The Washington, D.C.- based BET, a subsidiary of Viacom Inc., has been informing and entertaining African American audiences through its cable channel for over 20 years. BET took the center stage in December with its interview of the embattled Senator Trent Lott. Marchant, 45, supervises six lawyers.

Memories of the civil rights era: I grew up as a kid of the sixties in Chicago, but as a kid I don’t know how much I understood of it. … The media had as much of an impact on the civil rights movement as anything else, because it spread ideas. [As a result], in a weird way the media ended up being a hero of the movement.

The state of race relations today: There [has been] a significant amount of progress, and yet there is more to be done. We are still dealing with issues of segregation and racial profiling, [so] in a sense we are faced with the same issues that [led] to the civil rights movement.

Advice for young lawyers: Develop substantive competencies in areas that go beyond the law. You need to know the law, but you need an interdisciplinary understanding of business, economics, media, [and] technology.

Deval Patrick, Executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary, The Coca-Cola Company.

The kingpin of soda controls over half the world market, selling hundreds of brands in 200-plus countries. Patrick, 46, joined the Atlanta-based company in 2001 and runs a department of almost 150 lawyers worldwide.

Memories of the civil rights era: I remember one occasion [when I was] growing up on the south side of Chicago. My mother took me and my sister to hear Martin Luther King speak in a park. I don’t remember a single thing he said, but I do remember an incredible sense of solemnity in the crowd. [King] combined extraordinary dignity and restraint with the most creative kind of militance. His genius was much more than a rhetorical genius-it was to connect [the civil rights] struggle to fundamental American aspirations.

The state of race relations today: It is characterized in large measure by avoidance, by the practice of having to put each other at ease before we can even begin to talk about what’s on our minds, and it deteriorates into well-rehearsed debates about means.

Advice for young lawyers: Get prepared. Make your own opportunities, and remember that life is what happens while you’re making plans.

Leslie Parrette, Jr., Senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary, Aquila, Inc.

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