Mina Jones Jefferson’s elevator speech is simple: “I build bridges to help people get from where they are to where they want to go.” In short, she bridges gaps — a skill that served her well throughout her career, but especially in the beginning. In fact, the first bridge she ever built was her own; a bridge that connected her to an industry that, in the past, was made up of far too few people who looked like her.
Mina entered the legal profession in 1990, starting in biglaw. For an African American woman, this was a rarity for the times, but a few years later when she made partner at a local Cincinnati law firm, she truly beat the odds.
“In terms of biglaw, African Americans make up maybe 4% of the partners,” Mina said. “For African American women, even less. In my formative days, I was the only person who looked like me in an office of about 150 attorneys.”
Mina calls herself a careerpreneur, or a professional who manages their own career more independently, like an entrepreneur. “I have always been very active in managing my own career,” Mina said. “Your career is yours to manage. It is your business — and I have been tenacious about my career.”
Tenacity, as it turns out, runs in Mina’s family. During the summer before what would have been Mina’s freshman year at Forest Park High School, certain powers that be decided to bus Mina’s mostly African American neighborhood to now defunct Green Hills High School. It was an attempt to apparently add diversity to the mostly white student body. This was a decision that angered Mina’s community, including Mina’s mother, who battled the school board to keep Mina in her own neighborhood.
“It was confusing for an 8th grader,” Mina said. She was looking forward to cheerleading at Forest Park High School and being reunited with all her friends after the summer, like most other kids. “Why did I have to leave my own neighborhood?” Mina asked.
The school board meetings seemed to drag on and the more time that passed, the fewer people showed up to fight — except for Mina’s mother, who was there until the very end. Although Mina ended up being forced to attend Green Hills, her mother helped negotiate extra busing for extracurricular activities and for Mina to join the Green Hills cheerleading team even though she missed the tryouts during all the squabbling. Notwithstanding the high school imposed on Mina, she made it her own and was even elected homecoming queen by her peers.
The busing issue taught Mina two things. First, that her mother doesn’t quit, and that sparked something in her. Secondly, in Mina’s own words: “There are systems at play that are often invisible but have a tangible impact.” Both of these lessons are what drove Mina to get into law in the first place.
“I’m fairly comfortable being uncomfortable,” Mina said. “You have to be when keeping others intellectually honest.” And as she learned the law and gained experience, she refused to reside in the ambiguity that perpetuates inequity. If a system wasn’t right or fair, Mina knew how to proceed accordingly, ultimately having an impact both inside and outside the courtroom.
After nine years of practicing law, Mina transitioned into administration at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, eventually working her way up to Chief of Staff. This pivot from practicing law as a career to counseling and guiding others in their own law careers offered Mina a new feather in her hat and new opportunities as well. This included her term as President of the renowned National Association for Legal Professionals (NALP), a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and career bucket list checkmark.
Today, Mina is considered a thought leader in the legal talent space. She says her new position at Graydon will leverage all her prior experience to help build programs that will “become the blueprint for others,” — a position that sounds more like an architect than a lawyer. But perhaps that makes sense as she works to build the careers of those around her, using her own career as a model. She certainly has the experience and perseverance to draw up those plans.
Mina serves as the Firm’s Chief People Officer, a role that leverages her passion for people. Her career spans the legal ecosystem first as a law firm associate, turned partner, to law school - the profession’s entry point - and ultimately the professional development realm. She often deploys systems thinking to minimize unintended obstacles to success in the workplace and in one’s career.
As a human capital strategist, Mina has a proven record of working collaboratively with multiple stakeholders to achieve buy-in and results. She has participated in industry design thinking workshops and is a frequent speaker on career and professional development. Her “why” - the aha moment. When people go from working on it to walking in it.
She has served on a number of boards in our area, from ProKids, Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, and the Cincinnati Bar Foundation, to the Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Commission of Professionalism for the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Mina and her spouse, Bobby, live in West Chester. They have four kids, Sydney, Bobby, Jules, and Elle. Free time means family. All in that’s almost twenty people, which means there is never a dull moment.