Starbucks in-house leadership

Zabrina Jenkins is a director, corporate counsel at Starbucks overseeing commercial, products, discrimination and general liability litigation for stores in North America.

She took part in the Washington Leadership Institute (WLI), which aims to develop lawyers from traditionally under-represented minorites for future leadership roles at the Washington state bar and in the community. The programme’s mission is for its most prominent lawyers to reflect the diversity of the state, in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and disability.


What does your job entail?

I oversee the company’s litigation and provide advice to internal clients on issues regarding contracts and discrimination matters and issues regarding injuries with customers at stores. My role has kind of changed but I have been at Starbucks for eight years. I have taken on more of the internal advice dealing with vendors and contracts but when I first came on board I dealt solely with customer issues. Since then I have been doing more commercial litigation work.

Where did you study?

I went to Syracuse University in New York for law school and grad school and before that I went to Central Washington University, where I studied business. While I was in law school at Syracuse, I did a summer internship at the Law Society on Chancery Lane in London. I had always planned on going into law but I wanted to study something that was interesting to me in case I got derailed and didn’t end up going to law school.

When were you selected for WLI?

I did WLI while I was working at Starbucks in 2011. It’s a ten month programme where they select lawyers with four to ten years of experience, who are currently working. We went through a ten month programme where we met every month. The application process meant that you had to have your employer’s recommendation and a couple of referrals too.

Who else was selected?

There were 12 of us. We were all from very different backgrounds, some were in private practice, others were in the public sector, some of us were in-house, but they really tried to bring together a diverse group of people. Diverse in experience, in ethnicity, in many different ways.

What did WLI involve?

We had sessions every month and there were different lawyers and business professionals in the community who would lead sessions. It was basically learning about different leadership styles and then the programme culminated with us having to, as a group, submit a community service project.

What was your project?

Our project was a resource guide for dealing with law enforcement. There was an issue at the time in Seattle with people in the community not knowing how to lodge a complaint against law enforcement and so our project focused on giving people in the community more information about their rights as they relate to law enforcement.

It was open to anyone and talked about how to address the conduct of an individual officer, actions of law enforcement agencies and how to obtain public records. A lot of people in the community don’t know if you have a complaint or feel as though you have been mistreated by police, what your remedies are.

What did you gain from WLI?

I learnt a lot about my leadership style and how I can be a more effective leader and I got to meet people in different areas of law who I otherwise would not have encountered, like judges and federal judges. We went over to the other side of the state and met law enforcement there. I think when you go down a certain path of practising law you don’t really have exposure to other areas so it allows for that.

What are your future plans?

I like being in-house, I try and get different experiences and move within the company and I like the work that I’m doing. I was at a law firm for four and half years before comng to Starbucks. I was looking to have just one client. I was a litigator at my law firm and, while I enjoyed it and liked it, I thought that counselling my clients and working with just one client would suit me better.