After I graduated from college, I remained at the University of Florida for law school. When I finished law school, I began a career as a young attorney trying to navigate law-firm life. As I was settling into a niche practice area within insurance defense, I was hired as an associate attorney at an Atlanta law firm that had about a hundred lawyers, which made it a medium-sized firm. When I started, there were only two other black associates and one black partner. Another black female attorney started a few weeks after I did. There were no black male attorneys. Over time, increasing attention was paid to diversifying the firm’s employees, and the face of the firm changed. Nonetheless, my work at the firm – indeed, all my work as an attorney – was like being on the high school debate team all over again: a black woman engaged in a white man’s activity. Again, the sense of “otherness” was pervasive.
I did find a committed advocate in that firm: a middle-aged white male partner. He challenged, trusted, and empowered me. This partner actively helped me build my own client base, which is essential for an associate to “make partner,” the pinnacle of law-firm life. This experience showed me the personal and professional impact of having an ally, and it showed me that support may come from the most unexpected places.
From “Black and White: Disrupting Racism One Friendship At A Time” by Teesha Hadra and John Hambrick