Before entering law school, Sharita Whitaker had never met an attorney. She had never seen a lawyer who looked like her. Now a real estate attorney at one of North Carolina’s largest firms, Whitaker wants to ensure that’s not the case for the next generation.
As the chair of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Minorities in the Profession Committee, it’s Whitaker’s goal to introduce African American, Latino, Asian and other minority students to the legal profession and show them how they can make a difference.
Our legal community must reflect the diversity of the people here in North Carolina.
“I think about what I would have wanted to know before and during law school — the things that would have been helpful along the way,” Whitaker says. “I want to share that information with young people who had the same experience that I had, or with anyone who has questions, who needs encouragement or a little help.”
In addition to offering programs designed to spark an interest among younger students, the Minorities in the Profession committee provides support and training for current law students. The group also aims to assist in the retention of North Carolina’s new and existing minority attorneys, because, as Whitaker says, “The retention and advancement of minority attorneys in North Carolina is critical and necessary.”
“Our legal community must reflect the diversity of the people here in North Carolina,” she continues. “We are hopefully paving a path for future attorneys to follow.”
Whitaker is one of those leading by example. As an attorney with Smith Anderson law firm in Raleigh, Whitaker specializes in commercial real estate and real estate development. She assists her clients with acquisitions, dispositions and leasing; title disputes; public utility real estate issues; and right-of-way acquisitions, among other issues.
Whitaker says she’s been interested in housing since she was a young girl. The oldest of 12 children, Whitaker grew up in a family that never owned property; they rented apartments or lived in housing projects for the majority of her childhood. “Because of my background, I was always curious how the real estate market worked,” she says.
I enjoy getting on the ground and talking to students. It’s my way of giving back.
She began pondering a career in real estate law after enrolling at NC State. While pursuing a B.A. in communication, Whitaker joined the university’s pre-law society and learned more about the legal profession and local resources. The first recipient of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Rebecca and Ruth C. Leonard Scholarship, Whitaker graduated summa cum laude from NC State in 2007 before enrolling at North Carolina Central University’s School of Law.
Whitaker interned at Smith Anderson during law school. After she graduated from NCCU at the top of her class, the firm hired her full time.
In the community, Whitaker formerly served as co-chair of the Minorities in the Profession Committee’s “¡Adelante! Moving Forward Program” for law students of diverse backgrounds and as a volunteer for Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Lawyer on the Line program. The Triangle Business Journal recognized Whitaker’s work with the Leaders in Diversity award in 2015, and in 2016 the News and Observer named Whitaker the “Tar Heel of the Week.”
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As a student at NC State, Sharita Whitaker received support from the Rebecca and Ruth C. Leonard Scholarship. Learn how you, too, can support our students, faculty and programs.
Between her job at Smith Anderson, community roles and a growing family — she had her third child last year — Whitaker stays busy. But it’s worth it, she says, if she can give someone else the help that she once needed.
“I enjoy getting on the ground and talking to students, hearing their stories and encouraging them to keep going,” Whitaker says. “It’s my way of giving back.”
Whitaker received support at NC State from the Rebecca and Ruth C. Leonard Scholarship in the Department of Communication. Learn how you can contribute to the success of our students by making a gift to the college.
Read more about Sharita Whitaker.