By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,
Imani Maatuka was born into a family of lawyers. There was never a question of if she would attend law school, only when and where.
Her parents had a plan for her and instilled a sense of drive in her that she’s carried with her from childhood to adulthood.
In high school, Maatuka started an event planning company, Featuring Your Business, Inc., to plan fun-filled, age-appropriate parties for high school students to enjoy, and generated over $30,000 in profit.
During her undergraduate studies, Maatuka graduated first in her class with a degree in journalism and mass communications from historically Black college, North Carolina A&T State University.
Now fresh out of Washington University School of Law, Maatuka is a commercial litigation and disputes associate at Sidley Austin, LLP in the Dallas, Texas office. Former first lady Michelle Obama, a role model for Maatuka, began her legal career at Sidley’s Chicago office and met Former President Barack Obama there.
Although this is just the start of her law career, the 24-year-old has already prepared a path for generations of Black aspiring lawyers to come after her.
She, along fellow law students Elizabette Privat, Jo Gbujama and Brennan Hughes Jr., created The Bridging the Gap Scholarship in 2019 to help more minority students access professional opportunities in Big Law, an epithet for the most prestigious and largest firms with high-paying jobs.
Maatuka was inspired to establish the scholarship after having a conversation with Privat about prospective summer internships. She encouraged her friend to apply for Big Law positions, in which interns earn roughly $40,000, and was shocked to discover that Privat had never heard of the lucrative legal industry.
At that moment, Maatuka realized she was only aware of Big Law jobs because of her privilege, and she was determined to ensure that all minority law students knew about every opportunity available to them, especially the most lucrative ones.
“If you don’t even know about the opportunities that are out there, what are you going to do?” said Maatuka. “You have no idea
] to even apply. You have no idea about the lucrative opportunities that await.”
The rigorous application process and high fees associated with law school already served as significant deterrents to minorities pursuing a legal career, and Maatuka and her friends wanted to mitigate these burdens while also presenting gainful professions in law.
In its first year, The Bridging the Gap Scholarship provided four law students with $1000, financed by Maatuka and her fellow founders. The funds were meant to be used for law school application fees, but the scholarship came with more than just money.
The four veteran law students also helped students prepare their applications and provided mentorship in navigating the first year of law school, and Gbujama fostered a relationship with PowerScore to offer free LSAT preparation courses.
Maatuka, at the time, was also her school’s head representative for BARBRI, the largest U.S. bar preparation and legal exam company in the world, and was able to grant the students access to its Law Preview class. Nearly 40 percent of students who take this class finish in the top 10 percent of their first year of law school.
When the COVID-19 pandemic arose in the U.S., The Bridging the Gap Scholarship was put on pause, but now that the world is regaining a sense of normalcy, Maatuka is looking forward to expanding the pool of recipients for the 2023 spring semester.
“At its very essence,
[The Bridging the Gap Scholarship
] is a message,” said Maatuka. “It’s a message about the opportunities that are available for all law students and especially for future law students from ethnic minority groups.”
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