From the moment she entered law school, Kisha A. Brown was asked by family and friends to make legal referrals. The requests persisted through her 15-year career as a civil rights attorney.
“Most people don’t really know lawyers or have them in their network — especially for Black people,” Brown said in an interview.
As she moved from job to job — with stops that included working for top Maryland political officials, like former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) and former state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D), along with advocacy and lobbying work in Annapolis — Brown began to think more about how Black people could connect with Black lawyers, and vice-versa.
It has become a full-time pursuit.
The result is a new organization she’s calling Justis Connection. After three years of laying the groundwork while working other jobs and “bootstrapping,” in Brown’s words, she launched Justis Connection earlier this year. Already, she has built a database of about 950 Black lawyers across multiple disciplines in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. — and she hopes to have national listings well under way by the end of the year.
“I’m really hoping this shifts how people get access to justice,” Brown said.
The concept is a no-brainer for Brown, who lives in College Park, and the attorneys she’s working with. About 5% of the nation’s lawyers are Black, she said. But many times, when Black people are looking for legal representation, they’re almost automatically inclined to turn to a white lawyer.
Justis Connection can unleash the economic power of Black Americans and use it to aid Black legal practitioners, while offering the Black clients the comfort of working with an attorney who can better understand their life experiences, Brown said.
“From the beginning, I could see the light of the vision,” said Anu B. Kemet, a personal injury and family lawyer in Beltsville. “We need to do for self. We need to control our dollar. We need to control our professions.”
Aimee Griffin, an estate planning, business and elder care lawyer who practices in Maryland, D.C. and Massachusetts, said that when she heard about Brown’s plans, “I couldn’t imagine not joining Justis Connection. We know it makes sense to have an alliance with someone who looks like us.”
Other lawyers say Justis Connection is also a good way for lawyers to connect with lawyers, if they are looking for expertise that they don’t possess. White-owned law firms that need to supplement their legal teams with Black lawyers can also take advantage of the service. Justis Connection can also serve as a catalyst to pressure white-owned law firms to diversify.
Brown said she wants Black people to get in the habit of using lawyers not only when they’re in trouble, but proactively, to plan their estates, launch businesses and think strategically about their futures.
Brown has been raising money for the organization from big and small investors, and she said it’s going well. Lawyers pay a monthly or annual fee to be listed in Justis Connection’s database. Brown spreads the word about their services through small businesses, churches and community groups.
“Right now, it’s priced to be beyond affordable for the lawyers,” she said.
Admirers are calling Brown an entrepreneur and a marketing maven.
“Kisha is an excellent collaborator, networker and attorney, so Justis Connection is a natural extension of that outflow,” said Prince George’s County Councilmember Jolene Ivey (D).
Brown said she has found the fundraising, technical and marketing aspects of launching the company daunting at times. “It’s not my skill set,” she laughed.
Brown remains a civil rights lawyer at heart. But she sees Justis Connection as an extension of that work, and calls it a “legal tech startup.”
“I believe that Justis Connection can make a lot of money and I believe all these lawyers can make a lot of money,” Brown said. “And I believe we can benefit the community at the same time.”