Black History Month Interview with Merle Vaughn

By Alexa Burkow, 1L at USC Law School 

February 2021

Merle Vaughn was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and moved to California at age 7. As the daughter of two teachers in the Compton School District, Merle grew up valuing the importance of education. In high school, she applied and was accepted into the University of Southern California Resident Honors Program where students with exceptional academic records skip their senior year to start college early. By age 20, Merle received a B.S. in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing from USC. While in undergrad, Merle discovered her passion for selling computers and by age 22, became the top salesperson in the country for Texas Instruments. Shortly after that milestone, the company removed Merle from the top sales account due to her gender and race. At the time, she had just met her then future husband who convinced her to attend law school. Merle agreed and saw it as an opportunity to get a degree that no one could take away from her.

In 1988, she received her J.D. from the University of California – Berkeley, School of Law. While at Berkeley, she was a judicial extern for the Honorable Harry Pregerson, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and was a member of the High Technology Law Journal. Before discovering her niche as a legal recruiter in 2003, Merle worked in high-tech sales, practiced corporate law with Cooley LLP, was general counsel for WOC Products Inc. and was a successful business owner. In 2012, Merle joined Major, Lindsey & Africa as the Law Firm Diversity Practice Leader and Lateral Partner Recruiter where she has been involved in several high-profile law firm partner and in-house placements in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. She has also been retained by corporations and law firms specifically for her expertise in diversity recruiting. Merle advocates for the underdog, since she was one herself, and is committed to changing the legal profession to be more representative to the current demographic in our country. She is the past founder and Co-chair of the Southern California branch of Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF) and is the host of the popular podcast – B.S.: Beyond Stereotypes.