Profiles in Practice: Anisha Murphy

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Inspired by Clair Huxtable, the iconic matriarch on The Cosby Show, Anisha Murphy knew at five years old that she wanted to be an attorney. She drew her inspiration from Mrs. Huxtable’s approach as the “Renaissance woman” for the Black community. Everything that Clair was—a brilliant civil attorney at a high-powered law firm, a strong wife, and a loving mother to five children— Murphy wanted to be. “So,” Murphy said, “I kind of fashioned my life around that.” 

Murphy pursued her undergraduate degree at Hamline University and entered Hamline University School of Law intending to follow in Huxtable’s footsteps and become a corporate attorney. During Murphy’s first year of law school, Trayvon Martin was killed. The killing had a profound effect on the direction of Murphy’s career. She realized that her future lay in service to her community. “And when I say my community,” Murphy explained, “I’m talking Black and brown folks, specifically those who are traditionally marginalized by systems and often left out. Trayvon Martin was a catalyst for change.” 

When Murphy graduated from law school in 2014, she began doing policy work around youth homelessness and juvenile justice reform. She also holds a master’s degree in public administration from Hamline University and worked first for the Minnesota Department of Human Services. She later channeled her efforts at the Children’s Defense Fund and various federal agencies. 

Although Murphy loved her public policy work, she started to feel burned out by the obstinacy of the system and the deep inequities young Black people faced. “I got tired,” Murphy said, “realizing that the system was just designed to marginalize Black and brown boys, and that no matter how hard we worked at it, if the policies and the laws don’t change, the work was ultimately going to go in vain.” 

Murphy’s commitment to community service has not waned. Around 2016, Murphy started at the Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON), a nonprofit organization that supports small businesses in North Minneapolis. NEON’s mission was a natural fit for Murphy, who comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Murphy’s mother has owned multiple businesses, her father was “a chef by nature,” and owned a restaurant in St. Paul, and Murphy’s aunt owned a daycare. Murphy’s entrepreneurial roots, her longstanding interest in business, and her dedication to community-focused growth led her to a position as Director of Community Engagement at NEON. 

Two years later, Murphy continued her family’s legacy of entrepreneurship when she launched Just Law. Just Law is a legal and business firm that provides legal support and resources to promote business development and growth for entrepreneurs and business owners. Through her work at NEON, Murphy noticed that law, business, and finance often operated in silos, and that small business owners in the community were constrained by the myth that access to legal help required consultation with a lawyer at a downtown firm charging exorbitant rates. 

Murphy explained, “It’s just law. It’s very simple. It’s not this distinct thing from the business world, it literally is just law, and it’s a tool and resource that entrepreneurs of color were getting stuck on—tripping over and getting into financial trouble—because they didn’t have access to affordable and accessible legal services.” Murphy started Just Law to “break the silo” between law and business and provide clients access to legal tools to grow their businesses. 

Murphy left NEON at the end of 2019 to join the Community Reinvestment Fund (CRF) as Director of Community Advancement. Her work at CRF and her clients at Just Law provide balance and variety to her career. While CRF provides capital to business owners who have been marginalized from traditional financial streams, Just Law allows Murphy to work directly with clients on legal options and business strategy. In both roles, Murphy remains grounded by her core mission to serve her community. “I answer to community,” Murphy replied when asked about her plans for growing Just Law. “Just Law is for the community—it’s for us, it’s by us, and it will continue to be that even as we expand.” 

Murphy’s commitment to her community stems in part from deep personal roots in South Minneapolis. She grew up just a few blocks from where George Floyd was killed. Murphy remains close to her family and spends much of her free time with them. She credits her family and God for the values that have led to her successes.  Murphy’s mother taught her grit, while her father taught her the importance of hard work. 

Other influences in Murphy’s life include Shirley Chisholm (American politician and catalyst for change), Sharon Sayles Belton (former Mayor of Minneapolis), and Marion Wright Edelman (Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund). Murphy is influenced most by the underdogs—those who don’t give up and who realize that “our life is not ours to have. Our life is to create impact,” said Murphy. 

That sense of duty drives Murphy in her own career. “Everything that I’m doing with Just Law, everything that I’m doing with CRF, is not really for me to get the glory,” Murphy explained. “It’s to have impact and close the disparity gaps, eliminate the racial wealth divide, and ultimately disrupt systematic and institutional barriers that result in unequal access to opportunity for Black and brown communities.” Murphy continued, “Ultimately, I want to inspire the younger generation. I want little Black and brown children to realize their purpose, and to know that they can overcome anything this world throws at them. They have angels that will guide them along their path, and they will be great. Stepping outside of fear and knowing that everything we want is ours for the taking is something that I hope my life and Just Law shines light on. And,” Murphy added, “I hope it gives other people hope to keep going." 

by Sarah Theisen
sarah.theisen@stthomas.edu
Sarah Theisen is a 3L at the University of St Thomas School of Law. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College and worked at a garden center before attending law school. She is interested civil litigation.