The NCBA YLD Diversity and Inclusion Committee has interviewed several diverse attorneys about their experiences in the law. New attorneys face many challenges, including finding mentors, fitting in, and finding their place—and diverse attorneys are no different.
Here is one diverse attorney’s perspective on how he is overcoming these challenges.
Meet Drew Culler
Drew Culler is a Wake Forest University School of Law graduate and plaintiff’s workers’ compensation and personal injury attorney at Johnson & Groninger in Durham, North Carolina. His practice is client-focused and centered on helping people when they are hurt at work or by the negligence of others.
Why do you consider yourself a diverse attorney?
Diversity, to me, means incorporating viewpoints, perspectives, and experiences into the legal field that have historically not been recognized. As a gay plaintiff’s attorney, of which there are few, my experiences inform how I communicate with my clients, how I litigate, and how I approach situations. My upbringing and the struggles I’ve endured because of being in the LGBT community can be a gift because I am particularly sensitive to the struggles my clients face.
Tell me about your path to law.
Many members of the LGBT community, including myself, grew up feeling not accepted by the world and helpless to change our own circumstances. I became a lawyer for the simple reason that it was the best way to help those who feel helpless, like so many of us have felt before.
What do you look for in a mentor?
A mentor is the most important thing for a new lawyer. A mentor should be someone a new lawyer can turn to when needing professional AND personal help. The legal profession is daunting and overwhelming. Having another lawyer on standby to talk about the highs and lows of being a lawyer is essential to being successful and staying grounded. Diverse lawyers face some unique challenges, so I would recommend finding a mentor with similar experiences, even if it is just to grab coffee and talk.
What do you think the future holds for diversity in the legal profession?
I think the future holds a lot of promise for diversity in the legal profession. Although progress can be slow, and we have a long journey ahead, I find myself increasingly in situations where clients, judges, and counsel are diverse. As an example, I recently was in a workers’ compensation mediation where my client, the mediator, and I all identified as part of the LGBT community. It was not lost on me that such an experience was a unique one, and an experience I hope to have again soon.
In what ways can the legal profession become more inclusive to diverse attorneys?
The legal profession must continue to earn the trust of diverse attorneys. It can do so by supporting diverse communities in and out of the courtroom. As lawyers, we must show that we care about the issues facing the LGBT community, as well as communities of color.
What advice would you give to diverse new attorneys or law students?
Do not compromise who you are. It is easy to lose yourself while practicing law. Remember that your struggles, your background, and the things that make you diverse are what separate you from the herd and make you a better lawyer.