Posted By CMCP,
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, May 6, 2015
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Mary Michelena Monroe, Shareholder | AlvaradoSmith, APCby Noah Pérez-Silverman, Attorney, Caldwell Leslie & Proctor, PC
Just as Nike uses the catch-phrase "Just Do It” to inspire consumers to physical excellence, Mary Michelena Monroe advises women lawyers and lawyers of color seeking success in law firm settings to "just say ‘yes.’” In fact, according to Mary, we should be the first to say "yes.”
Mary Michelena Monroe is one of five lawyers the California Minority Counsel Program recently welcomed to its Board of Directors, and she is exactly what I would expect of a CMCP Board Member – accomplished, intelligent, articulate, and philanthropic. She is a Shareholder at AlvaradoSmith, APC – California’s largest, California-based, minorityowned law firm – where she has built a thriving litigation practice. As a member of the firm’s Business, Commercial & Complex Litigation and Employment Counseling & Litigation Practice Groups, she represents and counsels clients on a broad variety of employment-related issues, ranging from hostile work environment to sexual, racial, age and ADA discrimination and harassment. Before earning her Juris Doctor from Loyola Law School, Mary was selected to compete on the International Moot Court Team and was awarded the American Jurisprudence Award for excellence in Trial Advocacy. She has served as a faculty member for the National Institute for Trial Advocacy and currently is a member of the State Bar Council on Access and Fairness.
Mary is passionate about increasing diversity in the legal profession and is whole-heartedly committed to fulfilling CMCP’s mission. As a young associate, Mary observed that very few women advanced to partnership, and those who were invited into that exclusive group, did not have families – a troubling trend suggesting that, for women, the cost of personal success would be family. Mary also recognized that, in many law firms, the partners in positions to dole out prime work assignments and to make careeradvancing client introductions are not women or attorneys of color, and these rainmakers tend to work with associates who look like them and with whom they share similar backgrounds (a phenomenon Mary attributes to human nature, more than anything). Mary candidly acknowledges that these realities create huge opportunity gaps for women lawyers and lawyers of color, many of whom ultimately leave law firms (or law practice), creating even greater gender and racial disparity in law offices.
Lack of diversity, however, can negatively impact a law firm’s ability to deliver excellent client service, especially as it relates to employment litigation, Mary says. In the employment space in particular, lawyers must be able to effectively interact with men and women of varied races, cultures, and backgrounds, many of whom have never been involved in any type of litigation, let alone litigation that evokes the type of emotions that often arise in connection with employment-related disputes. Moreover, for trial lawyers, like Mary, the ability to relate to juries – inevitably comprised of men and women of many races and from all walks of life – can make the difference between securing a favorable verdict or not. So, while increasing diversity in the legal profession is a laudable social goal, Mary explains that increasing diversity also is fundamental to a firm’s ability to provide meaningful client service and to meet client expectations. In short, diversity is necessary for lasting success.
Mary’s commitment to creating a more diverse legal landscape developed largely because of her membership in CMCP. Mary was introduced to CMCP when she began her tenure at AlvaradoSmith three years ago. In fact, soon after she joined AlvaradoSmith, Mary attended a CMCP event and was impressed, not only with the substantive programming, but also the networking opportunities. From that day, Mary was hooked, and over time she became increasingly involved in the organization, including serving as a member of CMCP’s 2013 Conference Committee and moderating a conference panel. When Marci Rubin announced that there were positions open on CMCP’s Board of Directors, Mary did not hesitate to apply, and her enthusiasm about her upcoming term as a member of the Board is downright palpable.
What does Mary have planned? During her term, Mary will continue CMCP’s work of arming lawyers of color and women lawyers with the tools to help fill the opportunity gaps that often delay or prevent such lawyers’ ascent to the partnership ranks. To achieve professional success in law firm environs requires fearlessness and initiative, Mary believes. Women and lawyers of color must unabashedly ask for opportunities. Mary acknowledges the value of mentors and sponsors who can guide and advance a legal career, but cautions women lawyers and lawyers of color not to give up the reins of their career development. At all times, we should be seeking and asking for the opportunities that will move our careers forward. Mary notes that many times women lawyers and lawyers of color may be aware of opportunities, but don’t ask for them. It’s the asking that makes the difference, Mary says, and we must be resilient when we ask and are told, "no.” Mary wants to ensure that CMCP’s plenary programming instills in its young members the courage to "ask for what they want.”
She also wants to equip young CMCP members with effective networking skills, and to create opportunities for them to use those skills – often. Toward that aim, Mary is planning to encourage more CMCP events dedicated exclusively to informal "networking” – which Mary says really is creating, building, and nurturing lasting professional relationships.
Finally, Mary believes CMCP can be instrumental in inspiring its members, especially young lawyers, to stretch beyond their comfort zones. Mary recalls a professor at Loyola who taught a trial advocacy class intended to prepare students to participate in a program sponsored by the District Attorney’s Office. His advice resonated with Mary and has enabled her to grow as a lawyer: "When the partner asks if you can do something, just say ‘yes,’ and then go figure out how to do it.” Building on this advice, Mary says that when opportunities arise for a woman lawyer or lawyer of color, he or she should not just say "yes, he or she should be the first one to say "yes.”
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