By: Patricia Donkor
Thanks for tuning into another installment of the Lady Lawyer. Many professional women spend a great deal of time curating their outward personas. For some, it’s important to be perceived as satisfied with their careers, happily in love with their significant other or purposefully single, financially secure, and the list goes on. While appearing to have it all behind the scenes, some hate their jobs, are falling in and out of love, taking care of sick loved ones, and various other personal tribulations. It’s one thing to recognize that you are unfulfilled, but knowing how to change course is a different feat. Change can be scary. Failure can be equally crippling. So, some live a lifetime pretending to be content. Some are forced into change. And some garner the courage to take control of their lives and do things differently.
This month, I feature Marcia Olivia Wright, Esq. Marcia, principal attorney of Wright Law & Advocacy, is a Virginia and Washington, D.C. lawyer by day, and by nights, weekends, and whenever else time permits, she is owner of a boutique culinary business, Sweet Mossie’s. She also helps to run the Womanhood Training Rites of Passage Program based in Washington, DC. Marcia believes that mentoring teenage girls through the Womanhood Training Program is one of her life’s best works.
Today, Marcia’s law practice and culinary business are both flourishing. However, it took a journey and an awakening to the importance of self-care and authenticity to bring her where she is today. She candidly spoke to me about her exploration. Our conversation was so vast and raw that I will feature Marcia in a two-part series. Check out Part I of my interview with Marcia, below.
PD: Marcia, tell me about yourself.
MW: Where do I begin? I’ll start with the basics. I was born in DC and raised in Arlington, VA. I graduated from Yorktown High School. I earned my undergraduate degree at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia in 2000, and my Juris Doctor at The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law in Washington, DC in 2003. I have been practicing law, amongst other things, for about 15 years.
PD: When did you decide you wanted to practice law?
MW: It wasn’t necessarily something that I knew innately. At an early age, due to my demanding, brainy and inquisitive personality, my family always told me that I would be a lawyer or a preacher. Because I heard this over and over again, and figured I was too much of a wild child to preach, being a lawyer is what stuck with me. If I were to do it all over again, however, I doubt if I would make the same choice.
PD: Really? When did you realize that?
MW: Honestly, I think that very early on in my practice I thought “this does not feel like I thought it would feel.” But, at the time these feelings started to surface, I was neither bold nor confident enough to do something different. My very being was attached to the title “Attorney”, so I decided to continue to make it happen regardless of how it felt in my body. Now that I am in a totally different space in my life and womanhood, the goal is simply to be great. If I could reconstruct my life without the influences of others, however good intentioned, I just don’t know if law would have been my path.
PD: So, walk me through your journey a little. What did you major in at Spelman?
MW: I was a Sociology major and a Mathematics and Spanish minor. In other words, I was totally confused (laughter).
PD: When you started undergraduate school did you know that law school would be next?
MW: Yes, that was the goal, but in retrospect going straight through is another regret that I have.
PD: Did you have a concentration during law school?
MW: I fluctuated between a lot of areas. I went to law school thinking I would focus on International Business. I had studied abroad in undergrad and I liked the whole international thing. But, as I matriculated through law school, my interests changed…often and a lot. There was a time that I was into entertainment and trademark stuff. I participated in the General Practice Clinic, where I focused on family law. I worked for Ayuda, which is a non-profit organization in Columbia Heights, DC. There, we provided family law and immigration services to the Latino community. I also had an interest in environmental law issues and took a few classes in this area. I even pursued the healthcare law concentration for a period, where I learned about laws relating to bio-ethics.
So, I spent time exploring just about every area of interest to me, to include family law, which is what I practice primarily now. Because I didn’t have work experience outside of being in undergrad, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I just knew the classes I was drawn to and went with that. I competed in Moot Court, and was darn good at it, so at least I knew I wanted to litigate.
PD: What was your first job out of law school?
MW: I worked on one of the major tobacco litigation cases with the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), performing document review and other discovery based work. It was simply a place-holder pending Bar Exam results, and while I figured out where I was going to work.
PD: Where did you go after?
MW: I don’t believe I even finished the case at DOJ, because I was hired by a firm in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.
PD: When you accepted that position, did you have a better idea of what you wanted to practice?
MW: Well, at the firm, one partner’s practice was primarily high-level federal and state criminal matters, and the other partner had a very heavy civil practice in D.C. Superior Court. So, my ground training was handling those types of matters in D.C. Superior Court and the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division. When the firm decided that they wanted to diversify, I was able to rely on my work in Family Law, and began to bring in family law cases. So, I started the firm’s family law branch.
PD: How long were you there?
MW: About 3 to 3 ½ years. I left to start my own firm.
PD: People start their own law practices at different points in their careers and for various reasons. What made you start your own practice when you did?
MW: I met a young lady that just finished up at Howard Law. She and I turned out to be kindred spirits. She initially came to me for mentoring because she was going to take the Virginia Bar Exam. The more time that we spent together, the more we realized that we were aligned in our ideals and goals for the practice of law. She wanted to work for herself, and I was getting exhausted with firm life. Also, I grew up in a household where entrepreneurship was the standard.
So, the notion of starting a firm with another young black woman that was 1) just as smart as I was (she might be even smarter); 2) a member of my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, Incorporated, of course; and 3) who wanted to practice in the geographical area where we both were raised, was extremely appealing to me. I already knew how to run a firm because the firm was gracious enough to give me plenty of opportunities to learn how to do that. So, we made it happen.
PD: Did any self-care or self-preservation considerations influence the decision?
MW: At that point, I was still in my 20s, I think I was 28. I don’t think that at 28, I was interested in the notion of self-care. I was more so interested in the grind and even the public appearance of what it would look like to be this young lawyer with her own law firm.
PD: That is interesting. I met you years ago, when I was in law school and you were a lawyer that volunteered to assist our mutual friend, Chidi James, coach my trial advocacy team. You have always come off as someone that walked to her own drumbeat. But, hearing you say that you did not fully know who you were reinforces the adage that appearance is only one perception.
So, the law firm that the two of you created was Walker Wright, correct? Describe the law practice?
MW: I mostly handled family law matters, some criminal matters and I did a little Guardian ad litem work. I was also heavily involved with entertainment law. There was a band that I was quasi managing and doing a lot of contract work for. In addition, around 2007, I started working for an arts organization called Silver Star Arts Studios (“SSAS”) that consisted of mainly big firm lawyers, from across the country, who worked together to find raw, artistic talent, in the realms of music, fine arts, graphic design, and literary. I worked with SSAS for about three years.
PD: How did you get involved in that?
MW: Two of my friends from Spelman were Assistant General Counsel and asked me if I was interested. I interviewed with them and initially started off as a Director of Public Relations. I eventually moved to the role of Assistant General Counsel. I worked with artists, of all types, all over the country. I worked on contracts, performance agreements and even setting up live exhibits for artists. Working with SSAS in my various roles helped me in my work with the band. This was basically my way of adding fun to the otherwise stressful practice of law.
PD: How long did you have Walker Wright?
MW: We started our practice in 2006 and my business partner left around 2009. She got married to a wonderful man and became a mother to two beautiful children. So, for her, self-care meant starting a family. I have been on my own since 2009.
PD: The band that you worked with was a go-go band based out of Washington, D.C., right?
MW: Yes. It was a rock/alternative band based out of D.C. that incorporated the indigenous sounds of go-go in their original music.
PD: So, you stated that starting the law firm was not a decision based in self-care; did there ever come a time when you began to make career decisions out of self-care/self-preservation?
MW: I would say that my choices had very little to do with the practice of law and more with how life kind of happened. I got engaged in 2006. In 2007, I was planning a wedding. I ultimately did not marry that person. That same year, my father, who I was very close with, got sick. For six-months, or more, I was caring for him. I have a large family — nine siblings. We took turns being caretakers. However, I was the one most accessible during the day because I worked for myself. I could be in court and would get a phone call from my dad’s nurse I would step out to take the call and my father would be on the other end asking that I come and assist him with something. So, my dad’s illness began to shape my priorities at that point.
As he began to die, practicing law lost its importance to me. I lost interest in being involved in local bar associations. I began to develop more of a thirst to be authentic to who I was. Still unsure of how to express that or even what that looked like, I became more drawn to the aspects of law that gave me joy. Hence why I jumped into the “management” role with the band. I was supposed to be practicing law and managing a firm, but instead I was on the road going to shows. It was quite ill-advised, but it sure was fun and a much-needed respite.
PD: Was the work with the band more fulfilling to you than the traditional practice of law?
MW: Let me give you a little background. I worked with the band from 2007 until about 2012-2013. I wasn’t managing the band at first, I was helping them negotiate a deal. Then they severed their relationship with their manager and there was a gap in coverage of the management duties. I never really called myself their manager, but I ended up taking on roles that were like a manager such as booking their shows, which was far beyond what I should have been doing as a lawyer. I got caught up in that because it was a break in the busyness of a family and criminal practice, and the mental break that I needed from having just lost my father. I think that losing my father helped me look in the mirror and for the first time in my life begin to ask the question, “who are you?” I was the first in my family to do most things, so, everyone had these expectations of me and who I was going to be. I was their golden child.
PD: How did this golden child stigma affect choices that you made?
MW: I didn’t want to be the golden child. Unlike some of my siblings, I am very much a non-conformist. I am very unique and creative before anything else. I have this academic side of me, yes, but I also have this very wild gypsy creative part of me too. I don’t think that I ever felt empowered to embrace the part of me that was wild and creative because that girl did not meet the expectation of what the professional, smart, Spelman-grad Marcia looked like.
PD: Do you feel like you were using the creative side of you before this point in your life or had you been completely suppressing it?
MW: There were aspects of my life that I tapped into outside of work, such as writing. I spend a lot of time writing. But I did not hone into all the intricate parts of who I was, that to me now are equally as fabulous as Marcia the lawyer. I didn’t embrace them. The funny part is, anyone who sat down and talked to me, realized very early in the conversation that being a lawyer was just a very small aspect of who I am. I had to speak at an event recently. I told the audience that I consider myself to be a fisherman of men (and women). I walk into a space, no matter what that space is, and something about my energy invites and invokes people to reach back into themselves and truly discover what is authentic and divine. It’s the spirit of Sankofa. I wasn’t ready for that level of dialogue at 25 or 26, when I first started to practice law. It didn’t seem to have a place in the field and I struggled with it, but eventually arrived at a place where I didn’t have to struggle with it anymore. I was set free. I was able to find the place in the practice of law, and in life, where I could bring my whole self to the table.
PD: When did your father pass away?
MW: He got sick in June of 2007. He died February 16, 2008.
PD: Do you feel that losing your father was the catalyst to the beginning of your self-discovery as a lawyer and a woman.
MW: Absolutely. That was the catalyst without a doubt. Transitions invoke other transitions, if you are ready.
In Marcia, Part II, we will pick up with Marcia telling us about her awakening to self-discovery and how that impacted her law practice, personal life and how those episodes prepared her for the woman and lawyer that she is today.
While you wait for Part II, you can read more about Marcia and her culinary company Sweet Mossie’s by clicking the below links.