Helen Wan ’98, ‘The Partner Track’ Author, Will Serve as Graduation Speaker
Helen Wan, a 1998 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, will serve as the school’s commencement speaker for the Class of 2023 in May.
Wan is a lawyer and a diversity and inclusion consultant, as well as the author of a novel that has been turned into a Netflix series and has even been featured in some law schools’ curricula. Her book, “The Partner Track,” was published in 2013 to positive reviews, while “Partner Track” premiered on Netflix in August.
After graduating from UVA Law, Wan spent a year and a half at a major New York City law firm before leaving for a smaller firm to focus on media and entertainment law. Ultimately, she worked as in-house counsel at three media companies, including Time Inc. She also recently served as vice president and associate general counsel for the Hachette Book Group.
Although “The Partner Track” is a work of fiction, Wan’s experience as a young woman of color working at an elite firm allowed her to write a candid portrayal that rings true to many others who have struggled with decoding the unwritten rules of law firm culture.
Published by St. Martin’s Press, the book follows the struggles of protagonist Ingrid Yung, who is on the cusp of becoming the first Chinese American partner of the firm. Following a racial incident at the firm, she is unwillingly cast onto the new diversity committee — a juggling act she does not want to perform.
The book and television series have encouraged reflection about work-life balance and equity and inclusion efforts at top-tier law schools and law firms alike, and Wan has been an in-demand speaker on these issues since 2014.
Shivani Arimilli ’23 and Harper North ’23, Student Bar Association Graduation Committee co-chairs, said the committee is excited to welcome Wan as this year’s graduation speaker because of her thought leadership in diversity and inclusion within the legal profession.
Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Sarah Davies ’91 said Wan “is one of those law school graduates who shows us just how versatile a law degree can be,” and lauded her book for addressing issues of racism, sexism, bias and inclusivity in the legal profession in an “accessible and honest way.”
“She is a great storyteller, and I am really looking forward to hearing her speak,” Davies said.
Wan became a lawyer as a practical way to work with words. But her legal career ultimately provided her the inspiration and material she would need to fulfill her dream of becoming a published author.
Wan said she was honored to be asked to address her alma mater’s graduating class, “particularly at a time when the themes I often write about — how to make the legal profession a more inclusive, level playing field, and how cultural factors influence ambition and our pursuit of happiness — are finally part of the conversation and are being examined in a meaningful way.”
“Helen’s book sparks terrific discussions about how new lawyers navigate the work world, and it helps prepare our students for leadership in an evolving legal profession,” Goluboff said. “I am delighted to welcome her as this year’s commencement speaker.”
Wan earned her bachelor’s degree in English and political science from Amherst College.
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.