Ashley Simons decided to attend THRIVE after hearing about it from a Parker Poe associate who participated in the program himself years earlier.
“From what he said, I felt like Parker Poe was very much dedicated to making a space where people of color specifically feel like they can be included,” said Ashley, a first-year law student at Elon University. “I wanted to learn more and see how a larger firm implements that type of program.”
THRIVE is designed to help minority law students navigate law school, make a successful transition into the practice of law after graduation, and thrive as they pursue the different paths a legal career may take. Ashley was one of the students who attended the daylong program in Parker Poe’s Raleigh office on a recent Saturday.
“You have a commitment from us to make sure everyone who walks in the doors of our firm has what they need to thrive at Parker Poe,” partner Shalanna Pirtle said in welcoming the students. Shalanna also chairs the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee. “You also have a commitment from us to make sure the folks in your chairs are set up to succeed no matter what firm you join or career aspirations you may have.”
Phyllis Golden Morey, vice president and deputy general counsel at Ingersoll Rand, a $14 billion global business, delivered the keynote address. She has also worked in various capacities within law firms, as an assistant U.S. attorney, and served in leadership roles at Lear Corporation, Ford Motor Company, and Ameritech Corporation (now AT&T). She told the students not to be discouraged if their career path doesn’t take them in a straight line.
“One job that I took where I thought I was taking a step back was ultimately a plummeting step forward in terms of my understanding, my growth, and my appreciation for what it means to be a lawyer to a business,” Phyllis said. “Because if you’re not aligned with the business’s needs and interests, your ability to be impactful is limited.”
Phyllis also discussed opportunities in the legal industry connected to evolving technology, as well as the importance of being well-informed, both in terms of what’s going on in the world and in clients’ businesses. In addition, she emphasized the value of surrounding yourself with people who have different points of view.
“As a lawyer, what is your primary skill set?” she asked. “It’s the ability to persuade. If you haven’t had a chance to see how other people think who are different from you, then you are going to be shortsighted and limited in your ability to truly be successful. So I challenge you to think broadly and spend time purposefully with people who don’t think like you.”
After her keynote address, a panel of Parker Poe attorneys talked through their legal practices and how they have evolved, including explaining the value of gaining experience in a range of areas.
“Rather than focusing on what kind of law you want to practice or what kind of lawyer you want to be,” Raleigh partner Matt Wolfe said, “think about the skills that you want to develop that will serve you regardless of whether you end up having a litigation-heavy practice, a transactional-heavy practice, or something in the middle.”
In addition, the students had candid conversations with Parker Poe attorneys about being a minority in the legal industry, and they learned tips and traps for interviews and using LinkedIn.
“I feel like this is a program that not only helped us to succeed in law school but outside of law school as well,” said Alisha Harris, a first-year law student at Elon University.
“Everything regarding the legal profession is completely new for me,” said Kayla Tate, another first-year student at Elon Law. “I loved being able to talk to people who were once in my shoes and learn from their mistakes. It’s really nice to have a space to have those conversations.”
Alisha and Kayla are both first-generation law school students, as is Ashley Simon.
“This profession is already kind of a small population, so to me it can feel very alienating at times,” Ashley said. “It’s important to be able to connect and identify with people who have similar experiences as you. I was really glad that this program exists and I would like to come again next year.”
Approximately 700 students have now attended THRIVE since the program’s inception in 2007, back when it was called Life in a Law Firm. Several of this year’s attendees said it can otherwise be hard to find these types of opportunities tailored for minority students.
“It is not common at all,” said Le’Ron Byrd, a third-year student at Wake Forest Law. “In fact, this is the first one that I’ve actually been to in all three years at law school.”
He said it means a lot that Parker Poe is helping to fill that gap.
“It speaks directly toward their mission and it says that they are actually invested in what they say,” Le’Ron said. “They’re not just trying to put something on paper that they want people to be attracted to. They’re actually putting their money where their mouth is and putting it into action.”