Prince: Lydia, thank you so much for sitting down with me and the reason why I picked you today is not only I find you interesting (being beautiful and intelligent etc) but what you do. So without further of due, please introduce yourself to my audience and tell us about yourself and what you do.
Lydia Edwards: Okay. My name is Lydia Edwards. I was raised in Michigan, in the upper peninsula, but I was born in Florida; raised in England as well. I am currently the Director of Legal Services for the Brazilian Immigrant Center. And I also run the clinic that is dedicated to domestic workers.
Prince: Great. I also understand that you are a lawyer correct?
Prince: So tell me, “How long have you been practicing law?”
LE: I took the BAR in 2006, so as of May 2013 it has been 7 years.
Prince: So what inspired you to become a lawyer?
LE: Well I do not recall an exact moment. I think I have always been intrigued by the law. And I always wanted to be involved in some sort of advocacy.
Prince: That is cool. Now describe to me the work that you do–especially with the Brazilian Immigrant Center.
LE: So, I have a legal clinic within a worker’s center, that is dedicated to educating and organizing immigrant workers for systemic change. So having a legal clinic there I support or take direct part in organizing work for the systemic changes that we are looking at. The major one right now, for the legal department, is Domestic Workers Bill of Rights– which we have pending now in Massachusetts. We literally helped write the bill and organized workers, who have legal issues, into leading advocates in a workers right movement.
Prince: That is awesome! I remember you telling me of your path of becoming an advocate for systemic change was unexpected and that you struggled quite sometime to find purpose as a lawyer [soul searching] So please re-tell that story to my audience.
LE: Well soul searching is a lot for, or a fancy way to describing, getting “laid off.” And so that is what I was from a corporate America job. It was a good job–in a large law firm–however when the economy collapsed I got laid off.
At the time, I did not know much about immigrant issues or speak Portuguese but what happened was I got invited to volunteer at this center [Brazilian Immigrant Center] by a colleague of mine who I clerked for a while I was looking for another job–which I thought I was going to get in like 2-3weeks.
Those 2 to 3 weeks turned into to three months. Then months turned into several months because it was during the time when the financial crisis hit the most. And nobody knew that we [America] would be shutting down 700,000 jobs a month. So eventually I continued to volunteer at the center and I really loved what I was doing: Volunteering and helping people with legal issues. Some were small (that issued $100) and some were very large criminal issues. But I really felt that I impacted–in a positive way–somebody’s life.
Prince: That is wonderful! Well being lawyer is tough so I would like to know what are some of your aspirations that keeps you going through the day?
LE: Well I try not to see each case as an Island and instead see them collectively as a part of collage to social justice. You can be really burnt out if you are dedicated to just one thing, one cause, or one case. And if you can see them all as one part of thing or cause, larger than yourself, then you will feel humbled by what you are doing and know people that can reach out to you when you need to. And you also know how to balance the case load.
Prince: Wow. That sounds like a great system that you have created for yourself to organize your work. Now I have a personal question to ask you. I want to talk about Gender Roles in the field of law and I would like to know if there are any discrimination or negative stigmas that are placed on women in the legal field?
LE: Well I think that’s different from my generation. I think there is no doubt that sexism still does exist. I find the hardest conversations, where there is a gender dynamic, are with older men and not so much with men of my age. I feel that men from my generation grew up in a different world, where it is okay for women to be in leadership positions. Men from a generation before (or two) who I do come up against in court just didn’t have that concept of women in leadership roles. And so I found that to be very condescending at some times.
But I think the biggest challenge that all women face in any professional circle is the “work life” balance. Unlike a lot of my colleagues that don’t have kids and are not married yet, I still do feel that it is a very “gendered” issue–where overwhelmingly a lot of women are taking on home tasks as well as a professional task and responsibilities which is overwhelming.
Prince: Yes that is very true. So what advice would you give to women who wish to pursue law but feel intimidated by either the workload or the negative stigmas that are placed on women in law?
LE: Again, I don’t think that it’s an issue. I don’t think pursuing law is the issue–it’s not. The majority of law students are women; so, there are barriers broken down. However, I do feel that there are barriers with people of color especially in Boston where there are a few people of color from the BAR.
Prince: Wow. Really?
LE: Yes and I have felt discriminated against. I remembered when I stood up in court, when they called my clients case, and as I came forward the court officer told me to sit down because he thought that I was the defendant or that I was a party member–He did not think that I was an attorney. So that has happened 3 or 4 times going in to the courtroom. I have been asked if I was an interpreter and I have been asked a whole bunch of different things but I don’t think that it’s gender–I think that it is because I am person of color. I think Boston is moving away from that, but it still has a horrible horrible reputation for maintaining people of color in the legal profession. Comparing Boston to New York or DC, I feel they [NY & DC] are more accepting towards people of color in the legal professionally–personally I feel DC to be more accepting. So it’s very hard to practice law in Boston.
Prince: Wow. That is very deep. I did not know that all. Thank you for telling me. Now I want to divert into more personal and funny questions to ask you. And so my first question is: “what was your most embarrassing case or embarrassing moment that you had as a lawyer?”
LE: It’s really a matter of preparation–not a matter of not making mistakes. As a side note no attorney would ever admit that they messed up in court. Not out of ego, but as a malpractice thing. “Why would I set myself up for liability Prince?” (Smiling)
Prince: (Laughing) I’m sorry. I just wanted to show the world that you are human like everyone else.
LE: (smiling) Well I do not deny my humanity or that I make mistakes, but I’m not dumb enough to submit myself to liability (laughing) on the record.
Prince: Okay (laughing) moving on. Next question: “What do you do for fun-outside of practicing law?”
LE: Well I have been really trying to read a lot more. I hate to say it but I lost the drive that I use to have in High School. I would finish a book every week or two –I love to read. Now I’m picking it up again starting with the classics like “Soul on Ice” by Eldridge Cleaver–a very good and disturbing book but nonetheless a wonderful book. So I’m trying to get back into reading again.
I also play Capoeira which do I pretty regularly. I practice twice a week right now–hopefully three times if we can get a location in East Boston. Among other things, I really enjoy hanging out with my friends–having coffee and discussing deep conversations. We can be such philosopher wannabes.
Prince: That is pretty cool. Can you describe me of a memorable case that you had that will always stick with you? Was there a moment when a client was incredibly grateful?
LE: It’s my job to take on Cases that people don’t want, so a lot of my clients are incredibly grateful. However I am dedicated to the hard cases for the workers who are forgotten by other movements–domestic workers.
For me Each and every woman that I have represented, especially the ones that are undocumented have been inspirations for me. The fact they would fight for $200 or $20000. I am just really amazed by them.
Prince: Great! So what are your future plans? Is there anything that you wish to share that you are really excited about?
LE: Well I have made it clear in my mind that I am going to be on this side for the rest of my career–to bring about social justice. It doesn’t mean that if you work for a corporate law firm that you are not for social justice. It just means that I want my career to be about it. So the future for me would be more social justice and hopefully I would be able to reassess in July next year (when our bill gets pass) to see what is the next big thing. The good thing about social justice is that there is a lot of social injustice; so there is always something new: always new movements, always new workers to meet to get involved with and be inspired by.
Prince: Great! Then my last question to ask you is: In your own words what makes Lydia Edwards so interesting.
LE: (pause) I do not know? You asked for the interview (laughing)
Prince: (smiling) yes that is true but is there anything that you can say about yourself that makes you interesting? And I’m sure that there is something interesting about you like your beautiful smile, your beautiful hair–I’m helping you out.
LE: you know I don’t think that I am that interesting?
Prince: Not even the fact that you fight social injustice every day for those who need it?
LE: There are millions of people out there who fight for Social Justice with little or no resources, in harsh conditions, or to the point of death. So again I really can’t say.
Prince: Wow. Well thank you Lydia so much for your time and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.
LE: Thank you.
If you wish to follow Lydia Edwards, you can do so on LinkedIn
Brazilian Immigrant Center: http://www.braziliancenter.org