutions, communicating strategies and tactfully delivering difficult news. Those lessons have served me well in my career and continue to help me in my practice.

If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would he/she be and why?

I like to surround myself with positivity so Jonathan Van Ness is an obvious choice, although any member of the Fab 5 would make excellent company. Not only is Jonathan an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, I like that he is fearlessly authentic, unapologetically unique and a dynamic agent for change. It would be impossible to leave that dinner uninspired.

Complete the sentence: “If I wasn’t an attorney, I would be a…”

Pastry chef. How can anyone be unhappy when surrounded by sugar, butter and chocolate all day?