When Mecole Tate was 18 years old, she had her first baby girl, who she carried across the stage at her high school graduation. Two years later she had her second. This year, both of her daughters watched her deliver a graduation speech at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law when she received her J.D., magna cum laude, having served as 3L class president. She posted on her LinkedIn account, “I broke the generational curse of a being a teenage mom statistic to becoming part of the 2% of Black women lawyers in the US.” Mecole shares more of how she did just that.
I grew up in a low-income neighborhood in San Francisco. In high school, most of my friends, including myself, had absent parents, leaving us to practically raise ourselves, or to be raised by our already overburdened grandmothers. Many were either already mothers or were pregnant. I’m adding this context to illustrate that at the time, I didn’t think it was unusual to have a child so young.
It wasn’t until my last semester of high school that I realized how having a child young would impact my life. I went to school 12 hours some days to make sure I graduated with my peers. I didn’t have a plan post-graduation. I never took the SAT because I didn’t know I needed to, and my grades weren’t good enough for college anyway. I went straight into the workforce because I had to support my family.
After several years, I started my education journey at a community college. The only thing I knew for sure was that if I ever wanted to go to law school, I needed to maintain good grades. No one ever told me that, and I hadn’t researched how to get into law school at the time, but I assumed that was necessary. I didn’t know any lawyers, but I knew I needed a degree so I focused on that. I completed my bachelor’s degree and attended graduate school, all while working full-time and caring for two young children. I made sure I was in a great position when applying to law school.
My initial desire to become a lawyer dates back to my childhood. As a teenage mother, I lacked an advocate, so I decided to dedicate my life to advocacy, with the goal of becoming a lawyer. I initially thought I would be a public defender because that’s the only lawyer I knew existed growing up. However, after working closely with lawyers during my HR career, I learned about other areas of law.
I chose Morgan Lewis for a number of reasons. When choosing a firm, I researched to make sure I would be somewhere with people who shares my values. First, I knew I wanted to practice labor and employment law, and Morgan Lewis is a top firm for that area. Next, most firms can boast about their interesting, complex cases and clients, and put out relatively impressive diversity rankings. I was more interested in firms’ actions with regards to diversity and inclusion. I considered factors including how firms responded to the murder of George Floyd, partnership with Seizing Every Opportunity (SEO), representation of women in leadership roles, and how pro bono hours are factored into billables. Morgan Lewis moved to the top of my list based on these factors. Also, having a woman, Jami McKeon as Chair, and a Black woman, Grace Speights, as global leader of my practice area, was just something I hadn’t come across at other firms.
My choice was solidified after speaking to an associate and interviewing with my actual office and practice group. I felt that the people I spoke to really cared about my career goals. I felt the support of the team before I was even offered the position. I remember thinking, even if I don’t get the job here, these are people that I’d like to keep in touch with throughout my career. Luckily, they are now my colleagues!
Because I am a single mother, one of my biggest fears going into law school was being unable to provide for my children. Thankfully, I got permission to work, so my 1L year I kept working part-time as a Labor Relations Analyst for local government. I was balancing school, motherhood, and a job with a high level of responsibility. I would leave class and go straight to work, or vice versa, then make it home to prepare dinner and make sure homework was complete. This balancing act was familiar from my time in undergrad, so I was able to approach it optimistically.
Honestly, the toughest obstacle to overcome was the guilt I felt for spending so much time away, especially when my daughters were at pivotal ages. I had to continuously remind myself that law school was a temporary sacrifice to create a future for them. I was creating the life and support I didn’t have growing up. Now, my oldest wants to pursue a career in law and she doesn’t have to say, “I don’t know any lawyers.” It was all worth it.
My faith was key in not only getting through law school, but through all of life’s challenges. In addition to that, I found support in my law school peers and in UC Hastings Law’s Legal Education and Opportunity Program (LEOP), which provided additional support during law school like small group tutoring, practice exams, and feedback. This gave me the support I needed because it created my community within the bigger education institution and provided a place to get additional support. I also found support in the school’s Disability Resource Program, and some professors who took additional time to mentor me.
To believe in yourself and believe that you can do it all! I delayed going to law school out of fear that I would miss time with my kids and would not be able to support them financially as a single mother. In the end, I’m glad I pushed past the fear because I am living a life I doubted was possible at times. Yes, there will be struggles and times when it seems impossible to move forward, but it’s necessary to get through the tests to make it to the testimony!
I initially hesitated to share my story because I was afraid I would be judged and that would negatively impact my career. Conversely, every time I shared it with someone, I was either encouraged to keep going, or I inspired someone else to push forward to pursue their goals. I hope that my story continues to inspire others as I move throughout my career.