Celebrating Our People: Matt Iwamaye
Matt Iwamaye is a 2022 Outstanding Community Service Award Winner for his work with the Pipeline to Practice Foundation, an organization committed to enhancing diversity in the legal profession by supporting and nurturing diverse law students and early-career attorneys at key stages of their academic and professional development.
When Matt Iwamaye was in law school, he didn’t have many role models he could relate to in the profession and there wasn’t a clear path for students in his shoes. Not only was there a lack of diversity, but there was also a lack of guidance.
“If you go to a top-tier law school and you’re at the top of your class, there’s a lot of support and plenty of options when you graduate,” says Matt, Senior Director, Assistant General Counsel. “Even though the majority of people obviously aren’t in that situation, the profession doesn’t really cater to typical students at mid-tier law schools when they’re beginning their careers.”
Matt attended law school in New York and navigated the Bar Exam—the test U.S. lawyers need to pass to become licensed attorneys—, a job hunt and the early stages of his career without much guidance.
“With a lot of hard work and a little luck, I was able to succeed in law school, pass the Bar and build a career I enjoy,” he says. “But the farther I got into my career, the more I realized starting out didn’t have to be that hard.”
It turns out Matt wasn’t the only attorney who felt that way, so he and a few industry colleagues got together to talk about what would have improved their experiences. After sharing their perspectives, they decided to create The Pipeline to Practice Foundation to make entering the legal field easier for the next generation.
They started by listing everything that would have made their lives easier when they were in law school, studying for the Bar and beginning their careers. Then they determined who they would help.
“We wanted to focus on diverse students, but we don’t define what kind of diversity we’re looking for,” he says. “When students apply, we ask them to describe what makes them diverse. The answers vary greatly but they ensure that we can make an impact by helping the people who need it the most.”
The foundation is certainly making an impact. In its first year, the foundation worked with 12 students. In 2022, it had more than 300 applicants, with room for just 50.
“There is an overwhelming need for this kind of support,” Matt says. “We’re so excited to see how this has benefitted people so far and only hope to continue growing so we can support more students and young professionals.”
Pipeline to Practice supports its students through mentorship, skill development, networking opportunities and free online resources dedicated to each stage of the student-to-attorney pipeline. Additionally, the foundation offers financial assistance for Bar prep classes and application fees for students who need it.
“Many students will find jobs with firms or companies that will pay for their Bar prep and exam fees,” Matt says. “However, that’s not accessible to everyone and the costs can quickly become prohibitive. We try to ease that burden by covering some of those costs so the students can focus on what matters.”
Pipeline to Practice also recognizes that a little comfort and support can go a long way, so they’ll check in with students informally and send students care packages to make sure they’re well-nourished for study sessions.
“We want to do whatever we can to make the experience better so we can help bring more diverse perspectives into the legal field,” Matt says. “I’m so proud of what Pipeline to Practice has accomplished so far and excited to continue growing with the help of this donation from Cboe.”