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Carmen Cole

Posted By CMCP, Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Carmen Cole, Managing Partner | Littleton Joyce Ughetta Park & Kelly LLP
by Noah Pérez-Silverman, Attorney, Caldwell Leslie & Proctor, PC

Carmen Cole, the managing partner of the Los Angeles office of Littleton Joyce Ughetta Park & Kelly LLP, loves to break the mold. Some of the ways in which she stands out are obvious: for instance, there are not many African-American women who are managing partners of law firms. Other ways are less so: there are also not many former competitive cheerleaders who love playing heavy metal electric guitar. But these are just a few of the ways Carmen defies expectations.

Carmen’s independent streak started in her youth. Coming from a family where everyone—including her older brother and sister—took the military route after high school, she decided to go to college instead. She acknowledges that her initial motivation to get good grades was to remain on her high school’s competitive cheerleading team. But as her senior year drew to a close, she realized that her grades made her a strong college applicant and that pursuing a university education was the path she wanted. Without any immediate family members who had attended college, however, she did not know how to navigate the application process; she realized too late that she had missed the deadlines to apply for both admission and federal financial aid at most colleges. Undeterred, she submitted applications after the deadlines and was accepted to multiple universities anyway. She attended California State University, Fullerton, and worked full time at various jobs to put herself through college.

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Her college summers were spent working, either for an international hotel chain or as an instructor for Varsity – the world’s largest provider of professional cheerleading education and instruction. Carmen also worked during the summers in the mail room of a law firm, and it was this exposure that first made her think that a career in law could be the right fit for her. Even from reading faxes that were sent and received by the lawyers at the firm, she realized that a career in the law was never dull, as it involved working on different cases in different industries from one day to the next.

After college, Carmen attended Pepperdine University School of Law, where she graduated in 2001. While in law school, Carmen was a regular on the competitive trial team and moot court competition circuit, winning Best Advocate awards in three national competitions. After formative years at other firms, including the Los Angeles and Atlanta offices of the international firm, McGuireWoods LLP, Carmen landed at Meserve Mumper & Hughes LLP, a Los Angeles litigation boutique. Having developed a practice focused primarily on employment law, she was elevated to partner at the Meserve firm in 2010.

Unlike many in her law school class, Carmen did not go to law school because she loved to debate; she went because she loved to resolve. Defying the well-known stereotypes of lawyers, Carmen does not relish argument for argument’s sake. Although she is prepared to get aggressive when the situation calls for it, the part of law she enjoys the most—and the way in which she believes lawyers can be most effective—is working with both her clients and their adversaries to problem solve and achieve closure for all involved.

Indeed, Carmen’s focus on client service led her to leave law firm life and head in-house. Employing her expertise in employment law, she served as a Human Resources Director at her alma mater, Pepperdine University, from 2011 to 2012. In that role, she worked closely with the Office of the General Counsel on employment matters affecting a workforce of more than 2,000 employees and oversaw both the HR Department and the University’s Office of Insurance and Risk. Although she eventually left the University to become a law firm partner once again, she cherishes her time at Pepperdine, and believes it made her a better lawyer. "You understand far more intimately what drives a client’s decision-making when you have actually been the client,” she notes.

It was not long before Carmen developed an itch for a return to the active practice of law. That desire led her back to private law firm practice at New York-based litigation boutique Littleton Joyce Ughetta Park & Kelly LLP. At the time, the firm did not have an employment practice. To an outside observer, Littleton Joyce might not have seemed like a good fit. But where others see lack, Carmen sees opportunity. It just so happened that Littleton Joyce was looking to grow its Los Angeles office and diversify its practice areas beyond its core products liability practice. Carmen joined the firm’s Los Angeles office in January 2013 with the objective of developing and growing the firm’s employment practice. She was elevated to office Managing Partner the following year. "Go where you’re needed,” Carmen advises. "Even if they don’t yet know that they need you.” And she speaks from experience.

Carmen has had a variety of professional high points throughout her career. One that sticks out in her mind was her successful defense of a record label in a wrongful termination and employment discrimination action. Not only did she obtain summary judgment on all ten of plaintiff’s claims, the cross-claims she brought on behalf of the record label employer against the former employee survived summary judgment. The employer’s affirmative claims against the plaintiff were ultimately settled, leading to the unusual circumstance where the plaintiff actually paid the employer an undisclosed sum. Despite this and other standout moments in her career, Carmen still has goals. Like many litigators (even senior and partner level attorneys) she desires more trial experience. She will get her wish when she and a colleague take a personal injury case to trial this summer.

Carmen became involved in CMCP while still an associate at the Meserve firm in 2009. She recognizes that instead of talking about how great it would be if minority attorneys had better access and opportunity in the legal profession, CMCP actually bridges the gap between that idea and the reality of minority lawyers building solid relationships and successful careers. Carmen actively participates in CMCP events, including serving on the 2011 Annual Conference Committee and as a panel speaker at the 2011 and 2014 conferences. She has also participated in CMCP’s Corporate Connections in four of the last five years.

Carmen is involved with myriad other organizations as well, including the Defense Research Institute, the National Employment Law Counsel (NELC) and Black Girls Rock, a non-profit organization established to provide mentorship for young women of color. Her advice for young lawyers is to get involved in the broader business and social communities, not just legal organizations. Opportunity is more likely to arise from relationships with those with similar interests, not just from those who look like you. Carmen believes that diversity of interest is as important as racial, ethnic, gender or any other type of diversity.

As for her own interests outside of the law, she is a heavy metal enthusiast, with a penchant for Metallica, Alice in Chains, Pantera, and Iron Maiden. Her husband, Jeremy Colson, is a professional rock drummer and she loves to jam with him on her signature G&L Rampage electric guitar (a wedding gift from Jeremy). Needless to say, the jam is LOUD. With all the ways she defies expectations, it is no surprise Carmen’s career has been so successful. No doubt there is even more path-breaking ahead of her.


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