IndyBar: Intentional Investment: Providing Opportunities to the Next Generation of Lawyers

Chaka Coleman

By Chaka Coleman

What is leadership? This is a question I endeavored to answer when I took former Dean Andy Klein and professor Susan Brooks’ Leadership in the Law class at IU McKinney this past fall.

Too many times as students of color we have been asked, “Do you know Jimmie McMillian?” While I believe Jimmie to be a remarkable human being, he is just that — human. He cannot mentor the entire city of Indianapolis, be a husband, father, top tier attorney and not sacrifice time. He needs your help, and as future lawyers, so do we. There are many potential Jimmie McMillians in the legal profession, many of whom you’ve never heard of, waiting for the chance to be elevated and challenged to provide solutions.

As I think back on my time in that classroom, I can name a place where each of the 20 or so students would thrive as leaders. The wonderful thing about IU McKinney’s law program is that it accepts students from diverse backgrounds — parents, police officers, engineers, educators — and utilizes their real-world experiences to benefit the legal field. If attorneys don’t provide these students with real leadership opportunities, not based on years of practice but based on the experience they already bring to the table, they are doing a disservice to ingenuity and relegating perseverance to an afterthought of the human psyche.

I had a candid conversation about leadership with IndyBar President Judge Alicia Gooden this past summer. I asked, “How can you tell someone who navigated law school with a family and full-time job and who now practices complex bond financing deals or litigates major felony cases that they are not qualified to hold a leadership position?”

Crisis management, financing and feeding humans certainly qualifies you for any position in any association, board or committee. And that, dear colleagues, should be the attitude that each of us takes with us when we look for a potential addition to our leadership teams.

The lack of leadership opportunities is even more prevalent in communities of color, which is disheartening. Quite frankly, there aren’t enough of us to not provide fresh perspectives the opportunity to shine. I liken this to both a fear of the unknown and a lack of faith; but faith is what we need to push our profession into the next generation of change. A great example of tapped potential is Angka Hinshaw. She is a soft-spoken superhero who has done a phenomenal job advocating for cultural awareness and equity within the legal profession alongside Justice Steven David.

Undoubtedly, expertise is important, and many attorneys are successful and accomplished and should be celebrated as such. I am advocating for the collective to continue to encourage and promote “the unknown” who may also desire the opportunity to make an impact but may not quite know how. Although not always the case, I’m sure that veteran attorneys would like to go home to their families, proud of the fact that they are building a legacy of future policymakers, judges and litigators, one relinquished duty at a time.

So, I ask again: What is leadership? Well, sometimes it is simply asking what you can do to support someone else’s growth. As practitioners of the law, we are taught to mitigate risk and keep our clients’ needs safe behind the shield of justice. But what we are not taught is that leadership and leadership opportunities are inherently risky, with rewards that can arguably outweigh any peril involved.

In conclusion, before you ask students and fledgling attorneys if they know Jimmie McMillian, I challenge you to first ask yourself if you know anyone other than Jimmie McMillian who can serve as a resource and support system to help a new attorney on their legal journey. Then ask yourself if there is a leadership opportunity not that he can provide, but that you, your network or organization are willing to provide. It takes confidence and fortitude to witness someone else succeed, but there is no greater gift that you can give than intentionality, and when it comes to opportunities, intentional investment in the next generation of leaders is what our legal community needs.•

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