GeneralHr Library

I’m a Black Woman. I’m Tired of People Being Surprised I’m a Lawyer

Source |  |  BY:Phillis Rambsy, Attorney at The Spiggle Law Firm

It’s happened in courtrooms across Tennessee. I’m sitting quietly, reviewing my work, when a stranger approaches me. I’m sorry, they say, but that space is reserved for attorneys.

I am an attorney, I respond, and continue working.

Moments like this occur more frequently than I would care to remember, and they have a way of grinding you down. As a black woman, I simply don’t look like some people’s preconceived notion of a lawyer, and they’re surprisingly upfront about this.

I have had clients visit my firm and, upon being greeted by me, ask to speak with an attorney. I have been in social situations where people have expressed surprise when I said I’m a lawyer. I’ve had opposing counsels and judges do double takes.

As an attorney who focuses on discrimination law, I spend a lot of time thinking about the ways in which women and minorities face difficulty in the workplace. But I have to admit that, based on my own experience, the legal profession has some work to do on this issue as well.

And some people have tried to suggest that Tennessee, perhaps because of its status as a Southern state, has a unique form of racism. However, I have not experienced any prejudices in Tennessee that I have not received anywhere else.

In each state where I practice, colleagues seem surprised that I am an attorney. I am sensitive about making Tennessee, my home state, seem like this backward, racist state—of course it can be, but so too can the rest of country.

I’m also careful about contributing to false narratives that suggest that racism only exists in certain, isolated pockets. As a black attorney, the prejudices that I have faced in Tennessee are no worse, no more disappointing, and no more frustrating than they are in other places.


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