Pride and justice: Caribbean-American collective of lawyers

Several board members and co-founders of the Caribbean Attorneys Network (CAN). From left, Simone Archer, co-founders, Kadion Henry, Moya O’Connor, and Ricardo Salmon, and Sheryl Fyffe.
Caribbean Attorneys Network

Founded in 2014, the Caribbean Attorneys Network (CAN) is a collective of professional lawyers of Caribbean heritage working in the field of law. The creation of the organization was the idea of three law school friends — Moya O’Connor, Kadion Henry, and Ricardo Salmon. Upon passing the bar, O’Connor, who is first generation Jamaican-American, created a Facebook group called Caribbean Attorneys Networking in hopes of connecting with people in the law field of Caribbean background.

“I started it as a networking group with the intention of it becoming the professional group that it is now, and that was mostly based on a lot of my friends in law school being West Indian,” she said.

Throughout her law studies, O’Connor frequently met other law hopefuls with direct connection to the region and wanted to expand on that.

An alum of Brooklyn Law School, O’Connor has been a practicing attorney for a decade and practices general liability litigation, which covers personal injury and insurance. She saw the need for a collective such as CAN to further boost and encourage lawyers like herself and her friends.

In the early days of the group’s launch, O’Connor and other members added Caribbean-American law graduates they knew, and through word of mouth, were able to link with hundreds by sharing useful information amongst each other, such as job postings, networking events, and career advising material.

The online group was not only a place to find encouragement with other like-minded people, but a safe space to discuss the challenges of law school, the pros and cons of the legal field, and cultural similarities. And they would feature someone who talked about their experiences in practicing law.

“Every month we would feature an attorney who would get candid about the good and the bad because not everyone is going to graduate at the top of their class,” said O’Connor.

The group is still active online and organizes brunches, educational community events such as ‘Know Your Rights’ forums for locals, Black History Month events, and brunch meetings for lawyer networking.

Passing the bar exam on her second try and not making the top of her class did not deter O’Connor from pursuing law, and she wants to push others to do the same.

“It’s not something I’m ashamed of and I want to be an inspiration for others and show them how they can confront all the factors they’ll be faced with, and see us as a home with resources,” she said.

A little help along the way from people who may come from similar upbringing to you is an added bonus because they are often rare, said O’Connor.

“I felt like throughout law school not only was there no group catering to West Indians, there wasn’t a group or bar association that quite catered to the middle class either,” she said.

The lack of mutual groups acknowledging the diverse experiences sprung up the idea for one specific to Caribbean-Americans, hence CAN, said O’Connor

There are nine board members in CAN and more than 600 members based in the New York metro area. That number is expected to increase this year as they expand the network to Washington D.C., and afterwards, Chicago in 2020, according to O’Connor.

Membership to CAN not only gives attorneys access to each other, but also serves as a tool for potential clients seeking the representation from a lawyer of Caribbean descent. O’Connor said one of their main services is giving referrals to inquirers to possible lawyers who can meet their needs.

The presence of Caribbean lawyers in the American legal system stands to make a point on the need for people from all walks of life fighting for the rights of others. Issues such as immigration and discrimination are particular cases where a lawyer of an ethnic background may be preferred, because they may have firsthand experience or are simply familiar with it.

“I would think areas like immigration, Caribbean lawyers are absolutely important,” said O’Connor. “We know what it’s like, we may have a relative who went through the same thing, and we feel like no one is going to understand us more than our own.”

O’Connor said CAN hoped to continue being the go-to place that current and aspiring lawyers of Caribbean descent seek out to connect with, and together build a formidable network.

“There are a lot of lawyers and judges in New York City who are West Indians, and it’s so important that we exist and we are there,” she said. “But when we come together I think that makes for a great bonding thing, because when we find out we may come from the same island or country, it breaks down more barriers and walls.”

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected] Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.

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