Ibiere Seck - Alliance of Women Trial Lawyers

Nex Gen – Ibiere Seck Follows In Some Big Footsteps

In 1995, the trial of O.J. Simpson riveted the nation, and Ibiere Seck, a teenager in Washington state, was no different. One person in particular mesmerized her: Johnnie Cochran.

“He had a way about him,” she says. “I felt like: That’s what I want to do.”

She became determined to follow in his footsteps. She wound up doing a better job at that than she could have possibly imagined—not only attending Cochran’s alma mater, not only practicing in his city, but working at his firm: The Cochran Law Firm in Los Angeles.

“Johnnie Cochran’s office is still in the same condition it was when he passed away [in 2005], and my office is right next door to his,” she says. “To be able to go into work and know that just on the other side of that wall, Mr. Cochran sat—it’s humbling. It never gets old for me.”

SECK’S PARENTS raised their large family—10 children in all—in Seattle. They were artists: Her mother was a jeweler, her father a musician and painter. Originally from Senegal, her father was also a griot (pronounced GREE-oh)—a West African storyteller.

“These were people in the community who were tasked with maintaining the history of the community,” says Seck. “Whenever there was a significant event, it had to be passed on in a responsible way. … It was their responsibility to share with the community what had occurred [in their family] up until this point. My father was born into that.”

Seck’s parents instilled a strong sense of family and self. Her mother, seeing Seck’s promise from a young age, encouraged her to become an attorney. “My mother planted the seed,” she says. “I think she recognized when I was young that I could have this amazing opportunity to have an incredible education, and do good work in my community.”

Although she did well in school, she eventually found herself self-conscious about being one of the few students of color in her class. As a result, when she was a preteen, she was homeschooled for two years, then enrolled in American Indian Heritage, a small, largely Native American school specializing in arts and culture. For Seck, it was eye-opening.

Recognizing how much her classmates knew their own family histories, she became determined to do the same with hers. Upon graduation, Seck left for Senegal for a year, staying with relatives, and meeting aunts, uncles and a grandmother she’d never known. For the first time, she was surrounded by people who “looked like me,” she says, “and I saw the beauty in them and in myself.”

It was also the first time she realized how much opportunity she had been born into. Seck had seen poverty in America, she says, but nothing like what she saw in Senegal.

“Something awoke in me,” Seck says. “That’s really when I started to see that I have all of these incredible opportunities, that I truly am privileged, and that I was going to do everything in my power to take advantage of it.”

At Northeastern University in Boston, Seck planned to become an attorney—just not the specifics. “Something along the lines of civil rights,” she says. “I felt like the criminal justice system was corrupt in a sense … just based on what I saw in my communities—how I felt like people of color were targeted. I had a strong sense of this injustice; I knew I wanted to be an advocate.”

She became one sooner than she expected. In her junior year, as part of a campus expansion, the school announced plans to tear down the freestanding John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute and relocate it into an existing building. It had been a system of support for students of color since the 1960s, and Seck, president of both the black student union and black student newspaper, found herself in the middle of a fight. Students, teachers and staff marched, protested and staged a 40-day sleep-in. Eventually, university officials acquiesced: The building remains to this day. For Seck, the experience was a turning point.

“I learned that if you believe in something and you are selfless, good things can come,” she says. “And I remember thinking how much more I could accomplish with a law degree.”

After the LSATs, law school brochures flooded Seck’s mailbox. One of the schools, Loyola, had launched a program that spotlighted illustrious alumni in outreach to prospective students. When Seck opened the brochure, the face staring back at her was Johnnie Cochran.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to find out more about this school,’” she says. “I found out that Loyola has one of the best trial advocacy programs in the nation.”

She applied and was accepted, and it didn’t take long for Seck to home in on her path. In her first year, she became interested in a civil rights symposium taught by Gary C. Williams; for a summer internship, she worked for a big firm.

“I made a ton of money—more money than I’d ever seen in my life,” she says. “But I absolutely hated it. I was done. I knew: ‘I am going to work for the people and be a trial lawyer for the people.’”

Seeking trial experience after graduation, she applied for a job with a Little Tokyo-based attorney who needed an associate to help with trial prep. She didn’t get the job, but the attorney was so impressed he asked if he could recommend her to an attorney at a different firm.

That attorney was Joe Barrett, a partner at The Cochran Firm.

“I was highly impressed,” says Barrett, now at Affeld Grivakes. “She was very advanced in her skills and maturity, and had a magnetic personality. She has a thirst for knowledge.”

One month later, Seck got the call.

“[It was] The Cochran Firm, saying, ‘We’re hiring. Do you want a job?’” she remembers. “I’ve never looked back.”

SPECIALIZING IN CATASTROPHIC INJURY, wrongful death and sexual abuse of minors, Seck has quickly carved out a name for herself in the field of civil rights litigation. She gained national attention for her work on a sex abuse case in which her client, a young teenager, was repeatedly assaulted by a coworker while both did custodial work with U.S. Metro Group, a facilities service. The abuse went on for over a year.

The civil case landed with Robert Simon, co-founder of the Simon Law Group, who was working with attorney Thomas Feher; Simon reached out to see if Seck could help. The two knew each other from board work in LA. “She has always been a star,” says Simon.

At first, says Seck, the case didn’t look good. When she and the victim first met, the girl was using drugs heavily and was being held at a facility in Orange County. “She was just in a really, really bad state,” says Seck. “I was thinking, ‘Who is going to believe her?’ But once I sat down with her and heard her story and the details that she provided, there was no way you could deny that it occurred.”

Over months of meeting with the girl, getting to know her, talking about everything besides the assault case—movies, books, family, school—she began to earn the girl’s trust. That was key. “She trusted no one,” says Seck. “She had been betrayed in so many ways that she just didn’t believe anyone was looking out for her best interests.”

After trust was established, Seck says, “We were able to do some really incredible work on her case.” This included hiring a private investigator to find other employees who had been victimized by the same man, and building a case to prove that U.S. Metro knew about his actions and kept him on payroll regardless—even once honoring him as employee of the year.

“The strategy was to expose [U.S. Metro] as the liars that they were,” says Seck. “They knew from the time they received the first complaint of harassment that they should have shown this man the door. Instead, they [held] him up in the company in such a way that all of his victims felt like they would never be heard, they would never be believed, and they would just have to shut up and take his abuse.”

After initially being offered a $5,000 settlement, their client won a $2.6 million verdict in Van Nuys, one of the more conservative districts in the Los Angeles area.

Seck’s work didn’t stop with the verdict. She reunited her client with a former foster family in the Bay Area and helped her move there. Seck arranged for a financial planner to set up a trust, allowing the girl to finish high school and begin a cosmetology program—the first step in her long-term plan, created with Seck’s help and encouragement, toward one day owning her own salon.

“We spent a lot of time mapping out what kind of life she wanted to live,” says Seck. “She is now 20 or 21 and doing well.”

For their efforts, Simon and Seck won the Consumer Attorneys of California’s Street Fighter of the Year Award in 2016. Simon notes that Seck’s outstanding efforts hinged on her passion, and, much like her father and relatives back in Senegal, her abilities as a storyteller.

“Ibiere is the most fearless advocate,” Simon says. “She will speak up about anything if it’s not right. In a courtroom, she comes across as soft and caring. I remember her doing direct questioning with the plaintiff, very powerful and emotional stuff, and incredible storytelling. She speaks from the heart.”

LATELY, SECK HAS TURNED HER ATTENTIONS to her own family, having recently given birth to her second child. She and her husband, who live in the View Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, also have a 6-year-old son. Just weeks after giving birth, Seck was working again while simultaneously caring for her newborn daughter.

“I attended the National Trial Lawyers Summit in Miami [in January],” she says. “I took my daughter on her first flight.”

Her current cases include representing victims of sexual abuse across the country, and working with the victims of the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, in which 36 people were killed when an artist’s warehouse burned to the ground.

She tries to visit her parents in Seattle once a year, and her relatives in Senegal every other year, and to involve her children in her work as much as possible. “I have made it a point to talk to my son about my work, in the hopes that he understands why it is that I do the type of work that I do,” she says.

Seck was never able to meet Johnnie Cochran. But among those who did know the legendary attorney, she’s already made a lasting impression. “He would be proud,” says Barrett, “to know that Ibiere Seck is a leader at his firm.”

She has now opened her own law firm, Seck Law, P.C. where her primary practice is catastrophic injuries, wrongful death and sexual abuse of minors.  Ibiere was recently elected Secretary of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, the largest plaintiff trial lawyers association in the nation,  and will lead the association as its President in 2024. She is the immediate past-president of the National Black Lawyers: Top 40 Under 40.

BY DUSTIN SNIPES

Kerrie Campbell - Speaker - Alliance of Women Trial Lawyers

Equal Pay Pioneer Reflects On What It’s Like To Sue A Biglaw Firm

Kerrie Campbell thinks it’s everyone’s responsibility to challenge blatant inequality

Even if you don’t remember the name Kerrie Campbell, chances are you’ve read a story (or two or three) about her. She is the former Chadbourne & Parke partner who took the world of Biglaw by storm when she sued her firm over a gender pay gap.

Styled as a purported class action, the case took on a total of three named plaintiffs before it was settled. Chadbourne, the firm Campbell sued, no longer exists — it was swallowed up in a merger with Norton Rose, but her experience taking on some of the best in the legal profession is illuminating. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Campbell, and she was happy to shine the light on what it is like to call out a Biglaw firm in court.

Initially, I wanted to find out from Campbell what is was like the moment she realized she believed she was being paid less than her male counterparts. Campbell said she first had an inkling something was wrong with her compensation way back in her first year as a lateral partner. The firm circulated a year-end ranking of partner compensation — revealing the pecking order as it were — and given the amount of work she’d been billing she just knew something was wrong — a “shocking revelation” was how Campbell characterized it. And it was a real eye opening moment for Campbell as a lateral partner with 30 years of Biglaw experience and a solid book of business.

Campbell said she made the decision to sue her former firm when she realized merely leaving the firm or just complaining about it would never be enough to move the needle. Year after year studies and reports detailing the gender pay gap in the legal industry are published but little changes; Campbell asked herself “what am I going to do about it?” That question forced Campbell’s hand, in a manner of speaking, and she knew she had little choice but to file a lawsuit against her firm.

As one might imagine, the reality of litigating against a giant law firm is stressful — and even seasoned litigators noted how contentious this suit was. As a trial lawyer herself, Campbell said she wasn’t surprised at the way the suit went down. She says the way defendants in discrimination cases tend to react to a lawsuit is largely predictable and that was something she was ready for. But the way that her local professional community reacted to the lawsuit was a little surprising. Campbell said that, for the most part, professional colleagues in D.C. were hesitant to discuss, or even acknowledge, the case while it was ongoing. But interestingly, the converse was also true. People she’d never met from around the country reached out to Campbell expressing their support and letting her know they were rooting for her. Through it all Campbell says she has no regrets about filing the lawsuit.

Campbell believes there is more than just a culture of secrecy regarding the inner working of firms — including partner compensation — that allows a gender pay gap to exist. In fact, she says there is a “laundry list” of factors that keep it alive. One of the biggest issues she identifies is the one/two punch of complacency and silence. There is so much at risk for women at law firms, and they are so busy growing their own practice, they have little time to worry about the broader issue of a gender pay gap. But Campbell says acceptance of the status quo is unacceptable, and women need to speak up, support those who do, and challenge blatant inequality.

There are, however, structural barriers that sometimes prevent women from openly challenging the existing system. One of the biggest issues Campbell sees on that front is the existence of mandatory arbitration clauses — in employment or partnership agreements. This often means that even if a women is courageous enough to bring the issue to her employer’s attention, no one knows about it and there is no public debate (or accountability) about the firm’s practices. Campbell is a litigator at heart, and she believes access to courts (and the accompanying judicial scrutiny) is key for real change.

These days Campbell has left the world of Biglaw behind. She’s building her own firmand is excited to represent clients in a variety of matters. One of the most interesting representations she has is working with the legal defense fund for Time’s Up!, and she continues to be a passionate advocate for gender equality in the workplace. This seems like the perfect next chapter for an equal pay pioneer.

Kathryn Rubino
Above The Law

Hare Wynn’s Ashley Peinhardt Nominated as 2018 Ones to Watch: Top Influencers Under 40 by Birmingham Magazine

Birmingham Magazine is a popular publication that focuses on events and noteworthy people in and around Birmingham, Ala. Each year, the publication asks readers to nominate the Magic City’s most influential professionals in a variety of industries.

Hare Wynn is honored to announce attorney Ashley Peinhardt was nominated and ultimately selected to the 2018 Ones to Watch: Top Influencers Under 40 list by Birmingham Magazine. This particular title is granted to the “best and brightest young professionals” in the city. Peinhardt will be featured in the magazine’s special “Young Professional” July issue.

After earning her J.D. in 2010 from the Cumberland School of Law, Ashley began focusing her professional practice at Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, LLP. She has rapidly earned herself a reputation among clients and her peers in the legal industry for her ability to successfully manage complex litigation cases, class actions, and catastrophic injury claims. The first jury trial she handled for a plaintiff ended in a $15 million verdict, which was affirmed by The Alabama Supreme Court and marked the largest damages judgement in the state in the last 20 years.

The McDivitt Law Firm Representing Families Impacted By Water Contamination

The McDivitt Law Firm is holding an informational open house for those affected by contaminated water in the Fountain/Security/Widefield area.

The law firm is representing all families affected by the water in a potential Class-Action lawsuit against the manufacturer of firefighting foam which contains high levels of perfluorinated compounds, also known as PFCs.

“People of Widefield, Security, and Fountain are concerned about being exposed to contamination and we want to make a difference and help them,” said attorney Kelly Hyman.

The fire retardant was used by the Air Force and seeped into the ground water supply affecting water for those three communities in 2015. There are a number of manufacturing companies named in the lawsuit, but no mention or intention of going after the Air Force that actually used the toxic foam.

Studies have been ongoing into the long-term effects of those who have been exposed to the toxins, as researches were recruiting volunteers to study effects earlier in the year.

“I feel like I’m an individual who’s healthy at this time, active and all that, and what if this product is still in my system and starts to affect me,” said Shelly Laborde, a Widefield resident.

Time is running out for those who want to get in on the lawsuit, so the informational open house will continue through the weekend at the McDivitt Law Firm at 19 East Cimarron Street. A judge is expected to decide this summer whether the class-action lawsuit can proceed.

Written By Rachael Wardwell

Kelly is an attorney with McDivitt Law Firm in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Kelly attended law school at the University of Florida and after law school She worked for numerous Federal judges. For the last six years Kelly has focused on mass tort cases. Kelly chose to work for McDivitt Law Firm because of the Firm’s reputation for professionalism and that they truly work to help people during during difficult times.