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How Birmingham Attorney C.L. May Raises The Bar And Gives Back

Attorney Cynthianther L. May, founder, Birmingham-based May Law Group LLC. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)
By Haley Wilson
The Birmingham Times

When Cynthianther L. May was in elementary school, a group of lawyers visited for career day. They all were dressed in nice suits, she recalled—but that’s not what impressed her most.

“What got me is that they were trying to explain the practice of law to an eight-year-old. … The way that they explained it is that laws affect every single thing you do, and they affect every single thing that you touch,” said May, owner of the Birmingham-based May Law Group LLC.

“They used an example of the traffic light, saying ‘Somebody had to write a law that says the traffic light had to be there. Somebody wrote a law saying how high the traffic light has to hang from the street.’ When they explained that laws affect everything, I was like, ‘I’m going to affect everything we do. … I want to make that impact.”

Through her firm, which provides business counseling and risk management services, meditation and attribution, and other legal services, May takes a “nontraditional” approach to her practice that often allows her to give back.

“I do pro bono work for local agencies for which some type of conflict has arisen, and they may not be able to afford mediation, [which] I may do at a reduced rate,” she said. “Or if there’s some work with courts involving divorces, I will [do pro bono work]. With some divorcing couples, I may do it for free. Those are a few of the ways I’m always looking to give back.”

Historic Moment

As a Black female lawyer, May is proud to see a Black woman nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who fielded questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, will make history if she is named the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court.

“It is an honor to share in the practice of law with such immensely talented and skilled Black women,” May said. “Each one of us stands on the shoulders of women who’ve stared into the face of misogyny and persevered despite racism.”

“The nomination of [Jackson] puts on display the qualifications of a [one] Black woman while simultaneously combatting a stereotype sometimes held over us all,” May continued. “Her nomination and qualifications display to the world her intellectual prowess. Although I am so proud to witness her nomination, the responses to her name and the critiques of her ample qualifications shine a light on the bias that still exists and should remind us of the work that still needs to be done.”

“Roots and Value of Hard Work”

May, 42, knows the importance of hard work in the legal field.

“I was raised by my mother in a household with my mother and my grandmother. It was a very matriarchal upbringing,” she said. “I got the hard-work ethic from my mother. She was a single parent, and she worked to give me the life that any little girl should have. I saw the hard work. I learned the value of sacrifice. I learned that anything worth having is worth working for. … From my grandmother, I learned those domestic skills. I learned how to cook and how to sew. From both of them, that’s where the connection to people came from.”

May is from Prichard, Alabama, and grew up in Mobile, Alabama, as an only child in a household “that gave me what I consider the roots and value of hard work,” she said.

“I also learned a great deal about life skills and soft skills, about being fair, having integrity, and doing what you say you’re going to do.”

After graduating from John L. Leflore High School in 1997, May enrolled at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where she majored in English with a concentration in speech communication.

“Stillman was a great experience. … [The recruiting staff and the Director of Academic Affairs, Mason Bonner], influenced my decision to attend Stillman,” she said. “Mr. Bonner was so personable. He stopped me while I was on a tour, and he actually knew my name [and] knew how to pronounce my name. … He made a connection.”

“The second thing about Stillman was the faith background,” she added. “A big part of my upbringing is my belief in Christ, so for a school to actually value that, foster that, and encourage that growth was something I knew I would need moving forward.”

Legal Life

In her senior year at Stillman, May started preparing for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), and her work ethic came into play.

“The LSAT was a very stressful time in my life, and I had to draw strength from my roots,” she said. “I knew and I saw growing up that anything worth having is worth working for, so I knew I didn’t have a choice. I had to do the long nights. I had to find the time management.”

After graduating from Stillman in 2001, May enrolled at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law to study for her Juris Doctor (J.D.).

“The cultural difference is what was most jarring for me,” she said. “I went from a [historically Black college or university (HBCU)] to a law school class in which I was one of 20 Black people—and the class size was about 543 when I got there.”

“I had to keep telling myself, ‘You’re not here by accident. You’re here on purpose. It really doesn’t matter who else is in these classes. You’re in the classes for a reason. So, put your head down, get yourself together, and get the work done.’”

May did exactly that: “I created relationships with faculty and staff, and they were great.”

“My issue was just learning how to think differently because that’s what law school teaches you,” she added. “It teaches you to learn to think and apply information differently. … I had to retrain my brain to not just memorize information but digest it and apply it.”

In 2004, May graduated from Loyola and prepared for the bar exam like it was a full-time job.

“I would get up, have my breakfast, take a walk or do some type of workout, and then start reading and prepping. At night, I would have bar-prep classes. The following day after the bar-prep classes, I would review the information from the preceding night. … That continued for weeks and weeks and weeks until it was time to take the bar,” she said.

And she passed the bar on her first try — “Thanks to God and his infinite grace and mercy,” May said.

May Law Group LLC

After passing the bar exam, May became a managing attorney for the Montgomery, Alabama, office of a Mobile-based law firm.

“From the beginning, I was hiring staff, managing staff, taking care of payroll, approving time off. … I was managing caseload,” she said. “That was a monumental experience for me because I had been practicing law for just under a year. I didn’t have any colleagues or people that graduated with me in the same boat. … They were more taking directives, and I was in a position of giving directives.”

In 2006, May accepted a position as an attorney for a civil defense firm and moved to Birmingham. In 2009, she founded May Law Group LLC with a staff of two other attorneys.

“A lot of people who go into this field have the goal of opening their own practice, but that was actually never really my goal,” she said. “I started my own practice because at the time those were the cards I was facing in life, and I believe God led me to be a leader and serve people in this way.” she said.

May Law Group LLC is located at 420 20th St. N. Suite 2000, Birmingham, AL 35203. For more information, visit www.maylawgroupllc.com.