Because Honigman’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is a fundamental part of our culture and our continued success, we are proud to share stories as part of our LinkedIn Black History Month series from some of our talented African American attorneys.

Ka'Nea Brooks

Honigman celebrates Black History Month with a message from Ka'Nea Brooks, IP Partner who specializes in intellectual property, trademark and copyright protection. Brooks got hooked on the law as a high school student when she participated in a mock trial competition. She understands the impact professional contacts have in a young person's life. These contacts answer questions and provide essential information for starting a career -- information that other students may already have on the first day of college.

“Imagine hiring a lawyer even though you don't know a lawyer personally, or even anyone who's ever hired one themselves. More daunting still, imagine the thought of trying to become one when you don't have anyone you can ask basic questions about the field.

If you push ahead anyway, you may find yourself entering a situation where everyone else seems to be in on a secret except you. They all seem to have the same expectations and understanding.

That's how I felt going into law school. There were so many simple things I wish I would have known, but I didn't have a relative — a mother, a grandmother, a cousin or even a distant relative — who was an attorney and could give this pivotal information. Everything was trial and error.

I became interested in law during high school when I joined a Mock Trial team. Today, I work in intellectual property, trademark and copyright law. I still help with Mock Trial tournaments through the Michigan Center for Civic Education, do mentoring work through the Black Law Student Association at Emory University and help with an annual law camp that connects students with attorneys. I'm always quick to answer the call from anyone seeking advice on entering this field.

There aren't many African American people in this field. In our community, you don't always get to see that familiar face, someone who understands the quirks about your culture and ethnicity and issues your family might be having. It's important to have that representation of someone who looks like you and understands you, so you can say, "I can do this, too" — or so you don't think hiring an attorney is this crazy or daunting task. It lowers your anxiety about the situation and your preconceived notions.

When I was in a courtroom for the first time as part of the competitions, my heart was beating, my adrenaline was pumping, and I was sweating. It felt like my nervous system was about to shut down. I thought, either this is giving me a heart attack, or I really enjoy it. Then I realized: This is what it's supposed to feel like.

Fortunately, just approaching an attorney for some career advice doesn't have to be that intense. Never forget that there are more people in your community willing to help than you might think.”

Mitchel Garnett

Honigman celebrates Black History Month with a message from Mitchel Garnett, Corporate Partner who handles private equity and M&A transactions in our Chicago office. Garnett shares a valuable and often overlooked piece of knowledge for new and young, diverse candidates: Take advantage of programs that connect new talent with professionals already in the field.

“I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer. There were no lawyers in the family when I was growing up, but reading, writing and negotiating were skills that I knew I wanted to incorporate into my career even from a young age.

A legal career comes with plenty of rewards. For me, I love that I work across so many industries. I never stop learning. I have worked in sports, healthcare, food manufacturing, professional services, insurance and quite a few other sectors. In my pro bono work, I help asylum seekers, including cases involving a family that's been waiting since 2016 for a hearing. The range and depth of experience gives me an inside view of how society functions.

A big part of my practice is training. Being in the M&A space, there's a lot more to learn, after law school, about business and drafting while getting started on the job. The amount that must be absorbed about our client’s businesses equals something like a junior MBA.

That's why it's especially important to establish strong relationships with mentors. When I was coming up, a program in Chicago helped me tremendously. Its aim was to connect diverse students with practicing attorneys in Chicago who gave advice and insights into various practice areas. That program really set me on the path to where I am today.

I continue to mentor diverse law students through a program run by the Chicago Committee for Minorities in Law Firms, and for the University of Michigan Law School. These programs are a way for students and new lawyers to get real, honest feedback and to navigate the jumping-off point of their careers.

My advice to diverse candidates is to leverage your networks and get to know the folks where you want to work. These programs put on by law schools or city-specific committees can be great opportunities.

Law firms are genuinely interested in diversity. Practicing attorneys are always willing to speak to young attorneys and law students looking to navigate the interviewing and hiring process. This gives candidates a sense of a firm that they just can't get from a website.”

Chauncey Mayfield II

Honigman celebrates Black History Month with a message from Chauncey C. Mayfield II, partner in our Corporate Department and Honigman's hiring partner for associates and summer associates internship program, part of what he calls the firm's "front line" of commitment to diversity.

“As we celebrate Black History Month, I think about a story I heard from my father about my grandfather, a story that speaks to integrity and holding your own. My grandfather, Bobby Clarence Mayfield, became an attorney in 1955, based in Savannah, Georgia. This was a pioneering role, to say the least.

The story sticks out because it is of a courtroom scene where he got into an exchange with a judge who said something that offended my grandfather.

"You might be able to take my livelihood, but you'll never take my manhood," my grandfather finally said.

Any attorney knows how dangerous it is to tussle with a judge, much less a Black attorney in 1955 Georgia. But his words must have worked — he didn't end up with a contempt charge and he continued practicing. He worked closely with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and its first president — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — and in 1960 represented youths who were arrested as part of a boycott of businesses in Savannah. In 1972, he worked on a landmark death penalty case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

My grandfather inspired me to go into law. My practice focuses on representing emerging growth, public, and private companies on a variety of complex corporate and transactional matters. One of the areas of my work I am most proud of is that of hiring our summer associates. This is a front line in the firm's commitment to diversity. We have hired some 70 associates for this program since I first began working with the hiring team in 2016. Our associates work on whatever the firm is working on at the time: real cases, real clients, real issues.

Our associates have gone on to do great work in the world of nonprofits and philanthropy, and here at Honigman. As a lawyer, you have access to resources needed to help others solve problems.

And thanks to Black History figures like my grandfather, it remains a rewarding livelihood.”

Khalilah Spencer

Honigman celebrates Black History Month with a message from our Inclusion, Equity and Social Responsibility Partner, Khalilah Spencer, Esq.

"With all of the Black History Month posts, I wanted to reflect on the importance of Black lawyers.

Growing up, I had little to no exposure to Black professionals, especially lawyers. There were no lawyers in my family and growing up in Kalamazoo, there were very few lawyers of color in the overall community. As a kid, my only frame of reference for “lawyers” were the lawyer characters portrayed on television and Justice Thurgood Marshall. While my grandmother was a court show junkie (she watched everything from Matlock, Perry Mason, and Law and Order), there were very few Black lawyers portrayed on television. In fact, thinking back now, my only frame of reference for a Black lawyer on television was Clair Huxtable, but you never saw her in court or at work.

It was not until high school that I met a “real-life” Black attorney, Larry Moore, from the Upjohn Company, as part of my magnet school’s career job shadow program. Having expressed an interest in law, I was matched with him for a couple hours during the school day to interview him about his background, schooling, the bar exam and his average work day. He was personable, intelligent and unassuming. He was very encouraging and told me that I was certainly capable of being a lawyer as long as I focused on my studies. It was then that I realized that “being a lawyer when I grow up” may actually be an attainable goal.
All that to say…. Representation Matters!

Because of my own experiences growing up, I am always conscious of how little exposure young Black students have to real-life lawyers, let alone, lawyers that look like them. As Honigman’s Inclusion, Equity and Social Responsibility Partner, I try my best to encourage our participation in pipeline initiatives that focus on exposing students of color to “law” as a career choice. In the last five years, with support from our CEO and Board, the firm has increased its focus on all areas of DE&I, especially, pipeline initiatives. We have not only implemented our own program, the Honigman Academy, but we have partnered with others to participate in and sponsor programs like TutorMate, Thrive Scholars, Just the Beginning Foundation and Street Law. We have also encouraged our peers at other firms to implement their own pipeline programs as part of our joint commitment to racial justice.

As we move through this month, let’s not forget the importance of Black lawyers and the work that needs to be done to increase the representation of Black people in the legal profession. 

Throughout this Black History Month, you’ll hear from several of my Honigman colleagues about what made them choose a career in law and some of their career accomplishments."

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