Having just celebrated Memorial Day, I am reminded that the U.S. Marine Corps, some time ago, had a recruiting campaign that stated: “We do not join you, you join us – The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” Impressive? Yes. Accurate? Mostly. Relevant? Perhaps.
As a Marine veteran — there is no such thing as an ex-Marine — I always found that advertising campaign to be interesting, not so much as to what it says about the Marine Corps, but what it says about other organizations, such as law firms — white-male-dominated, and full of pride, tradition and excellence.
Can a more diverse Marine Corps still engender such pride, tradition and excellence? Absolutely. Can a more diverse law firm engender pride, tradition and excellence? Again, absolutely. For many years, most law firms also took the position that “we don’t join you, you join us.” Firms cultivated that culture. They still do. But what does this mean when women make up more than 50 percent of law school students, persons of color are claiming their rightful places in the profession and the LGBT community is no longer in fear of asserting its fundamental rights?
As I found out in the Marine Corps, a culture of pride, tradition and excellence is not the exclusive domain of white males. My experience as a combat Marine showed me that persons of that description are more than willing to share that culture with others. My experience as a partner in a major law firm has shown me the same thing. I have found that, when asked, white males tend to be more than willing to share their time, talent and experience with others.
My years in the Marine Corps taught me that if you were willing not to just “join,” but to reach out, most people will reach out more than halfway in your direction and still let you keep your individual identity. My law firm experience has been the same. Like in the Marines, diverse attorneys who want to be part of an inclusive law firm culture should reach out in the same way and seek that opportunity.
The old saying holds: “If you are in a foxhole with me, I do not care who you are, as long you don’t run and can shoot.” Marines have been willing to look past the superficial differences among people and boil things down to what really matters. Most successful law firms do the same. So, how do we get past the superficial and focus on what really matters?
First and foremost, if you are a Marine, you are a Marine. You are part of the family. There are no second-class Marines. You are expected to stand and fight. I have seen a few Marines, having faced mortal danger, cry, throw up, wet their pants — but never run and always shoot. As long as a person displays a good attitude, likeability, work ethic and good work product, there should be no second-class citizens in law firms. If you are part of a firm, you are a member of the firm, no matter your individual identity. That should be the expectation of all parties involved.
Here are some other examples of why “joining” is a two-way street and may have applications in other environments. Marines never ever leave anyone on a battlefield. If you are wounded or even mortally wounded, we will come and get you, no matter what. Law firms that are truly successful take care of their own, no matter what.
Anyone who has ever been in combat knows that the generals and colonels do not run the show. The corporals, sergeants, lieutenants and captains run the show. Why? Because they are the persons closest to the adversary, closest to the action. They know what is going on. Yes, the generals and the colonels define the mission, but the beauty of the Marines is that everyone knows the mission, and they are free to adapt, innovate and think of ways to accomplish the mission — that is how leaders are developed. I have found that good ideas, and good leaders, come from everywhere and anywhere. Successful firms recruit talent from everywhere, tell them the mission and let them have at it. There are no bounds to creative talent.
Those who have been in combat also know that the troops come first. In the Marines, the lowest-ranking person eats, drinks, sleeps and gets ammunition, steaks and beer, everything, before the highest-ranking person does. Successful law firms are those that treat everyone up the chain of command with respect. A successful law firm knows that, no matter who you are, from the person who picks up the mail at night to the managing partner, everyone has the same mission: serving clients. A successful law firm allows all of its talent to perform. Clients know if you have a diverse organization that treats everyone with respect.
I have found that once a person becomes a Marine, he or she finds that there is a commitment to a culture where all feel valued, supported and confident. The Marine environment creates an opportunity to contribute and thrive, while also keeping its pride, tradition and excellence.
Law firms that create such an environment for all can also keep their pride, tradition and excellence, and retain the superior talent they have taken great pains to recruit.
The Marine Corps motto is “semper fidelis” — “always faithful.” It is the commitment that bonds Marines. Perhaps that is some additional Latin that law firms should keep in their lexicon.
Semper Fi. •
Albert S. Dandridge III is Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis’s chief diversity officer and is chair of the firm’s securities practice group. He concentrates his practice in municipal and corporate finance matters, and he regularly counsels public companies, broker-dealers and investment advisers on their securities reporting and financing requirements.