According to the American Bar Association, 88% of all lawyers are white and only 4.8% are black. This shouldn’t matter in principle – until it does. During my interview with Ms. Tyra Hughley Smith, she expressed her concerns why more women need to embark upon the opportunity to pursue a career as an attorney.
Share who you are to the readers?
I am a serial entrepreneur; a creative and logical. I am the principal attorney for Hughley Smith Law, and I have been practicing law for over 11 years. But I am also a serial entrepreneur with non-legal businesses. I own several travel businesses, including The Traveling Esquire and Been There Seen That culinary tours and group trips.
Tell us about our firm and what you do.
Hughley Smith Law is a boutique law firm that focuses on business protection and intellectual property (trademark and copyrights) and caters to creatives and small business owners all over the world. We assist businesses in protecting their intellectual property, their businesses, and their brands. Because what is the purpose of building a 6- or 7-figure business if you aren’t going to protect it. And, as a law firm in the new millennium, we also offer DIY courses, workshops, contract templates, and as a secondary option to cater to an even wider group of individuals.
What advice would you give to female college students about the opportunities for women in the Legal profession?
As someone who is also a former adjunct professor, I can say do not discount the legal profession, even if you are focused on an area of study that wouldn’t traditionally lead into law school. I myself was a double major in Magazine Journalism and Black Studies with a minor in Business, and I can say that, as a journalist and someone with a strong communications background, those skills very readily fit into the skillset you need as an attorney, even though people wouldn’t think of journalists becoming attorneys. Just do what you love and maximize your skillsets. Also, think outside the box; I have managed to combine my areas of interest and passions into the perfect practice for me, and even later this year I am diving deeper into a combination of the two. It can be done, even from a “non-traditional” area of study for those considering law school. But also, make sure it’s something you really want to do, as law school and the legal profession are usually a substantial commitment and investment.
What would you suggest to law firms that are interested in retaining and advancing more qualified female attorneys?
Law firms have to start practicing what they preach. So many firms tout their “work life balance” but oftentimes it is only in name. Firms have to go the extra step to ensure that women attorneys are able to function and balance responsibilities without being made to feel guilty about those choices. Oftentimes, women are the primary caretakers, be it for children or aging parents; making it easy for women attorneys to be able to pick up their children or attend meetings if necessary without having to resort to “part time” or “reduced time” is a major step in right direction. But it has to be done more than just in name. Opportunities for telework and other avenues of making the lives of female attorneys easier without it affecting their progression in the field adversely is key. The same applies for minorities; creating a space where minority attorneys are at the table and actually feel comfortable expressing their honest opinions and being themselves (in every aspect, including hair styles) is key to fostering actual diversity, not just diversity in statistics.
Why did you choose to work in – and stay in – the Legal field?
If I am being totally honest, I think the only reasons I have chosen to stay in the legal field is because 1) I found an area of law that I enjoy that combines all of my background and interest and 2) because I am my own boss. Now entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart and comes with real challenges, but I have always been entrepreneurial in spirit and having my own practice allows me to work in the profession and also work on my travel businesses as well.
What book(s), blog(s), podcast(s) do you recommend?
Other than my own book Insights from the Inside (of course), I have enjoyed The Four Agreements recently. I am also reading the E-Myth Attorney because while law school teaches you how to think, it doesn’t teach you how to run a business, let alone a law firm. Additionally I am reading Clockwork by Mike Michalowicz.
What changes do you foresee in the Legal profession of the near future (3-5 years)?
I think we are seeing it now and it is going to continue along this trend: virtual practices. More and more people are ditching the traditional law office and opting for virtual practices. Especially those who don’t do a lot of litigation. I myself run a virtual practice and because I also own travel businesses, I can work from anywhere in the world as long as I have good Wifi. This has allowed me, even when I am on a trip, to get work done and be productive with my practice, and I think this trend will continue to expand. People like freedom and the ability to structure their lives, and entrepreneurship allows that. Now, it is not for everyone for sure but for those who have the aptitude, it can give a lot of freedom and control.
How do you see yourself participating in shaping the future of the Legal profession?
I try to offer guidance for other attorneys as much as I can based on my experiences. But also, I refer to myself as “Attorney and Counselor at Law” for a reason. I also counsel my clients on a legal perspective but also on a general business level. By doing that, and having that next level relationship with my clients, I believe it also changes the perception of the legal community from what of greed and heartlessness to one of empathy and having someone who genuinely cares about my clients and their success.
Describe one person who has been an important mentor to you and how that person helped shape the direction or focus of your professional life.
My dad has actually been a mentor and instrumental to my growth from the outset. Both him and my mom recognized my strengths and weaknesses early and guided me into the career path that made sense. My mom used to say I have always been a lawyer and I could talk the devil out of a glass of ice water. Both her and my dad guided me, and my dad specifically, also being an entrepreneur later in his life, uniquely understands some of the ins and outs of entrepreneurship. Not to mention he traveled quite a bit when I was growing up and that’s something that always interested me.
Please share a personal rule or principle that you follow.
The Golden Rule. I always try to do unto others as I would have them do unto me.
All images by Reuben Esteban Reynoso