WLD Executive Committee member Ranissa Dycus shares her recent Q&A with Judie Conley, solo practitioner. May we all learn from Judie’s experiences.
Q: Hi Judie. Thanks for agreeing to participate in this month's interview. Let's start with the basics. How long have you been practicing and where did you attend law school?
A. Glad to do it! I attended law school at Valparaiso and graduated in 1978.
Q. Valpo? But you're from New York, right? How did you find your way to Indiana?
A. My family is Lutheran. I received a scholarship from Valpo (a Lutheran affiliated school) through minority recruitment. While in law school, I was awarded a fellowship with the Reginald Heber-Smith Community Law Fellowship Program and lived in D.C. for six months. This program recruits young lawyers to the field of poverty law. Afterwards, I returned to Indiana, graduated and got my first job at Indiana Legal Services.
Q. Tell me about your current practice.
A. Right now, my practice is a solo practice. I do civil law and criminal defense. I also serve as general counsel to national non-profit organizations. In addition, I do quite a bit of pro bono legal work for the city, in association with my church.
Q. The WLD is heavily focused on diversity and inclusion this year. Can you speak about your experience about a Black female practitioner in Indy? Positive or negative?
A. When I first came here, there were not many Black attorneys, and even less Black female attorneys. There were about three attorneys who took me under their wings and guided and helped me become involved in the community. It has always been a challenge to be treated as an equal to my non-minority counterparts. I believe this was primarily because there was a strong camaraderie that did not include Black female attorneys. Once more Black females became attorneys in the Indy area, we built our own support network. That gap has slowly, but surely, begun closing, although it does still exist.
Q. Does that kind of explain why you got involved with the WLD?
A. Yes, I was a past chairperson of the WLD in the early 90s, and at that time I was the only Black female attorney in the entire division.
Q. How do you want to impactful for WLD and the legal community, as a whole, now?
A. My position is that now is the time to do whatever I can to increase awareness of Black female attorneys in the city. Diversity is being invited to the dance, but inclusion is being asked to dance. Since I've been in the WLD, I'm trying to do things to bring light to my unique experience as a Black female practitioner so the presence is known and more Black attorneys, both male and female, will get asked "to dance."
Q. What do you enjoy doing outside of your practice?
A. I enjoy being active in my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. I always enjoy shopping and traveling.
Q. Is there anything else you want to share with the WLD?
A. I encourage members of the WLD to seek out fellowship from attorneys who are not from the same background. You would be surprised to know how much we all actually have in common, and the most important thing is recognizing the little things we can do to help someone else.