Long hours and heavy workloads can make the life of a new lawyer lonely. The loneliness is compounded for attorneys of color, who make up just 15% of the profession. The Young Lawyers Division of the Center for Legal Inclusiveness was born out of a need for young diverse lawyers in Colorado to find and support one another.
“You may be the only person you know in your firm that is Asian-American or Black or LGBTQ+,” said CLI-YLD Chair Stephanie McConkie. “And that’s something that can feel very isolating when you don’t see others or know others who have the same experiences as you.”
One of the ways CLI-YLD helps build connections is through its mentorship program. The organization partnered with the University of Denver Sturm College of Law last year to launch a mentorship program for diverse and first-generation attorneys. The program aims to build “mentorship circles” by pairing each first-year law student with a young attorney mentor and a senior attorney mentor.
“It creates a flexible environment where the young attorney may find that mentor in the senior attorney, and the young attorney can also be a mentor to the student,” McConkie said. “And then the student gets the best of both worlds. They’ve got two mentors that are in two different stages in their career.” She added that students often feel more comfortable going to the younger attorney with some questions and the senior attorney with others.
“Ideally, it isn’t just a ‘meet for coffee and I can review your resume’ type of an experience,” CLI-YLD Chair-Elect Marika Rietsema Ball said, adding they try to pair mentors and mentees based on shared experience and personal characteristics, such as race, LGBTQ and first-generation status. In addition to giving career advice, mentors provide an empathetic ear and perspective when events in the news or community affect people of color or LGBTQ people.
“I think a lot of times in the legal field, we forget that we’re people before we’re lawyers and law students,” Ball said. “What we’ve really tried to do is create something that is a holistic, well-rounded mentorship program.”
Mentors and students have already been paired for this semester, and the program will host a reception in the next month or so to help foster those mentorship groups. But the program is always looking for more mentors, and those who sign up now will be matched with students for the spring semester. The program is still in its pilot stage, but CLI-YLD hopes to expand it to other law schools eventually.
CLI-YLD has also hosted seminars on topics such as negotiating compensation and promoting one’s brand as a young lawyer. The group plans to continue the series with programs on building a book of business and career transitions for attorneys who want to switch practice areas. McConkie and Ball, both 2018 Sturm graduates, said the topics are largely inspired by their own experiences or conversations they have had with friends in the legal profession.
Other ways to get involved with CLI-YLD include serving on the board of directors or joining its various committees, which range from fundraising and membership to programming. The organization’s monthly meetings are virtual to provide flexibility for members outside the Denver metro area and young attorneys who might not have much control over their schedules.
CLI-YLD partners with affinity bar associations and other young lawyer organizations and encourages attorneys involved with these groups to reach out about co-sponsoring events or other collaborations. In April, the group partnered with the Denver Bar Association YLD to host a virtual dinner and discussion. Although the event took place over Zoom, the organizers provided food for participants to enjoy at home.
McConkie and Ball said they expect CLI-YLD to offer a mix of in-person, virtual and hybrid programming for the foreseeable future. They hope to launch a podcast sometime next year featuring topics of interest to young attorneys, such as an “activist lawyer” series on how to be an attorney who makes a difference.
CLI-YLD membership is free for all law students and for attorneys under age 40 or with less than 10 years in practice. Attorneys from all backgrounds, including allies, are encouraged to join the board and attend meetings. “We need everybody in the room. We need all the perspectives,” Ball said.
McConkie added that she would like to see more young public sector attorneys get involved with the organization. “I think sometimes programming neglects those in the public sector,” she said. “There are very real situations and concerns that occur there. I’d really like to reach out more and get that perspective so that we can go ahead and create better programs for those in the public sector.”