The Men of Color Project launched in mid-2018 with a mission to build leaders in the field of law in collaboration with the American Bar Association (ABA) Young Lawyers Division (YLD) and Walmart.
David Morrow, a lawyer who is the current director of operations at Mahmee, and Tommy Preston, who is chair of YLD and the director of national engagement and strategy at Boeing, created the Men of Color Project in response to their observations that they did not see themselves represented in large numbers within the profession. As a result, Morrow and Preston put together a team of rising star attorneys from across the country representing every ethnic group and ethnic minority bar association to serve as advisers.
The Men of Color Project targets young male legal talent from the African-American, Filipino, Asian, Asian-American, Southeast Asian, Pacific Islander, and Latino communities in their first five years out of law school. Using the backdrop of their own challenging experiences as early career lawyers, the leaders of the Project thought focusing on the first five years after law school was intentional.
According to Morrow, it is a critical time frame for male attorneys of color in regard to getting access to career guidance and a support system that is essential for setting up a young attorney for success.
To maximize the accessibility of the advice, the Men of Color Project was conceived as an exclusively digital program, easily accessible to its target audience within the legal profession. The initiative achieves its mission through these three pillars:
Pillar 1: Visioning a Goal, Developing a Plan & Executing with Precision
The Project provides tools and advice, based on the experiences of men of color attorneys, broken up into a digestible plan of action with tangible goals. “The Men of Color Project provides guidance on how to navigate the profession, to change the type of law practice, or to succeed early in that big law firm, or other legal settings,” says Morrow. “Because we don’t typically have parents or family members to lean on to acquire that experience and advice.”
According to Morrow, many lawyers of color assume after finishing law school, passing the bar, and earning their first job, they are set. However, after starting their first job, they quickly discover the magnitude of the greater challenges ahead. Morrow recalls feeling isolated because there were not many people around him who were African American. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” he says. “Knowing what you are getting into is a big challenge and then, once you know what’s going to happen and what you’re going to experience, it becomes easier to make a plan for yourself for how to navigate these historically white spaces.”
Pillar 2: Building a Team of Advocates, Sponsors & Mentors
The Men of Color Project also provides digital guidance to maximize mentorships and build relationships with influencers, sponsors, and advocates based upon the learnings of more experienced lawyers of color. These include resources like Secrets of Superstar Associates and how to use reverse mentoring. Indeed, it is well known that lawyers of color are among the most mentored yet under-sponsored group in the legal profession.
This difference does matter, Morrow explains. “I struggled those first few years in private practice because I didn’t really have many internal sponsors that were telling me how to navigate the law firm and promoting my work to the larger partnership,” he says. “It wasn’t until my last few years at the firm that I formed a relationship with a partner who really told me the truth and guided me. I look back and know that if I had formed a relationship with her at the very beginning of my tenure at that firm, my entire experience would have been dramatically different for the better.”
Pillar 3: Prioritizing Wellness and Letting Go of Outdated Masculine Paradigms about Mental Health
The Men of Color Project also is shunning the stigmas surrounding mental health because of the real needs for young male legal talent to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually fit. Through self-assessments for anxiety and depression to #Fit2Practice YouTube videos, the Project tries to counter the negative associations of mental health by engaging men in an honest dialogue about the stressful mental impacts of working as a lawyer.
“To be a person of color in this country requires a lot of grit and a lot of mental strength,” notes Morrow. “Then, on top of that, men attorneys of color deal with bias and judgment every day in our professional life as soon as we enter the workplace. Men of color attorneys have stories of people assuming that we’re ‘the help’ or that we were some sort of assistant or paralegal. It is a real stressor on your mental health in the long run to deal with micro-aggressions and unconscious bias, especially considering the legal profession as a whole can already be a stressful environment.”
Morrow and Preston both thought it was important to show male attorneys of color as individuals in casual wear to change the perception of men of color more broadly. “All of the pictures on our website are us in casual wear because of the assumption that most would not know that we are attorneys by what we wear,” Morrow explains. “We want to demonstrate how a casually dressed black guy in a hoodie is a lawyer. Lawyers don’t have to be dressed in a suit and tie all the time.”
The Men of Color Project is planning a Summit on May 4 at Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C.