BIPOC Alumni Share Stories and Love of Law School

By Ashleigh Wilson February 29, 2024

The BYU Law BIPOC Alumni (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) hosted its first event this month at the Law School. The panel included James Bennin (‘07), Diana Ebron (‘07), Martha Branigan-Sutton (‘97), and Timothy Overton (‘07), moderated by Jay  Redd (‘07), who also serves as the Alumni Board’s BIPOC Subcommittee Chair.

The panel started as text exchanges between members of the class of 2007 discussing how they could engage with current law students. Before long, Jay took their ideas to Barbara Melendez (‘97), Director of Diversity, Equity and Belonging at the Law School, and Mike Middleton, Dean of External Relations. Their ideas evolved into a panel event of four alumni discussing their experiences at BYU Law and sharing advice and networking with current and prospective students. 

The panel was a “joint effort of love to give back to an institution that means so much [to us],” Jay said, as he began moderator duties for the special panel. The panelists shared their “origin stories” and each proved to be a superhero in their own right. 

Martha’s grandpa was an Irish immigrant who came to America and became an attorney and property holder in Beloit, Wisconsin. He provided low-cost housing to families in the small town. Her father, also an attorney, continued his father’s footsteps and ended up falling in love with her mom, who she described as a “poor black tenant” of her father’s property. Martha is now a third generation attorney and has learned from her family’s experiences that it is “important to remember everybody and try to be as inclusive as possible.” 

James came from a family of immigrants and said his family’s drive for success was pretty intense. He came to BYU as an undergraduate student planning to be a Software Engineer and make some money. He even has a job lined up with Walmart before fate, and his future wife, who was also a BYU undergrad, geared him towards taking the LSAT and applying to BYU Law School instead. He now heads his own IP law firm in Florida and is still able to engage with engineering and technology through law. 

The panelists also shared their challenges as BIPOC attorneys, both during law school and while practicing law. “There were not a lot of people that looked like us when we came to BYU Law,” Tim said. 

All panelists shared the importance of building relationships, especially with fellow classmates. Jay, who built his career on public policy and advocacy, remembers going to dinner with Tim and gaining insight in how a private law firm attracts and bills clients. “You’re going to have classmates who have walked through in those shoes before, so make sure that you keep in touch with them,” Jay advised. He went on to share the benefits of being able to ask those questions and be vulnerable with a classmate you’ve known since law school rather than a peer from the office.

James likened the gospel principle “love God, love thy neighbor” to the importance of talking to and getting to know others. “We may not dress the same or have the same background, but we all have something in common,” he said. As we love thy neighbor and build meaningful relationships we can better show up to help them in their time of need.

Tim left students with this advice: “be great and don’t be afraid to be great.” He shared a story of still feeling insecure with imposter syndrome, despite practicing law for ten years and being a partner at a big law firm. It took a client he trusted to remind him that he does great work and that he was a great attorney. “Look at you, you’re in a fantastic law school,” he reminded the students in attendance. “Do great work when you first start [working after law school],...if you start off on fire, it will be so much easier to get going.”

Diana, a litigator with Klinedinst in Las Vegas, Nevada, started BYU Law as a mother of three. Something she wished she had done better during law school was to be more efficient. “Use the tools you have available to you,” she encouraged. “Don’t waste time on unimportant things. Focus on the things that really matter.” Diana also touched on the idea of work-life balance, reflecting on the importance of setting boundaries in your career. 

While some may be afraid to bring certain aspects of themselves to the workplace, Jay ended the panel by encouraging students and legal practitioners to fight that urge to show up as anything but authentic. “Wherever you go, make sure you bring yourself to the job," he said in closing. “We are all great in our own right and bring a different perspective and a different way that we interact in the world.

Dean David Moore (‘96) was also in attendance and thanked the alumni, some of whom he taught, for offering their advice and guidance to students and for demonstrating the uniqueness of BYU Law and representing BYU so well, both as practitioners and people.

Over the past few years, the BYU Law Alumni Board has prioritized engaging with current students and connecting with alumni. Under the leadership of Marie Howick (‘09)  and James Bennin, Alumni Board Belonging & Inclusion Co-Chairs, the Alumni Board hosted its first Belonging event featuring alumni panelists in November 2023. This effort has expanded from two co-chair positions on the Alumni Board into two subcommittees and a handful of events focused on engaging current Law School students and BYU Law alumni.

Up next is the Women’s Alumni event featuring Jill Marchant (‘90), Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary for Hallmark, sharing her framework for success and how she holds herself accountable for achieving it in male-dominated C-suite executive world. The virtual event will take place on March 27, 6pm MST. For more information, email us at externalrelations@law.byu.edu.