In my role as an attorney, I am always aware of my minority status–not only as a woman but as a Latina. Luckily, my days of being mistaken for a client or a court reporter in court are mostly over, thanks to Zoom court calls and from many years of experience. My “youthful” Latina genes are a blessing in most normal settings. But the legal profession is one of a few professions where you want to look older and wiser rather than youthful, though perhaps the same can be said of doctors and politicians.
According to a 2020 Report published by the American Bar Association, over the last decade the percentage of Latinx attorneys has increased slightly from about 4% to 5%. For those of us practicing law, this is not really a noticeable difference, especially given the fact that Latinos comprise about 18% of the overall population in the United States. But our numbers are slowly increasing.
Network and promote yourself
What can we do in our respective professions to diversify our numbers? In the immediate sense, we can complain on social media, write about our struggles in articles such as these, and encourage others to join our professions. I also volunteer at schools and mentor young law students and attorneys to give them the encouragement that they need to persevere as minorities in such professions. But what else can we do to make a difference? I think the simplest answer is we can network and promote ourselves with passion.
I recently attended a fun Summer Social put together by the Latina Lawyers Committee of the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois. The committee, composed of an amazing group of Latina Lawyers provides Latinx lawyers and law students with guidance, mentoring, empowerment, and networking opportunities. Similar events are held by other associations and are an excellent way to network with other like-minded attorneys. These events are a great way to be embraced by a community of people who understand our struggles and they can give younger attorneys, and even law students, the encouragement of knowing that the characteristics that make us unique as Latinos can help us in our professions. This, in turn, will help our Latino clients. Many of these events are also held at prestigious firms, which can give you an opportunity to meet attorneys and even judges who are passionate about diversifying the practice of law and the judiciary. Not to mention, these events help starving law students survive by passing out free food and drinks!
Breaking into leadership roles
Outside of the practice of law we also see that Latinos make up only about 4% of executive officer positions throughout the U.S. with a bit higher percentage (about 11%) in management positions, according to a report by the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility. Breaking through to management and corporate positions takes mentorship by fellow minorities who hold these positions, as well as support from the firms they work for. School-to-work pipelines can start as early as high school and continue into college as recruiters strive to diversify their workforce. But it is our responsibility as Latinos in leadership roles to do more.
As some of us break through into leadership positions we can use our unique perspective as minorities to make our clients feel more comfortable hiring us to help them with their needs. As a bankruptcy attorney, being able to speak Spanish fluently brings much needed comfort to Spanish-language clients who are struggling with their finances. Many of my clients do not understand complex legal issues unless they are explained to them in their native tongue. By simply relating to people and making them feel at ease during a consultation, you can gain a client’s trust and help them with their needs in whatever industry you work in. It is not rare for my Latino clients to hug me at the end of a consultation!
You can’t be what you can’t see
I interviewed several Latino friends of mine in different leadership roles and asked them: Aside from some luck and hard work, what helped you reach your professional goals? The number one answer was seeing other Latinos in leadership roles and having mentors. Representation matters. You can’t be what you can’t see. To borrow a line from one of my favorite movies: “We begin by coveting what we see every day.” Brownie points for my movie buffs who recognize this quote!