After listening to a lawyer speak about the legal profession at a career fair, DeVona Wright Cottrell decided in eighth grade that she would be a lawyer.
What drew her in was her recognition of how the profession could make her influential over not only the place where she lived but also in the larger world.
“I didn’t know how I was going to figure that out,” Wright Cottrell said. “I didn’t even know anyone who had gone to college. But I was driven to figure it out.”
Just a few years later, she decided she wanted be the kind of lawyer that provides advice to businesses. It seemed like a rather large dream for the second to youngest of 13 children — a little girl who would later grow up to become the first in her family to go to a four-year college.
But fast forward more than a decade, and she is doing exactly what she had planned to do. As director and associate general counsel for the financial-services firm Robert W. Baird & Co., Wright Cottrell has responsibilities related to everything from public finance and real estate to intellectual property and information security.
The path she took to where she is now led through business classes at the University of Wisconsin Law School, years of private practice spent honing her abilities in corporate law and MBA courses at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“Those transitions were very easy because I knew: 1) what I wanted to do and; 2) my faith led me in that direction,” Wright Cottrell said. “I know that I am doing what I was put on this earth to do.”
Wright Cottrell is also a leader of Baird’s diversity and inclusion efforts and works closely with women and minorities at the firm.
“I have been extremely blessed and have always had a voice, and I know not all people feel as fortunate,” she said. “It’s not OK for me to do well if I am not bringing others along and up with me.
Baird is best when all people — men, women, diverse and non-diverse — can bring their whole self to work and contribute in a meaningful way.”
Wright Cottrell noted that in her 18 years of practice, much has changed for women in the legal profession.
“The profession is moving toward inclusion, where women can be authentic as lawyers versus feeling like you have to be like a man,” she said. “We have a ways to go but have also come a very long way.”
Wright Cottrell says her two children, Julian and Jayde, motivate her to make the most not only of her career but also of her family and community.
“I know I need to create a long runway for my children to see, through me, what the possibilities are when you dream big and work hard,” she said.