Cynthia Assam is the Co-Chair of IPLAC’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, and the co-founder of Assam Law & Consulting. The consulting firm, which Cynthia started just one year ago, has a mission to provide competent business law services to people who otherwise cannot access law services, or who do not understand the importance of law services.
Cynthia’s practice focuses on clients who Cynthia describes as entrepreneurs and artists in a heart-centered line of work, and who care about the impact they have on others. Cynthia’s clients are not always thinking about their intellectual property and how to monetize, license, or protect their work, so Cynthia helps her clients attain their deserved protections. Cynthia gives an example of a client of hers who is a doula, teaching classes on alternative birth methods in order to combat some of the dangers that traditional OBGYN practices present to women of color. Cynthia’s job was to ensure that this client met all of her legal obligations—obligations that could easily present a barrier to growth otherwise—so she could her focus into work that she was creating.
What draws Cynthia to this work is her passion for business ownership as a means to try to close the racial divide regarding wealth in the United States. “There are two interesting things happening right now: black women are now among the most education populations in the country, and black women are out-pacing their peers when it comes to starting businesses. But despite these successes, they generally don’t have adequate access to competent business attorneys who can really guide them.”
Cynthia connects this lack of access back to the importance of intellectual property: “American culture is so driven by entertainment, whether sports, music, or art, and a lot of these creators are people of color who are responsible for generating lots of this entertainment revenue. But they’re seeing pennies on the dollar for the content they generate. The legacy of black people having their intellectual property stolen from them for profit dates back to slavery, when the law held that they could not obtain patents for their inventions. Many industry-moving inventions were based on inventions of slaves who never saw a penny of profit for their innovations.” Cynthia’s firm strives to be a step towards ending that trend.
Cynthia joined IPLAC while working in-house. When her company acquired another software company, she needed to quickly learn a lot about intellectual property. In seeking guidance and mentorship on intellectual property, IPLAC stood out to her: “The leadership of IPLAC reflected what the stated missions, goals, and values on diversity were. I saw people of all colors, I saw women, and I saw people of all ages.” Within three months of joining IPLAC, Cynthia became the Co-Chair of the DEI Committee. Cynthia’s current vision for the DEI Committee is to advance equity internally. “One thing that Caleb and I were very serious about this year is thinking about the extra steps that attorneys of color and law students have to go through. Seeing our members as people first, and people who practice law second.”
For anyone looking to do their part in promoting diversity and equity, Cynthia shares these words of wisdom: “It’s one thing to say that, ‘I’m going to be an ally and give you the space to do what you want to do.’ It’s a whole other thing to give your concrete support by stepping up, sending out emails to help make connections, and dedicating your time. Allyship is something that is acted out loud. It is not just verbal.” To this end, Cynthia highlights IPLAC’s leadership as a great example to follow, particularly IPLAC President Erin Lothson, who Cynthia credits for giving the DEI committee the support and push that it needed to grow.
If you’re interested in hearing more from the DEI Committee, be on the lookout for their popular and frequent book club events and movie discussions. You can watch Cynthia’s recent presentation on Intellectual Property as a Civil Rights Issue with the Kansas City Public Library here.
Cynthia also works as in-house marketing counsel for a legal tech startup, where she overlooks all external communications. She jokes that she has become a “TikTok lawyer.”