Tiana Towns didn't always know she wanted to be a lawyer. There was a time when she wanted to solve crimes for the FBI similar to the dramas she saw on television. While those dreams eventually disappeared, Towns still has gotten her chance to fight crime. After 3½ years at the Dorsey & Whitney law office in Minneapolis, Towns is now serving a three-month stint at the Minneapolis City Attorney's Office as part of Dorsey's pro bono program, which allows young associates to receive litigation experience and reduce the work burden on city attorneys. Dorsey associates, who have participated in the program for 40 years, handle annually about 400 trial cases ranging from domestic assault to indecent exposure. They also work on about 600 to 700 traffic-court issues.
Q: What made you want to become a lawyer?
A: The thought of considering a career in the legal profession came to me in high school. At that point, I never really considered it as a viable option because, honestly, I had never seen a black woman in the media or in person who was an attorney. I think that I maybe even had a thought that being a lawyer wasn't something that black women did. So then in undergrad I considered it again after I failed to get an interview with the FBI, but at this point, I still had never met a black woman who was an attorney. I knew being an attorney was a way that I could really impact the lives of people in my community and in a more broad way. The year in between undergrad and law school, I worked at a school for children with autism and learning disabilities and also as a law clerk for a small criminal defense and immigration law firm in Los Angeles.
Q: What was it like to attend Howard University School of Law and how did your experience affect your goals to become a lawyer?
A: Going to Howard Law, or "HUSL," was the single best academic and personal decision I've made. I always wanted to go to Howard in some capacity, but I knew I wasn't ready for undergrad so law school was really my last chance. It is really a unique experience. There is really nowhere else that has the legacy that Howard has for impacting social change as well as being known as a place that is educating and preparing black attorneys. At Howard, we really could set race aside for once and just focus on the law and being the best possible lawyers we could be. Every other time in life as a black person in America, you are always dealing with the fact that you are black. But at Howard, you don't have to think about race. This frees up your mind and emotions to really dive in and just be a person and learn. You can't get that anywhere else but a HBCU (historically black college and university).
Q: What attracted you to Dorsey?
A: I chose Dorsey because it is a good firm and because it was uniquely located in this place that has a ton of Fortune 500 companies. The business and economic environment in the Twin Cities is really only rivaled by a couple of other metropolitan areas. Dorsey has worked with all of these companies and has a national presence and reputation. So for me, if I couldn't get back to California or D.C., which I couldn't, then it was Minnesota. I did not know about the city program when I first arrived at Dorsey as a summer intern, but once I learned about the program, that was one factor that enticed me to stick with Dorsey.
Q: What is a normal day like for you at the City Attorney's Office?
A: Every day at the city is a little bit different, but most days I have anywhere between one and four cases set for jury trials that day. Ninety percent of the cases resolve without going to trial usually by pleading guilty. But since I have started, I have had two trials. One was a four-day DWI trial where I earned guilty verdicts for both charges and I also received a guilty verdict in the other trial. But every day, I have the opportunity to watch other trials and evidentiary hearings and also get to talk to the other attorneys about what they are working on.
Q: What do you hope to get out of the program?
A: The city program is a unique opportunity to try cases and get comfortable with myself as a litigator, get to know the legal community and get to know judges. I'm hoping to get the skills I need to be a great litigator, speaker and influencer. There's really no other opportunity for junior associates to get up in front of six or 12 people in a jury box and make a case. That never happens for associates. But at the city, that is exactly what we do here.
Q: What are your immediate goals at Dorsey?
A: My most immediate goal at Dorsey is to hop back on the cases that I had to leave behind to go to the city and apply my new skills to get a good result for our clients. My practice focuses on construction and real estate litigation, intellectual property litigation and commercial litigation. I have a few really interesting and high-stakes cases that I am eager to work on with my new skills. I also want to continue to build on the relationships that I made with colleagues and judges here. But I think I'm actually getting the confidence to say that I want to work hard to make partner at Dorsey and then be involved in the local community. Not only for myself, but maybe for some other young black girl who has never seen or met a black woman attorney.