April 14, 2020 Article

From Olympic Gymnast to Corporate Litigator: A Conversation with Tasha Schwikert

Tips for young lawyers on transferring skills after changing careers and advocating for diversity and inclusion.

By Janice Arellano

Tasha Schwikert is an associate in the corporate law group at Munck Wilson Mandala in Dallas, Texas, where she focuses on complex mergers and acquisitions, and is leading efforts in building the firm’s sports practice for supporting amateur athletes. 

Schwikert and her teammates won the bronze medal in the 2000 Olympic Games.

Schwikert and her teammates won the bronze medal in the 2000 Olympic Games.

Matthew Stockman/Allsport via Getty Images

Before you became a lawyer, you were an Olympic gymnast. Tell us about that. 

I come from a family of athletes. My dad played college basketball and my mom played professional tennis, advancing to the semi-finals of Wimbledon in the doubles matches with her identical twin sister. My younger sister and I did gymnastics together our entire career, both as members of the U.S. National Team and the University of California, Los Angeles gymnastics team. I began gymnastics at 3 years old and moved up through the levels fairly quickly. Watching the Magnificent Seven Gymnastics Team win the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games inspired me to become an Olympian. I was fortunate to have an amazing coach, Cassie Rice, who helped me achieve my goals of becoming an Olympic gymnast. By the time I was 13 years old, I was training six days per week approximately seven to eight hours a day. That meant a modified school schedule and no time for family vacations, school dances, or your typical teenage social activities. At 15 years old, I competed in the 2000 Olympic Games where my teammates and I won the bronze medal.

Why did you become a lawyer?

After graduating from college, I worked for a sports agency representing female Olympic athletes. In my job, I witnessed clear examples of gender discrimination in the sports industry. The female athletes were paid less for sponsorships and endorsements, and the industry was male dominated and male focused. I wanted to be a better advocate for these female athletes and I wanted to fight effectively for a system that was fairer to my clients. I figured the best way to be able to do that was to return to school and get a law degree.    

My law degree has also provided me the tools I need in my advocacy work as cochair of the special committee for over 500 Larry Nassar survivors. Training as a gymnast, I was a victim of Larry Nassar. USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee perpetuated a toxic culture that allowed Nassar to have a blueprint to be able to manipulate and molest hundreds of young gymnasts. My advocacy work is focused on policy and legislative reform and holding accountable USA Gymnastics, United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, and other organizations that protect perpetrators of child sexual abuse.   

Do you find, if any, skills transferrable from your sports career to your legal career or your advocacy work?

Sports taught me to perform well under pressure, to always be prepared, and to be adaptable. These are all skills that transfer well to being a lawyer. As an associate in an extremely busy practice, we have had expedited closings that required the entire team to buckle down and work nights and weekends. Staying calm and collected in high pressure situations like this is a great lesson I learned as a gymnast, and I use these skills as a lawyer.

Sports taught me the importance of mental preparation, and I use this for my advocacy work. My work on behalf of Nassar survivors and other sexual assault victims involves presenting highly emotional issues to law makers effectively in order to get laws passed to help them. If I am not prepared, I am letting down those victims; just as in sports, if I am not prepared, I’m letting down my team.

Sports also taught me to be adaptable, which is a skill I use as a lawyer. In sports, I learned to adapt when there were changes in the schedule, unplanned injuries, or last-minute travel. The same happens in my legal career. I have had to be on a plane within 24 hours for an event or client work, and I believe my sports career has helped me be extremely adaptable in these scenarios.

You’re very involved in leadership organizations and policy-advocacy within the sports world but also in Texas. How do you find time to do that, and how would you advise young lawyers who are just getting started to carve out the time?

One thing I have learned is that if you have the passion, you will find the time. My husband and I are raising two young children and he works for a National Basketball Association team, so our schedules are already over the top tough, but we support each other and figure out how to make it work. I’m not saying it’s easy, and there are certainly days or weeks of pure chaos and sleep deprivation. Not dissimilar to law school or preparing to take the bar exam. 

In our legal careers, we have to accept that we need to be in beast mode on occasion if we want to accomplish great things. Don’t make excuses. Be proactive and creative when it comes to time management. You have to trust other people to help you and you should look into apps and technology that make everyday tasks easier. They are out there. If you can hire someone to clean, do laundry, shop, or handle non-work tasks that give you more time to work and pursue your dreams, then do it. You have the ability to prioritize your time, multi-task, and be creative.  

What’s the best advice you ever received either in the practice of law or the sport of gymnastics?

Champions are made when nobody is watching. 

While in law school, the Black Law Students Association won the National Chapter Award under your leadership. What do you believe needs to be done to increase and maintain diversity and inclusion in the legal profession? What about the sport of gymnastics?

In the legal profession, like many other professions, I believe it requires good leadership. I have seen good leadership in action, for example, at my law firm—two of our female attorneys had to relocate for their spouse’s jobs and our managing partner asked them to stay with the firm and work remotely. 

Our firm was a presenting sponsor for the past two years of a conference specifically focused on diversity and inclusion that gave us the opportunity to hear from experts on unconscious bias and imposter syndrome, and we learned more about ways to be diverse, recruit more diverse candidates, and ensure a warm and welcoming culture at our firm.

We have increased our number of female attorneys through our reputation as a firm that is supportive and understands the challenges that female attorneys face. When our female attorneys are happy at work, they share this with the legal community, and it helps us recruit more female attorneys. From 2017–2019, we doubled the number of female attorneys working at our firm. 

To increase and maintain diversity, law firms also have to support a diverse work culture and encourage attorneys to be involved in diversity-focused organizations. Our firm supports Hispanic, Asian American, and other minority-focused bar involvement as well as organization such as Black Tie Dinner, Inc., one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning fund-raising dinners in the country. Law firms need to have diverse members on the executive committee who can represent the different cultures that work at the firm and chime in on gender and cultural issues that should be considered. 

In gymnastics, I feel like there has been some impressive diversity on the women’s Olympic team. The 2016 U.S. Women’s Olympic Gymnastics Team had two African American gymnasts and one Latina. These gymnasts were chosen based on their skill and earned their spots. The diverse nature of the team, however, inspired young African Americans and Latinas to want to become gymnasts. I believe as long as there are sports figures of diverse backgrounds, there will be young athletes who aspire to be like them, and this leads to a healthy and diverse environment. 

Other programs that can help diversity in gymnastics include scholarships for athletes and coaches of diverse backgrounds, outreach into diverse cultures about gymnastic opportunities, and increasing the number of board members who are diverse.  

Where do you see yourself in the next five years in the profession?

I will continue growing my legal practice in corporate and transactional law, and I have been given the opportunity to help my firm grow its sports practice. They are relying on my experience and legal background to help build this area of law. 

I will continue to serve as cochair of the special committee for the 500+ Larry Nassar survivors, and I’ll work to change legislation in the states that have yet to adopt laws to extend the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse. 

I enjoy speaking and hope to secure more speaking opportunities where I can present to youth groups and women’s leadership organizations.  

Janice V. Arellano is an associate at Cleary Giacobbe Alfieri Jacobs, LLC in Matawan, Somerville, and Oakland, New Jersey, and former cochair of the Section of Litigation's Minority Trial Lawyer Committee. She currently serves on the Diversity & Inclusion and Social Media Committees.


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