The ABA Young Lawyers Division’s Men of Color Summit on May 4 at Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., marked the official launch of the division’s new initiative to advance the careers of diverse young men in the law.
The brainchild of Los Angeles attorney Dave L. Morrow II and Tommy D. Preston, division chair, the Men of Color Project (MoCP) targets law students and those in their first five years out of law school. The goal is to give them access to career guidance and a support system essential for a successful legal career.
The initiative is vital in light of the underrepresentation of minority lawyers in the profession, particularly among African American men, whose numbers have declined over the past several years.
Morrow, who serves as project director, said men of color need “an immense amount of grit” to figure out how to flourish in the legal profession, and that they often face a lack of connections and an unfamiliarity with the “cultural differences” at law firms and within legal practice when coming out of law school.
He wants MoCP to be a “safe space” where men can find understanding, camaraderie and resources.
At the heart of the initiative is an ever-growing digital platform that includes a wealth of assets in various multimedia formats. Described as a “toolkit,” the website is organized by three areas of focus, each with its own set of exercises and resources: Vision Development & Execution, Mental Health and Wellness, and Sponsorship & Mentoring.
Project organizers particularly emphasize their goal of fostering an intergenerational support system among users, explaining that mentorship is key to bridging the gap between where young attorneys start and where they want to be.
Lawyers Karl Racine, the attorney general of Washington, D.C., and Fabiani Duarte, chief of civil law, 49th Wing for the JAG Corps of the U.S. Air Force and former chair of the ABA Law Student Division, underscore the value of role models.
Duarte said one of the first people he met at the ABA was executive director Jack Rives, who served as The Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Air Force and was the first military attorney to attain the three-star rank of lieutenant general. Being able to talk with him about a career in the JAG and be introduced around by him “was huge,” he said.
Mentors not only help expand networks; many can also give young attorneys their first shot. Racine said he lucked out when as a summer associate at Venable he was given an assignment from former U.S. attorney general Ben Civiletti, who became his mentor and with whom he is still in touch. He credits his career achievements to mentoring and encouragement.
Duarte said he hopes MoCP will play a role in furthering the diversity now being seen at the lower levels of law firms, helping its infiltration into the upper echelons.
Walmart has signed on as the project’s first corporate sponsor, and plans are underway for more in-person events to complement the MoCP website, including a program at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco, Aug. 7-13.