Demetria L. Graves and Merissa V. Grayson, Esq., are the definition of black girl magic. As two successful African-American female attorneys in their own right, they have now joined forces to open up their own full-service law firm, The Elite Firm. The all-female team of black lawyers and professionals seek to provide their high-profile clients with a specialized support system for the age of social media. The powerful duo shared their tips for working with other black women, why their practice is different from any other; and how they achieve success while being underestimated exclusively with SHEEN.
Can you tell us a little about yourselves and how you came up with the idea for the Elite Firm?
Graves: I started out in family law about 14 years ago at a small firm but didn’t like it. I started my own firm and after that, I was in search of other black women that were practicing in family law but also wanted to do bigger things and were committed to the practice and so forth. I met Ms. Marissa here, who was just as dedicated and hardworking. This year, we decided we were going to come together because we were tired of watching celebrities make the same mistakes, especially on social media.
Grayson: I am a child custody and family law attorney and met Demetria about five years ago. Over the years, we brainstormed off of each other. We both have our own practices in the exact same area. This year, I think things seem to be in the right place. Timing was just good for us to actually come together.
“We wanted to create an organization where they would have a full support system
that they would actually trust and listen to, so that they wouldn’t make
the same mistakes they’re making now.”
Would you say that your methods are the difference between your law firm and all the others?
Grayson: There are a total of eleven of us, all Black women, and we have a full in-house team of experienced professionals who work with us to handle all of the issues that arise. At the beginning of the [client’s] representation we do a full objective assessment of what our clients are dealing with and their entire situation, and then we basically implement whatever it is that they need as an individual; because every case is going to be different.
“So whether it be mental health issues, anger management, domestic violence recovery,
parenting classes, crisis management, or just overall personal development, we make
sure that every aspect of their personal situation is covered in addition to the legal side.”
In this climate, how is it being two African American attorneys and starting your law firm?
Demetria: Black women are doing a lot in media, and I think that helps us, and here we come and we’re going to start doing it in law. A lot comes with being black, a woman, and being young, [but] having Merissa at my side, and the rest of our team, we can take whatever is going to come with that.
Merissa: There’s always been this ideology, women in general, but black women in particular, can’t work together on the same team without it being a disaster.
“What I love about our team is that it’s eleven black women and
our chemistry is just magical and we all have the same mission.”
You’ve alluded to some of the challenges you face now, but would you share some of the challenges you’ve faced getting to where you are today?
Graves: It’s learning to deal with that and learning that all times, regardless of how far we get, we always have to be excellent, we always have to be prepared, we always have to be ready for whatever comes our way, and sometimes that means being way more prepared than your colleagues and still not getting the same respect.
“I can’t be mediocre. I can’t be good. I can’t be late. I have to be excellent.”
Grayson: I think both of us have experienced being underestimated. From the time you walk in the door as a black female attorney, you’re automatically underestimated.
“People assume that you don’t know what you’re doing or you can’t
do it as great as they can; and because of that we work harder.”
What advice would you give to young women who either want to become lawyers, open up their own law firm, or just want to start their own business?
Grayson: My best advice is to make sure that whatever is it that you want to do make sure it’s something that you want to do, because it’s one thing to have a job or a career that you do because it pays well, or because people think it’s the career you should have, but it’s another one to have one that you actually love.
Graves: What I want young girls today to understand is an “overnight success” can mean twenty years. It doesn’t mean that “today I’m going to open my business and things are where they want to be next year”. It’s about hard work, learning the lessons…get a mentor. I think the main thing is believing in yourself, believing that you can do it, setting your intention, and going with that.
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