March 29, 2024

A Story of Resilience, Representation and Professional Growth with Tiffani G. Lee

Women in Leadership Series

Welcome to Holland & Knight's new video series, "Women in Leadership." Throughout this series, we will shine a spotlight on the outstanding women within our firm, celebrating their achievements, stories and the powerful impact of their leadership. Join us as we explore the multifaceted landscape of women's representation in leadership, sharing inspiring narratives and championing diversity and inclusion.

In this episode, our firmwide Diversity Partner Tiffani G. Lee shares insights into her personal journey, influenced by the resilience and determination of her parents. As she reflects on her 27 years with Holland & Knight, she emphasizes the critical importance of representation in the legal profession and the impact of visible diversity within the firm. Tiffani also offers valuable advice, stressing the significance of nurturing relationships, investing in personal growth and sharing stories to inspire the next generation of legal professionals.

More Videos in This Series

Episode 1: A Journey from Guyana to the Boardroom with Kelly-Ann Gibbs Cartwright

Episode 2: A Story of Resilience, Representation and Professional Growth with Tiffani G. Lee (You are currently viewing Episode 2)

Tiffani G. Lee: I'm the daughter of two great parents, James D. Lee Sr. and Elise Lee, who were married for 49 years prior to his passing in 2012. I'm one of eight children, and my parents were a great inspiration, I think, to all of us, because of some of the sacrifices they made for us to have better opportunities than they had. Neither of them went beyond high school in their formal education, but they were very serious about stressing the importance of education for all of us. My father is probably my greatest inspiration because of some challenges he faced when we were growing up. He was fired from his job in what turned out to be as an act of discrimination, racial discrimination. That really impacted him and our family for several years. He struggled over many years to regain his job and backpay and to prove his case. And that experience really showed me a lot of resilience and grit and determination on his part. And it also sparked in me a sort of a commitment to justice and a desire to be an advocate, which kind of led me to the law. I've been here 27 years come September. It's the only firm I've worked at post-law school. A couple months after joining the firm, I had the opportunity to work with one of the firm's founders, Chesterfield Smith, for a couple of years, which was a uniquely wonderful experience. In 2008, I was named the firmwide Diversity Partner, and I have had that role through the present, and in April, I'll become the firmwide Deputy Managing Partner.

When I was thinking about what law firm I would join, I was choosing between Holland & Knight and another firm that did not have any black attorneys. And I ended up choosing to come to Holland & Knight because I thought, "I can see myself there." I would also remember when I was an associate, there were some statistics that were often talked about, about how black women in law firms left their first job within the first five years. You heard it all the time. And so you're hearing this data point, but yet here I am at Holland & Knight when Kelly-Ann Cartwright makes partner. She was the first black woman to go from summer associate all the way to partner in the firm. And I can remember other black associates celebrating that achievement. I think representation sometimes is one of the pieces of evidence that we can cite to say that what we're doing in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is actually working. Every year when we see our new class of partners and it's more than 50 percent diverse, and there are black partners being elevated every year, it means something and it says something about what we're doing as a firm. So I think representation is important on an individual level and then also on an organizational level.

We all want to be in a firm where we feel valued, where we think our contributions are valued, where we have a sense of belonging. I think that being able to look around and see people who share my identity in various roles of the firm adds to that sense of belonging. Mentors, sponsors and other stakeholders are very important in the legal profession and having success, so I would give a piece of advice to nurture those relationships, cultivate those relationships as early as possible. A second piece of advice I would give is to think of your early years as a lawyer as investment years. So, you know, using that time to surround yourself with people who are going to really care about your success, your training, your learning, your development, people who are going to give you constructive feedback, an opportunity to correct, people who think of the opportunities that are going to stretch you and help you grow.

There's still a lack of representation of black lawyers in the legal profession, I think it's important that we highlight black attorneys within our firm. I also think it's an opportunity to highlight the fact that Holland & Knight has really been a place where black attorneys such as myself can achieve longevity and professional success. So that was a motivating factor for me. And then finally, I think that those of us who are not young lawyers anymore, sharing our stories is a way to pay it forward. You don't ever know what may inspire someone else, but sharing your story can be a way to inspire others to continue on their path in the profession.

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