Making equity partner at a top national law firm would be enough of an accomplishment for most people. But not for Fox Rothschild labor and employment attorney Gray Mateo-Harris, ’05 LAS, JD ’08. Her dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion inspires her to mentor Latinx and Black lawyers, to speak widely on DEI issues and to volunteer on boards of multiple organizations focused on justice for women and minorities.
This past March, the Hispanic National Bar Association recognized that dedication by honoring Mateo-Harris with a 2022 Top Lawyers Under 40 Award.
Fewer than 3 percent of equity partners in top U.S. law firms are women of color, and the odds were against Mateo-Harris becoming one of them. She lived in the Dominican Republic until she was 8, when her family immigrated to Chicago so her parents could pursue blue collar jobs.
“Neither of my parents speaks much English, so I remember being a child and studying their [union] contracts, calling their union [representatives]” and expressing my parents’ viewpoints, she recalls. “So I grew up being a labor and employment advocate.”
Mateo-Harris decided to make law her career. She entered the U of I’s undergraduate Law Minority Access Program, which allowed her to clerk at a large law firm and take College of Law courses.
Although she was accepted into an Ivy League law school, Mateo-Harris chose U of I’s law school instead. “I wanted to practice in Chicago, and most of the Chicago law firms have Illini alums (we have an amazing network),” she says. “The law school gave me a full scholarship, and my boyfriend—now my husband [Christopher Harris, ’05 LAS, JD ’08]—also had been accepted, so it was a logical choice.”