When Imani Maatuka graduated from college she already knew she was going to law school because her mother told her to. But it’s probably not for the reason you’d think.
“I come from a family of attorneys,” Maatuka shared. “So my mother, who is a litigator, was actually the first Black woman in Central Illinois to open her own law firm. So my whole life I knew I wanted to be an attorney because I wanted to be just like my mom. She also said that if we didn’t do anything else, we had to earn a law degree so we could inherit and run the business she’d worked so hard to build.”
Maatuka explained that, unlike most family businesses, law firms cannot be owned by non-attorneys, something that’s largely unknown about the legal industry. She says this is due to ethical obligations of attorneys, but it is also a byproduct of inherent racism and classism. Because of this disparity, Maatuka said she worked doubly hard to ensure she’d go on to earn the salary she deserved, even while as an undergraduate.
She said she heavily considered her options when studying law, and landed on commercial litigation practice due to its high earning potential. This was important because those salaries are largely present with little to no wiggle room for negotiation.
She says that she acknowledges her privilege of having early access to career knowledge which she was able to leverage in landing such a lucrative role (salaries range between $150,000-$200,000+). As such, she works to educate other young law students.
“I’m part of a generation that’s all about not repeating the mistakes of those that came before us,” the 24-year-old said. “I’m extremely transparent about my salary and pay equity because I think it’s so disenfranchising to withhold information like that when you know that it could be that life-changing for someone.”
That’s what led her to co-found The Bridging The Gap Scholarship — which aims to help support Black law students’ aspirations of breaking into “big law” possible.
Maatuka, alongside her co-founders (Elizabette Privat, Jo Gbujama, and Brennan Hughes, Jr.) each took $1,000 of their own earnings from a summer associate program and launched the program for the 2023 graduating class.
Since then, the team is working on expanding the program for future graduates, and securing more support.
“I’m so blessed to be able to reach back as I climb,” Maatuka. “This is only the beginning.”