As a daughter of immigrant parents who grew up impoverished in Taiwan, I have never taken for granted the many opportunities that were available to me because of their sacrifices.
I have worked hard to achieve what I have, but I also owe gratitude to them as well as the many mentors and colleagues who have helped me meet and surpass my hopes and goals for my career and family. Today, I find it fulfilling—and my duty—to mentor and open doors of potential to others, particularly others who face systemic barriers to success.
We have room for improvement in diversity in the legal profession, which is clear when reviewing troubling statistics on attorney demographics. For example, the 2021 National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Report on Diversity indicates that Asians comprise only 8% of total lawyers at law firms, and only 4.3% of partners. In addition, only 1.73% of partners are Asian women.
Furthermore, the pandemic has exacerbated the struggles of many women in the workplace, with family caregiving responsibilities largely falling upon women.
Mentorship is a key piece to solving this puzzle, especially since women—and particularly women of color—leave law firms at disproportionate rates. I believe with more visible examples of women in leadership, who look like them and are willing to offer advice and encouragement, we can reverse those trends.
Mentors can represent and provide support and validation for others in a diverse community. Early in my career as an immigration lawyer at a prior law firm, I found myself as the only working mother and woman of color in management ranks. Colleagues who did not have children or had a partner who stayed at home full-time sympathized with my circumstances, but were unable to understand my day-to-day life as a working mother.
When I started working as an associate at Ogletree Deakins in 2013, I was relieved to be mentored by successful shareholders who were also working mothers. I received strong advice and support from the co-chair of our immigration practice, shareholder Jacky Maroney. As a mom of three, Jacky shared her wisdom on balancing work and parenting: “Everyone needs to do what’s right for their family.”
Jacky, along with other mentors at the firm, not only sponsored and promoted me within the firm, but they were the people to whom I turned for day-to-day practical advice about raising a family while respecting my professional ambitions. They never once batted an eye when I had to leave the office because of a sick child, or to attend an important school event.
Now that my toddler-chasing, baby-bouncing days are well behind me and I have more breathing room, I relish the opportunity to mentor others and foster a relatable environment for those who need it.
Look for Mentoring Opportunities
Ogletree Deakins provides several formal mentoring programs, including arrangements through our business resource groups for our Asian, Black, LatinX, LGBTQ+, and women attorneys, as well as parents transitioning back to work. We also have signature programs that target diverse associates.
For example, our Impact Sponsorship Program pairs associates with high-performing shareholders and our Raise the Bar initiative provides diverse senior-level associates and counsel with support and guidance critical to success and advancement. I have enjoyed mentoring associates through ODA3, our Asian attorney affinity group, helping to hone their business development skills and develop pipelines of high-value work.
Mentoring opportunities, though, are not limited to just employer-facilitated programs. Some of the most productive mentoring relationships that I have been involved with grew organically. For example, I met one mentee during our firm’s recruitment process.
We connected due to having a mutual friend in common, and she joined our firm as an associate in a different practice group and office from mine. We continued to connect on a weekly basis after she on-boarded, and she appreciated the opportunity to ask me candid questions while adapting to the firm’s processes and culture.
I often tell associates that their day-to-day interactions with senior attorneys and partners are some of their best mentoring and sponsorship opportunities. Genuine trust and valuable lessons can develop from these relationships. In fact, as my mentoring relationships have evolved, I have even found that some of my mentees have now become trusted peers who offer thoughtful insights on both professional and personal matters.
Impact: The Meaning in What We Do
I believe that bringing diverse voices to the table (literally and metaphorically) improves every decision and outcome, increases the empathy of all, and creates a more vibrant, humane, and vital society. Mentoring diverse attorneys is critical in driving our understanding of perspectives beyond our own.
To build a genuine relationship, I believe in being direct and honest, which means communicating in a straightforward, tactful, and empathetic manner. My mentees genuinely want to learn and grow in their profession and appreciate clear and direct feedback. And because written tone can sometimes be misconstrued, I recommend scheduling “live” meetings (in person, or over video or phone) to build the mentoring relationship.
There is no substitute for the direct and meaningful connections I have made with lawyers through mentoring relationships. I have been fortunate that Ogletree has given me the opportunity to mentor attorneys through leadership in our Asian American Attorneys business resource group, service on our Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, and pro bono support to immigrants and vulnerable populations.
Mentorship has a broad scope. In addition to mentoring professionally, I have strived to mentor through community service. The totality of these experiences helps achieve our all-around development as human beings.
For example, as an immigration lawyer, I’ve been particularly fortunate to have many opportunities to develop mentoring relationships through pro bono services. In 2021, I spearheaded a firm-wide pro bono initiative immediately after the U.S. troop withdrawal and refugee crisis in Afghanistan began.
I mobilized and mentored a group of more than 60 Ogletree attorneys and paralegals and partnered with numerous non-governmental relief organizations and U.S. congressional offices to help hundreds of individuals from Afghanistan seek emergent relief and admission into the U.S. I believe that we should use our privileges in this country and our careers to effectuate real change for marginalized communities.
The person I am today has been shaped both by my mentors and mentees—these relationships are truly symbiotic and enriching for all parties. I am honored to be a representative leader in firm leadership that supports a mission of equity, diversity, and opportunity.
I am also proud that my children can see their mother as a person who sets an example as a woman leader and working mother, who represents and celebrates our heritage, and opens doors for others to do the same.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
Caroline Tang is an immigration shareholder in the Austin office of Ogletree Deakins. She serves on the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee and is the 2021 recipient of the firm’s David E. Jones Diversity Champion Award.