Professionwide Commitment to Improving Diversity
Everyone has to be on board when it comes to increasing and improving diversity. Firms should support the implementation of diversity initiatives and integrate non-white and female lawyers into the core of the firm's business model. Governmental and public interest legal entities should similarly infuse their missions in order to encourage diversity. Everyone must celebrate and embrace differences in a field where homogeneity has persisted for decades. Unless all parties truly believe that the sharing of ideas of people from different backgrounds will enhance the practice of law, the numbers will never change.
Each and every lawyer in the profession must have difficult conversations about race, gender and equity even in the context of seemingly mundane tasks. For example, Bryan Stevenson, an Alabama civil rights lawyer, came up with a creative way to spark discussion on the topic of race by filing a motion requesting his 14-year-old black client be tried as a 70-year-old white male. His motion forced everyone to discuss the issue of race and privilege. (See "We Need to Talk About an Injustice" at http://bit.ly/10HqeaT.)
Very few attorneys demonstrate Stevenson's courage to highlight this issue, which is imperative to advance the cause of diversity in the profession. We must think creatively and make opportunities to have these difficult conversations. At times, discourse arising out of an effort to create a more heterogeneous profession may seem unproductive and repetitive, but it will foster the creative problem-solving that is essential in our ever-evolving and complex world.
Moving Beyond the Superficial
Another critical way to combat the lack of diversity in the profession is to develop interpersonal relationships that lay the foundation for individuals to have the difficult, yet necessary, dialogue about race and gender in this profession. These conversations should not occur during a specific event, speaker, panel, committee or report, but should happen as part of an everyday routine.
In order to develop marketable skills, attorneys must seek out more seasoned attorneys for advice and guidance. Building those relationships, generally referred to as mentoring, means more than scheduled lunches and telephone calls. People should connect informally as well. Diverse attorneys, consisting of all cultures and genders, should seek out and create opportunities to build productive relationships. That can only happen if seasoned attorneys teach younger associates how to be effective advocates for their clients. Although it may seem difficult at first, the end result will be a more diverse and educated legal profession. These new relationships may create more imaginative and comprehensive solutions to future problems.
Rochelle D. Laws is an associate in the Philadelphia office of Fox Rothschild, where she focuses her practice on commercial and business-related litigation. Laws participates in various firm and community activities that help to enrich the lives of others.
Sekou Campbell is an associate in the firm's Philadelphia office, where he represents clients in a wide range of commercial litigation matters, including entertainment, products liability and white-collar compliance and defense. He is a frequent contributor to the firm's Sports Law Scoreboard blog.