Become a Patreon!


Excerpted From: J. Ryann Peyton, Anti-racist Mentorship, 50-MAR Colorado Lawyer 10 (March, 2021) (23 Footnotes) (Full Document)


JRyannPeytonThe legal profession has struggled for a lifetime to create equity within the profession. In recent years, numerous scholarly and opinion articles have recognized cross-race legal mentorship as a necessary component of achieving this goal. But while these authors, researchers, and academics are correct in their assessment of the necessity and benefit of cross-race mentoring relationships in the legal profession, it is imperative to understand that such relationships are a result of centuries of social stratification within the profession.

The relationship between a white mentor and a mentee of color is predicated on years of historical practices, political decisions, and attitudes that have unequally distributed economic and intellectual resources within the legal profession. Successfully navigating legal institutions (law firms, bar associations, etc.) is based on colonialist notions of social hierarchy, assimilation, and credentialing, about which the white mentor is supposed to have some insight to provide a lawyer of color. Yet we know that success in the legal profession is not merely a navigational issue and is predicated instead on matters of access and opportunity.

This article contains lessons I have learned as a well-intentioned white mentor seeking to move beyond merely helping lawyers of color survive the profession to actually eliminating the social, political, and economic arrangements and practices that necessitate these survival tactics in the first place. I specifically call on my white colleagues to learn from and teach one another. We are responsible for creating and maintaining the privilege we hold in this profession, and as such, we bear responsibility for ending it. We cannot be anti-racist lawyers and mentors in a vacuum. It will take many of us to step into the role of an anti-racist mentor to change the structures within the profession that continue to perpetuate the ongoing disparities for lawyers of color. If enough of us are willing to engage in this journey of anti-racism, we can rapidly transform our awareness into meaningful action.

[. . .]

As we think about how to transform our profession and organizations to be inclusive, just, and equitable, we need to understand that this is a collective effort. Making privilege visible and interrupting racism requires partnership with lawyers of color. Otherwise, we may do more harm than good. If we charge ahead, eager to impose our solutions and interventions, we replicate old patterns and run the risk of jeopardizing the progress our colleagues of color have been working toward long before we sought to become involved.

The responsibilities of being an anti-racist mentor and ally include being willing to take risks, speak up, and increase our own and others' awareness to show the impact of racism, white supremacy, and privilege on the structural, practical, and individual levels of our profession. Our work as allies must always and everywhere be grounded in humility, collaboration, and accountability.

If you resonate with the notion of being a well-intentioned white lawyer seeking to do more to break down the systemic and structural inequities of our profession, I invite you to join me on this journey and engage in a collective effort to improve mentorship through anti-racism work.

J. Ryann Peyton is the director of the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program and a seasoned consultant and advocate on diversity and inclusivity in the legal field. Before joining CAMP, Peyton focused her law practice on civil litigation with an emphasis on LGBT civil rights.

Become a Patreon!