Willette Elder, JD '10 Alumni Spotlight

March 27, 2023

Willette Elder

Can you tell us more about your career path after law school? 

After earning my JD at GW Law in 2010, I earned my LLM in Taxation at Boston University School of Law and began my career as a tax attorney. My work has consisted of business tax planning, primarily for deal makers. During my law firm days, I focused on income taxation planning and wealth succession planning for high-net-worth individuals and their closely held business, particularly in the art industry. During my Big 4 accounting firm days, I focused on transactional tax planning: the structures, quantification and investigation involved in all sides of a merger, acquisition or other business deal or strategy. In addition to supporting some of the largest private equity firms in the world, my time in public accounting afforded me the opportunity to work on two of the largest media mergers of all time. After leaving public accounting, I rose to the position of Senior Vice President of Tax at VALE Insurance Partners, a transactional risk insurance firm. At VALE, mostly in the context of mergers, acquisitions and other business deals and strategies, I review the type of tax memoranda and reports that I once drafted to understand a taxpayer’s specific position and provide insurance solutions to mitigate the risk that a taxing authority will examine or otherwise review that specific position. I review positions in all industries, which is perfect for the type of tax lawyer that I have become: curious, investigative, detailed, and open to the evolution of the tax code and our interaction with it.    

What motivated you to continue your engagement with GW Law after graduation, and what led you to become the Treasurer of the Association of Black Law Alumni?

My time at GW Law was a challenging time, but I was able to identify and build relationships with great mentors within the law school, at various DC law firms, and within the other organizations where I worked during my time in law school. As a 1L, an important mentor for me became the late Larry Harris, who was also a GW Law alum – Mr. Harris would always tell me that I was “wise beyond my years” and that my “long game” approach to my career would serve me well.

During law school I was very involved in the American Bar Association, as well as the Black Law Student Association, where I served as Employment Director for one year, and the Mid-Atlantic Black Law Student Association, where I served as Director of Programming for one year, both of which fall under the National Black Law Student Association a nationwide organization (and largest law student organization in the country) formed to articulate and promote the needs and goals of black law students and effectuate change in the legal community. These relationships during my law school career, as well as my hands-on interaction with delivering successful results, were invaluable to the confidence, grace, eloquence, composure and experience that have formed my brand as an attorney and as a human. The value of my experiences while at GW and the powerful mentors that I’ve had, coupled with many years of seeing few black attorneys in the tax and corporate spaces I occupy, motivated me to continue my engagement with GW Law and the Association of Black Law Alumni after graduation. As a tax attorney, and having fallen for Microsoft Excel in my early days in public accounting, I was eager to assist with ABLA budgeting, tracking expenses and gifts, delivering creative fundraising strategies, and talking about finance. I was elected Treasurer in 2021. 

ABLA recently celebrated an important fundraising milestone – we reached our $75,000 fundraising goal for the Jeanette A. Michael Memorial Scholarship Fund “Funding First, Funding the Future” Campaign. ABLA launched this campaign in 2020, with a 5-year goal, so I am especially thankful that we reached this goal in 2022 – three years ahead of schedule. Alumni donor contributions spanned over 50 years of GW Law alumni classes. These statistics lead me to envision a future for ABLA where we consistently garner this sort of overwhelming support in all that we do and years of alumni classes reach back, each one lifting as they climb.

Is there a class or experience during your time as a student at GW Law that you found particularly helpful or impactful?  

During my time as a student, I really enjoyed the classes and experiences that allowed me to work on my feet. To this day, I love public speaking. Trial Advocacy, Cohen & Cohen, Client Counseling and the Civil Litigation Clinic, for example, were opportunities to prepare, stand and speak, learn to listen, manage reactions, project, exude confidence.  Although at the time, I may not have known exactly what qualities these experiences would promote, I took the courses that were fun for me. I had faith that the more I leaned into the aspects of law school that I liked and from which I had opportunities to engage with other enthusiastic members of the legal community, the more successful I would be - in and outside of the profession.