There are so many parts of Hayley Gonzales’s legal journey that serve as inspiration to anyone who considers their journey “nontraditional.” The managing counsel at fintech company Affirm has pivoted hard and, early on, without the benefit of mentorship that could have helped guide the young lawyer on a worn path.
Gonzales is proud of the “wonderful working class” family she was born into, but it also meant that she’d have to find her own way in her pursuit of a legal career. It’s why the lawyer is so passionate about mentoring now, and why her commercial success at Affirm is just a small part of what makes Gonzales a lawyer you should know.
“There weren’t any lawyers in my family,” Gonzales explains. “I navigated my way to the legal industry with a ton of unknowns. Now I want to make sure that women have opportunities that I didn’t have and demonstrate that an unconventional career path is still a worthy one.”
The Value of Pivoting
Gonzales’s experience is not singular; there are so many who examine multiple routes before ultimately finding their way, but those stories are often eclipsed by those who have known exactly what they wanted to pursue since childhood. Neither story is inherently “right”—it’s what one does with their experience that defines them.
The challenges for Gonzales were significant. She attended law school part time her first year to be able to support herself. “I was convinced I would ultimately be a litigator and prosecutor,” the lawyer remembers. “So I spent my entire law school experience focusing on that trajectory.”
The problem was that it wasn’t the right fit. Watching litigators seemingly “fight just to fight” and the seemingly arbitrary nature of the adversarial process didn’t speak to what motivated Gonzales to pursue law in the first place. But that would mean changing horses midstream and seeking out a new practice area after training almost exclusively for a job she no longer wanted.
Gonzales was able to secure a clerkship in bankruptcy court, which provided an essential segue between litigation and transactional work. After building out significant in-house experience at Loring Ward, the lawyer came to Affirm in 2017 where she has risen through three promotions and helped shepherd monumental partnerships between the company and the most well-known retailers around.
“I feel like I’m in an incredible place,” Gonzales says. “I think it’s a testament to our products and our consumer focus that we are partnered with many of the biggest retailers in the US like Walmart, Shopify, and Amazon.”
The lawyer handled the Amazon and Walmart deals personally, and it’s a testament to both the mentorship she’s found at Affirm and the willingness to grow into new and increasingly complex areas.
Celebrating the Nontraditional
Gonzales doesn’t want her own success to be an anomaly. The lawyer is a board member for the San Francisco Women in Tech and founded Unfold Careers, a service that helps those with winding journeys strengthen their résumés and find roles of which they can be proud.
“There are so many people who are skilled and talented but aren’t entirely sure what to do with themselves on paper,” Gonzales explains. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with former convicts who have been able to go on to successful careers; they just needed to be able to explain their stories and demonstrate their abilities.”
The attorney also created a mentorship program for diverse law students at Affirm. The legal department is partnering with organizations, such as the National Native American Law Student Association and the Latino Education Advancement Fund, to mentor students from underrepresented communities and provide the kind of guidance Gonzales wouldn’t find until later in her career.
“Newfront is so proud to partner with Hayley who has been a key contributor to the success we see with Affirm today,” says Ivoree Reinaldo, senior vice president and principle at Newfront. “Hayley’s commitment to using her expertise to support people who have disadvantages in life is deeply aligned with our core values, including our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
“When something bothers me, I just want to immediately go and change it,” Gonzales says. “These are small pieces of such a huge puzzle, but this is what I can do with the resources I have to make a difference. If I’m able to change even one person’s life, that matters.”
The support systems in place for law students who share Gonzales’s desire to pivot are few and far between. Her own journey should serve as a reminder that not only is pivoting possible but also that one can find meaning and motivation in that change. There are dozens who have already benefited from Gonzales’s willingness to embrace difficult change. And her willingness to reach back to those facing their own difficult transitions needs to be emulated.
Quick Tips from a Résumé Pro
Hayley Gonzales’s nontraditional path is now her superpower. The lawyer has some helpful tips for those working on a résumé whose own journey may not fit a common narrative.
Don’t Hesitate to Explain: “If there are gaps in your résumé or you’ve only spent short stints of time at a job, provide a brief parenthetical next to each role. Those are important details that might help you avoid immediately being discarded as a serial job-hopper.”
Mirror the Job You Want: “If your résumé looks completely different from the job description you’re applying for, you likely won’t have a great chance of landing the role. Make sure you’re mirroring the job description.”
Thoughts from Guest Editor Christine Vanderpool
“Hayley Gonzales’s insights on nontraditional or pivoting paths in one’s career is insightful, encouraging, and a great reminder that a career is journey with different roads to be traveled by each of us. Her goal of helping others who are feeling the desire to pivot is inspiring.”
Newfront is intent on transforming insurance into an effortless process that delights clients. We are committed to changing the way people create, understand, select, transact, and use insurance, fundamentally changing the approach so that it starts and ends with the client, not the product. At Newfront, we combine expertise and technology to enable the world’s risk takers to run better companies and turn dreams into realities with greater certainty and speed. We are proud to partner with Hayley Gonzales and Affirm as they have changed lending for the better—these relationships are what makes Newfront the company we are today.