AuthorBrown, Paulette
PositionDouble-Consciousness: Women of Color as Advocates for Ourselves and Others - Discussion

Chloe Bootstaylor: Good morning, everyone. I am Chloe Bootstaylor, the Vice President of Empowering Women of Color (EWOC). This is our first official panel, called Advocacy in Practice: Women of Color and Our Allies. This panel will discuss advocacy in the context of mentorship and advancement opportunities for women of color in the legal profession. In this conversation, panelists will share their paths to becoming a practitioner and their experiences with mentorship.

The panel will also address the distinction between mentors and allies, and the ways in which the latter can be mobilized to facilitate the growth and development of women of color in the practice of law. Our moderator is Amreeta Mathai. She is currently a Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School via the Bronx Defenders Holistic Defense Externship Program. Please, give a warm welcome to our panelists.

Amreeta Mathai [AM]: Good morning, everyone. Thank you all so much for being here. The panelists and I would like to thank the organizers for putting together this discussion of women of color in legal practice. As litigators and legal practitioners, part of what's really interesting about our job is that we're engaged both with the academic and theoretical aspects of legal principles and substantive legal issues and also with real-world situations.

We have to interact with real-world actors and issues. We're navigating both the academic, legal world and what it means to be on the ground, confronted with people and systems. The forums that we operate in can include things like trial courts and appellate courts, both at the state and federal level. It can include administrative fora. It also includes things like negotiating tables, mediation rooms, and--very important, I think, to this discussion--it also includes the question of whether or not we are included in spaces where decisions are made about litigation strategy, organizational policies, who gets access to opportunities, and how that is determined.

As to direct interaction with people, that can involve a variety of things including opposing counsel. Who's on the other side of the table when you're litigating? In involves interacting with judges, with court staff, with juries, with clients both in the corporate context and in the direct services context, and with your colleagues. "Colleagues" means people who are senior to you, your supervisors, and it means people who are your peers and people who are junior to you.

In all of these interactions, women of color have to navigate a very complicated landscape. In the practice of law, how people that you interact with--people you have to persuade--react to you actually has an effect on the outcome of your cases. How is a person on the other side of the negotiating table reacting to you? How are your supervisors and your colleagues reacting to you? How is a judge or a jury reacting to you?

Those are all complicated questions. Even more difficult is the question of how those reactions and your perception of those reactions affect your own sense of your ability as an advocate and your own sense of your entitlement to be at the negotiating table, to be a decision-maker. The women of this table come from an impressive array of legal experiences. That varies from corporate M&A issues to impact litigation to jury trials both at the state and federal level. We have some judicial experience on the panel as well. With that, I will leave it to the panelists to introduce themselves and their experience.

Madeline Gomez [MG]: Hi. My name is Madeline Gomez. I just want to echo Amreeta and thank you all so much for having me here. It is such an honor to be on this panel with this incredible lineup of women. I am currently a Litigation Fellow at the U.S. Litigation Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. Before that, 1 was an If/When/How Federal Policy Fellow at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health based in Washington, D.C.

I am definitely new in my profession. It's been a really exciting time. I'm really thrilled to be talking about these mentorship things and to be here with you. At least when I was here at Columbia, EWOC was such an important space for me. It was so strengthening and nurturing. I'm really glad that this conference has continued. I'm really excited to talk about these issues with people.

Jin Hee Lee [JHL]: Good morning, everyone. My name is Jin Hee Lee. I am currently the Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. I, too, am just thrilled to be here. 1 think this is a really important discussion. I was a student here at Columbia, class of 2000. It was a while ago. EWOC was called the Women of Color Coalition back then. I think this is a really important discussion.

When I was here at Columbia, I really felt it was important to talk about intersectionality and diversity issues when it comes to women in the profession, but also women in the public interest profession. There's a lot of discussion about that in the firm environment. I think it's equally true in the public interest field.

After law school, I worked at a firm, Morrison & Foerster. 1 clerked for a year. I then worked at another civil rights organization, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. I've been at the Legal Defense Fund now for almost nine years. I really look forward to this discussion. Thank you so much for having me.

Paulette Brown [PB]: Good morning. Like the others, it's really an honor for me to be here. I really am grateful because I had the privilege of speaking at the first EWOC conference a couple of years ago. I am really thrilled to be back and happy that you thought me worthy to come back.

When I was listening to the judge this morning, I thought, "Is she talking about me?" Except I think I'm a year older than she is. Our backgrounds are similar: we both went to segregated schools in Baltimore. I've been practicing for more than forty years. I've had a wide array of experiences, from working in-house to owning my own firm, from being a judge--which, don't tell her, I did not like being a judge--to being in a big firm. Now, I'm currently the immediate past president of the American Bar Association.

AM: I think maybe we can start off with each of the panelists talking about...

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