Newspapers owned by Frederick Douglass published advertisements for Ms. Ray’s legal practice which
in turn enabled her business. Due to her skillful lawyering, Historian Monroe Alpheus Majors labelled Ms.
Ray as “one of the best lawyers on corporations in the
2 Despite her excellence and connections, her
success was short lived. Lawyer Kate Rossi remarked
that “Miss Ray… although a lawyer of decided ability, on
account of prejudice was not able to obtain sufficient legal business and had to give up active practice.”
the legal profession effectively ostracized her, Ms. Ray
reverted to teaching in the Brooklyn school system.
The racial prejudices which crippled Ms. Ray’s success as a corporate lawyer nearly 145 years ago continue
to prevail in the United States today. Pamela Roberts,
Chair of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Commission on Women in the Profession wrote:
Women of color experience a double whammy of
gender and race, unlike white women or even men of
color who share at least one of these characteristics
(gender or race) with those in the upper strata of
management. Women of color may face exclusion
from informal networks, inadequate institutional support, and challenges to their authority and
credibility. They often feel isolated and alienated,
sometimes even from other women.
Qualitative and quantitative data analyzed by a myriad legal organizations reinforce Ms. Roberts’ commentary. According to the ABA Journal, “eighty-five percent
of minority female attorneys in the U.S. will quit large
5 Furthermore, minority women continue to be the
“most drastically underrepresented group at the partnership level, a pattern that holds across all firm sizes and
6 While women comprise 36 percent
of the legal profession, only 21. 5 percent of law firm partners are female.
7 This percentage, however, is much lower for women of color than for white women. According
to 2015-2016 National Association of Law Placement
(NALP) Directory of Legal Employers, only 2. 5 percent of
our nation’s partners are minority women.
With the odds stacked against minority women,
how does one attain the 2. 5 percent? Three outstanding female partners provided their insight. Though all
three partners are minority women, they have differing
upbringings. Leslie Spencer is African-American, with
family roots in America spanning generations. Jeannie
Rhee is a first-generation American, born in South Korea. Noiana Marigo is an international lawyer from Argentina, practicing in the United States. While Spencer is
an intellectual property litigator for Ropes & Gray, Rhee
is a white collar litigator for WilmerHale, and Marigo is
an international arbitrator for Freshfields. Despite their
divergent backgrounds, all three women provided similar insight into how they achieved the 2. 5 percent. Here
is advice gleaned from their interviews.
According to the ABA Journal,
“eighty-five percent of minority
female attorneys in the U.S. will
quit large firms.”