Every business has its Hollywood origin story—the wee-hours revelation, the “Eureka!” moment, the so-crazy-it-just-might-work experiment. But the tale that the partners of the African-American- and female-owned KMR Law Group like to tell isn’t some blockbuster epic. It’s made of about 140 characters and one very consequential tweet.
“I had been doing some work that I definitely didn’t love,” explains Yondi K. Morris, a founding partner of KMR. “Technically, I was a contract attorney, which means I went into law firms to help them with whatever they needed for some period of time.” Newly installed at a law firm that she is too polite to shame, she was on the clock when a partner went over to check in on her progress.
“He just looked at me and said, ‘Okay, slave, get back to work.'” She was the only person of color in the room. “I looked around and just waited for someone to catch my eye,” she remembers. No one met her gaze. Worse still, no one looked surprised.
“For me, honestly, I wasn’t just insulted as an African-American woman. I didn’t want to be viewed as a worker bee anymore.” She went home and logged on and tweeted, “I need to start my own firm.” Keli L. Knight wasted no time. She replied right away, writing, “Let’s meet to discuss.” They did, and invited Jessica Reddick, an old friend that Morris had known for a decade, to join. “We got together one day in Starbucks and that was the first meeting,” Morris says. “We just all clicked—our personalities, our dreams, our ambitions. In that moment, it all made sense.” Adrenaline and caffeine flowing, they sketched out a provisional logo on scrap paper and drafted an informal business plan to start a law firm in Chicago. “We decided we were going to do it,” Morris says, “and haven’t looked back since.”
To some extent, they’ve been planning for this for most of their lives. “From the time that I was a child, I was told that I should be a lawyer,” Morris says. “I always had something to say. I was always arguing my point. I would organize family meetings when I wanted something.” She remembers strategizing how best to convince her parents to have another child. “I had all my points written out,” she says. “It was very thought through!” And while Reddick hadn’t exactly planned to go to law school, she, too, remembers “sitting [her] parents down” to explain to them why she should have her way. “I had written out almost a motion to try to convince them what I wanted.” Reddick credits her parents—both entrepreneurs—for encouraging her to find a path that could make her happy. It wasn’t until she ended up on the business side of a law firm in Washington, D.C., that she realized she wanted to go back to school. “It really did just click,” she says. But even when she went to law school, she always was thinking about less traditional ways to explore and practice law. The prospect of a firm that she could help shape was too good to pass up.
And yet, while the move may have seemed obvious to them, it is not the route that most young black women take. Law professor Deborah L. Rhode reported last year that law is one of the least diverse professions in the United States. A full 88 percent of lawyers are white. Only 33 percent of equity partners are women. Put those statistics together and the numbers look even bleaker. Two years ago—mere months after Knight, Morris, and Reddick founded KMR—black women lawyers made up just 2.44 percent of law firm associates in the Chicago area.
Source: ELLE | MATTIE KAHN