As a partner and chief diversity and inclusion officer of a law firm with clients worldwide, Yendelela Neely Holston ’03 gets hundreds of emails a day. But when one arrives from a furman.edu address, it stands out from the pile.
“I have a special place in my heart for students who have the courage to reach out,” says Holston from her office at the Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton law firm in Atlanta. “I never reached out to alums as a student; I always thought it was a bother. But I admire people who do, and I want to encourage that type of behavior as a life skill.”
Case in point: On March 10 of this year, Qwameek Bethea ’21 sent his first email to Holston – and by April he had accepted a job as an internet analyst at Kilpatrick Townsend.
Bethea was looking for opportunities to pursue during a two-year gap before attending law school, and knew he wanted to gain experience at a law firm in the interim.
“I had heard so many amazing things about Yendelela from my professor, Dr. Marian Strobel, and pre-law advisor, Maya Russell, that I have actually wanted to meet her for a while,” says Bethea. “I also knew that she went to Duke Law and had a passion for social justice work, so I was honestly inspired. I took a leap of faith and sent the email. I knew that she was a very busy person, and she didn’t know me personally, so I wasn’t sure what would happen. When I saw that she responded, that gave me all the motivation I needed to keep fighting.”
As it happened, their correspondence coincided with a new job posting from Kilpatrick Townsend, seeking an internet analyst.
“Yendelela never directly told me to apply for the position, but I noticed when I looked on the firm’s website that the position had been open since January,” Bethea remembers. “When I saw that, I completed the application that same night. I stayed up until 3 a.m. I even completed all the optional sections.”
Bethea also sent his resume to Holston, who then sent it along throughout Kilpatrick Townsend. The resume made the rounds, and the firm offered Bethea the job on April 5.
“He killed the interview,” Holston says.
Holston, a magna cum laude Furman graduate and a member of the university’s Board of Trustees, says the internet analyst job is excellent preparation for future law students.
“It allows you to work in a law firm and have exposure to attorneys and the type of work that we do,” she says. “It’s been a nice landing spot for people who are interested in law school.”
As an internet analyst, Bethea will spend his days with a team of trademark attorneys, paralegals, secretaries and other staff scouring the web on behalf of the firm’s clients, looking for potentially infringing or problematic content.
“I am still amazed that I was able to get a job in a big law firm out of undergrad, and with such great competition,” Bethea says. “I know that this will only serve to strengthen my applications for law school. I have always known that I wanted to become an attorney, and I hope that my time at the firm will solidify that decision.”
This was not, however, the first step in the job search for the senior majoring in philosophy and politics and international affairs, whose ultimate dream is to be a law school professor.
“Before I applied for this position, I had put in applications at various jobs across the country,” he says. “It has been very difficult considering the number of experienced workers who are seeking new jobs due to the pandemic. I realized if I really wanted a job, I would have to adapt my approach. As a student ambassador for the Malone Center for Career Engagement, I understood the importance of networking.”
Networking with Holston also brought Bethea in contact with Raina Barbee, a former Kilpatrick Townsend internet analyst who is rejoining the firm as an associate this year after getting her law degree. The firm’s Legal Scholars Program, Holston’s brainchild, helped Barbee and other diverse students navigate their first year of law school.
“I am very committed to increasing diversity in the legal profession,” she says. “So if there’s something I can do to make sure there’s one more Black person making connections in the field, I’m going to do it.”
None of this might have been possible without The Furman Advantage, Holston and Bethea agree.
“Part of The Furman Advantage is that network of committed alums and that mentorship for the students,” Holston says. “You can reach out to an alumni you’ve never had a conversation with, and people will go the extra mile because of The Furman Advantage.”
“I am truly thankful for Yendelela,” says Bethea. “She didn’t have to respond, but she did. If she didn’t, I don’t know where I would be today.”