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 she is overcoming these challenges.
Meet Jasmine H. Gregory
Jasmine H. Gregory is a Wake Forest University School of Law graduate and practices family law. She handles juvenile abuse, neglect, and dependency matters and drafts end-of-life documents at Apple Payne Law, PLLC.
Why do you consider yourself a diverse attorney?
I am an African American female and although there are already a limited number of African American attorneys, there are even fewer in private practice like me.
What was your path to law?
I worked in social media/online marketing prior to attending law school. While I was studying for the LSAT, I worked with the United Way of Greater Greensboro as a Campaign Associate, and one of my accounts was with Legal Aid. I quickly became engrossed with the nature of their work and how they were serving the community—specifically, women and children. This deeply resonated with me and left me wanting to pursue a career in family law with the goal of enriching children’s lives through my work, and showing both little girls and African American children that growing up to become an attorney is an option. When I was growing up, I knew of two African American female attorneys and neither of them lived locally, so it always seemed like an out-of-reach pipe dream. I feel my presence can speak to children and show them that they, too, can do this!
What do you look for in a mentor?
In my experience, I’ve often found mentors through other professional connections or previous work experiences. Additionally, I consider myself a “professional networker” since I studied public relations in undergrad and worked in marketing for several years prior to attending law school. Accordingly, anywhere I go, I am always actively trying to meet new people. One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years is tapping the full extent of your network to find individuals who share your goals and have already achieved what you aim to do in the future. Whenever I’m on LinkedIn, I am actively looking to see if there is anyone I already know that knows someone who I need to know. By way of example, I applied for my first legal job in family law from an online listing with zero knowledge of anyone who worked at this boutique firm. However, my 1L internship supervisor had a standing relationship with the managing partner, put in a good word for me, and it was all history after that! Because I continued pouring into that relationship with my former supervisor long after my 1L summer, it paid off more than two years later when I needed to find a job in the area.
How do you expand and leverage your network?
My network consists of a variety of professionals ranging from other attorneys in numerous practice areas and public interest law, to local social workers and other young professionals in the Triad. I am also a member of a historically black sorority (Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.) and the Winston-Salem Bar Association, a group dedicated to the advancement of African American attorneys in Forsyth County, and these connections often lead to promising client referrals. One of the easiest ways I’ve learned to expand my network since beginning to practice is meeting as many people as possible at CLEs and other networking events for attorneys, exchanging contact information frequently, and always having business cards handy wherever I go. I leverage my network by keeping in regular contact with many individuals, both within my specific practice area and other areas of law or the community that often touches my work.
What motivates you to be a diversity advocate / champion in the legal profession?
Representation. My first year of law school, I remember seeing a statistic that African American attorneys make up less than 2% of all law firm partners nationwide and less than 1% of all elected District Attorneys in the U.S. Since graduating from law school, I have quickly learned that while many law firms are not overtly racist or homophobic, they often give off that appearance with a completely white, cisgender, heterosexual staff, ranging from their attorneys to their paralegals. It is this appearance that has often left me very reluctant to pursue employment with larger firms for fear of being an outlier or an “other.” Further, I think it’s important for the general public to see diverse lawyers in the courtroom to know that their interests will be represented and accurately portrayed to the Court. As an African American, many of my counterparts are inherently mistrusting of the court system as a whole, and having an attorney/advocate who can guide them through these processes who looks like them tends to help people feel protected and most importantly—seen.
What do you think is the future of diversity for the legal profession?
I hope it continues becoming more and more diverse. Often, I am the only counselor of color in any given courtroom, and while that can be intimidating at times, I ultimately hope to see more people who look like me enter the legal profession and the courtroom. I would also hope to see more minorities, women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and other underrepresented groups in private practice and in other influential positions (i.e., Assistant District Attorneys, Judges, Mediators, Arbitrators, Law Firm Partners, etc.).
In what ways can the legal profession become more inclusive for diverse attorneys?
From my perspective, I like to look at the root, and for the legal profession, I see law schools serving as that root. I believe it’s important for law schools to aggressively recruit and pursue possible J.D. candidates who are from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, and to incorporate diverse on-campus events as a part of the recruitment process. After diverse attorneys are barred, I believe it is important for county and state bar organizations to create spaces and events for diverse lawyers to come together, have a safe space to voice their concerns, and a vehicle to problem solve together with other, like-minded allies. Often, I have felt like a diverse attorney operating alone in a silo where no one else looks like me or can relate to my experiences. However, with more support from the Bar organization as a whole and more venues that are willing to cater to underrepresented groups, I believe we can find more people with similar experiences to harness our collective power to improve the legal profession.
What advice would you give to diverse new attorneys or law students?
My advice to new attorneys and law students would be to always remember your voice, who you are, and the basis of your moral foreground. I tend to think it is often easy to “assimilate” or try to change oneself with the goal of adhering to a certain ideal attorney image. Yet there is no one specific way an attorney should look, appear, dress, etc., and the more individuals who cling to their diversity proudly and outwardly, the more inclusive our legal profession and court system can become as a whole.
https://ncbarblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Blog-Header-1-1030x530.png00NCBA YLDhttps://ncbarblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Blog-Header-1-1030x530.pngNCBA YLD2020-06-05 14:28:472020-06-05 14:28:47An Interview With Jasmine H. Gregory