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When Arturo González joined Morrison & Foerster 22 years ago, he was the only Latino lawyer working there. He went on to become the first Latino partner, and is now the chairman of the firm’s trial practice group � and a staunch advocate for diversifying law firms. González’s keen observations on diversity offer a clear roadmap for how to attract and retain minority attorneys � an increasingly important priority for firms facing heightened client pressures. González’s advice is as straightforward as it is simple. He’s not afraid to make “controversial” observations � such as that Asian-Americans have had an easier time getting their foot in the door of big firms than Latinos and African-Americans. He’s also clear about who plays the most significant role in furthering diversity in the profession: white male partners. Among his suggestions on steps attorneys can take now to diversify their firms: Transfer billings credits to minority lawyers, actively introduce minority lawyers to clients, and consider linking partner compensation to success in retaining the firm’s diverse lawyers. Describe your career path and moments that were significant in getting you to where you are today. One thing that’s interesting about my career path is the significant role that white men have played in helping to ensure that I have opportunities to be successful. That started in college, it continued in law school and it has continued at Morrison & Foerster. For example, the first mentor that I had at Morrison & Foerster was Jim Garrett. I suspect that reason I was placed with Jim Garrett was that when I arrived, there were no other Latino lawyers and Jim Garrett was married to Maria Rivera, who is now the only Latina justice in the court of appeal. I guess there was a belief that Jim would be someone who could associate with a Latino lawyer. That worked out quite well. Jim was very much a father figure. As a first-year associate, Jim gave me the opportunity to take a deposition because I told him I thought I could. It turned out that I spent six months of my first year as an associate traveling across the country, taking defense depositions in an antitrust case. That was a very, very significant bit of experience. It gave me a head start. Is that something he wouldn’t have given to other associates? No, no. I don’t think that. Although I will say this: I don’t think most first-year associates would go to a partner and say I am ready to take a deposition. I had the initiative to do that. Jim then gave me opportunity to do that. There are multiple issues going on here. One issue is what minority associates can do to survive and do well and thrive in a large law firm. Two is what can the law firm can do to get minority associates in the door and help them climb the ladder. I graduated from Harvard in ’85 and I have been with Morrison & Foerster ever since, almost 22 years. I don’t think you’ll find another Latino litigator at any firm in California who has been with the same firm for 20 years. Why is that? Well, there aren’t any. Let me tell you what minority attorney can do to succeed � First of all, minority attorneys, like all attorneys, need to take initiative. They need to not be afraid to take risks. I get disappointed with many young lawyers today whom I sense are adverse to risk-taking. In fact, a couple of years ago, I remember giving a young associate the opportunity to argue a motion and the young associate said to me, “I don’t think I’m ready.” And that was just so disappointing to hear, because as far as I’m concerned, the minute you walk in that door you ought to be ready to be a lawyer. Granted, you need to be trained, and there are things you need to learn, but you just have to be ready for combat walking in that door, and I was. I came in extremely confident about my ability to do whatever I needed to do to succeed. Where did you get that confidence? I don’t know exactly, but one thing I know, is that I learned a lot when I was in high school, when I was in college and when I was law school. I spent a lot of time sitting in courtrooms and observing trial lawyers. I just thought that was the best way to learn. I did it for a long time. And, watching those lawyers, I remember thinking to myself, “I can do this and I can do this better.” Even if it’s just a matter of taking a small pro bono case, there are times when young lawyers are reluctant to do that because they’ve never had a case, and they don’t know how to do it. You just can’t be risk-averse, and you have to be willing to take initiative. What are some suggestions you’d give young minority associates? At Morrison & Foerster, I’ve served on all the committees. I was on the recruiting committee, associate development committee, I was on the partnership review committee, and now the board of directors. I’ve pretty much been on all the committees that deal with evaluating people. There are some additional suggestions I have on how people can be successful. One is I think that associates of color, with respect to taking initiative, should take initiative not only with respect to seeking out quality work, but also should seek out relationships with partners with whom they think they have something in common. I don’t believe you can force people to match up, I think those things just have to develop naturally. One thing I did as a young person, I played a lot of baseball, and I was very much into sports, so that’s something I had in common with some people. I tried to find people who had that as an interest and that helped me. You have to find people at the firm who share similar interests, and don’t be afraid to perhaps ask them out for lunch. By the same token, with respect to what can firms do, let me summarize three to four quick things. First, law firms should make sure that all of their lawyers have opportunities to succeed. What happens too often is that lawyers of color kind of get lost and don’t get those opportunities. That’s a very basic starting point, is that we need to make sure all the lawyers who walk in the door get an opportunity to show their stuff. Why do you think lawyers of color get lost? Maybe it’s because, in the minds of some people, they are not as prepared as a majority lawyer. Nobody would want to admit this, but I do believe there are some people who still believe that a minority who walks in the door is somehow less qualified and perhaps got there through affirmative action or other programs that are intended to benefit lawyers of color. I think people need to get over that. But I think that there are still members of our profession who see a young black lawyer and a young white lawyer walk in the door at the same time, and there is immediately a presumption that the young white lawyer is going to do a better job, regardless of what the project is. I think that’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality, and, as a result, more often than not, the majority lawyer will get the opportunity instead of the minority lawyer. That’s a reality we just need to confront. Every lawyer at every big firm needs to look in the mirror and ask yourself: Am I giving opportunities to lawyers of color, and, if not, why not? What would be an example of an opportunity? An opportunity would be: Here is a deposition. I need someone to take this deposition. Here’s a motion that needs to be argued and it doesn’t need to have a partner. I need to assign an associate to this motion who could write the brief, then go argue it. Or here’s another one: There’s going to be a meeting with the client and the client wants to meet the team. If we get this case, who is the team going to be? They want to meet not only the partner, but they want to meet the associate or associates who are going to do a lot of the day-to-day grunt work. Who do I take to this meeting? Those are all examples of opportunities, and I think opportunities have to be shared equally. And that doesn’t always happen. Another thing is there are many firms that do not have African-American or Latino partners. In fact, there are still many firms that only have a handful of African-American or Latino lawyers. And, at those firms, it’s especially important that the white partners make an effort to get to know the minority lawyers. This doesn’t require a lot of complicated science. It simply means, when they arrive, go by and say hello. Occasionally, maybe ask the person ‘How are you doing?’ maybe you can ask the person to go to lunch every six months or maybe even once a year. I’ve heard stories from minority lawyers who were at law firms for two years and the partner next door never said hello. And this happens quite often, and I don’t know if it’s maybe because the partner feels a little uncomfortable and doesn’t know how to act or how to treat the person. Here’s my advice. For white partners who don’t know who they should act or behave in front of a minority lawyer, my advice to them is treat them exactly the same as you would any other lawyer. If you have an African-American associate move in next door, don’t feel obligated to talk basketball. If you don’t know anything about basketball, don’t try to make something up because you think that’s what the African-American lawyer wants to talk about. Just talk to the person about how they’re doing, what case are you working on, have you had a chance to take a deposition. Is that something you would like to do? What kind of law are you interested in? Just basic stuff, I think would really help. What about farther down their career path? As the associate progresses, the problems we have with associates of color is that very often they hit a wall or ceiling. We need to make sure that as they progress they get more opportunities that require them to do more difficult things. That’s where it becomes all the more important to involve them in business development opportunities. There are many cases that come into a law firm without any specificity as to which lawyer the client wants. And someone in firm management, usually the head of litigation in the local office, has to make an assignment. We just need to make sure, that when those assignments are made, lawyers of color are thought of. It’s just important for people to remember that lawyers of color are there and they need opportunities. Which helps them build books of business? Yes. Which leads to partnership? Absolutely. And here’s another issue. Unfortunately, if a lawyer of color makes a mistake, however slight, that sometimes reinforces what a white partner might think of that lawyers’ ability, and that’s unfortunate. We shouldn’t have a state of mind of “one strike and you’re done.” I think young lawyers can learn from their mistakes, and it’s very important to provide people with feedback. And then the question is, is that person learning from their mistakes or is that person repeating the mistake? Obviously if that person is repeating the mistake, you’ve got a problem. But I think just it’s very, very important for folks not to give up on an associate just because he or she didn’t perform to perfection on the first project. Can you think of specific examples you’ve experienced in your career of these steps? Absolutely. Let me say one other thing and I’ll give you an example. The firm can do a lot to help partners of color as well. There’s an assumption that some people have that if you’re a partner at a large firm, you’ve got it made, you don’t need any help. We see these numbers in these lawyer magazines talking about how much money partners are making, and your only problem is figuring out what to do with money. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are many minority partners at large law firms who are hanging on by their fingernails, and law firms can do more to help them. I am going to give you an example of something that Jim Brosnahan did for me that doesn’t happen enough. When our firm was engaged to represent 3M in the breast implant litigation, we were responsible for coordinating the litigation for the Western United States and there was a lot of work. And Jim Brosnahan assigned some of the billings to me, meaning that when 3M sent a check to the firm, it went in as a billing for Arturo González, young partner. That’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen enough. More senior partners should give opportunities to more junior partners. And if you have a junior partner who is doing all the work or a substantial amount of work in the matter, the senior partner should consider passing the billing down to that junior partner because at some firms that counts a lot. And that wasn’t the only time Jim Brosnahan did that � he did that on another occasion. And I know Mel Goldman has done the same thing for other lawyers. That’s an example of something someone can do to help out. And then also, there’s a selfish reason for firms to do this. It is a slow process, a frustrating process, but, finally, clients are beginning to demand diversity on their teams. It is a very painfully slow process for the partners at large law firms because we’ve been waiting for this forever and there’s been a lot of lip service made to diversity by a number of people. But the partners at big firms really haven’t benefited historically from those efforts. For the first time, I see that maybe that’s starting to change. What effect does the GC pressure have? Let me answer a question that’s a little different than what you asked; it’s similar. If you were to ask me what is the most significant thing that can be done in order for big firms to diversify, the answer is the client. The people who have the power to diversify large firms are the people who assign the work, or the client. The associate GC, the assistant GC, whoever it is, at Intel or Bank of America, who assigns the work has the power to diversity large firms. Because if a client says to law firm X, we’ve got this matter pending in South Central L.A., and we think it’s going to go to trial, and we think the jury is going to be pretty diverse, we’d like to assign an African-American or Latino trial lawyer� who have you got? What’s going to happen is that firm, if they don’t have an African-American or Latino trial lawyer, they will go out and try to find one. And they’ll try real hard, and if they lose the case because they don’t have one, they’re going to make an extra effort to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I think sometimes that clients underestimate or do not sufficiently appreciate how much power they have � and how important it is to think about the impact of assigning a case. If an African-American lawyer working at a law firm gets a case from a big corporation, that means a lot. Word gets around a law firm fast � “Did you hear that Joe just got a case from Sony?” Word travels fast and makes all the difference in the world. Suddenly people perceive that lawyer differently and think, boy, if the client has confidence in that person, maybe I should too. And maybe I should be introducing that person to my other clients. It makes a boatload of difference, and that’s what I wish would happen more. I’ve been very fortunate in that there have been clients who have looked for a Latino trial lawyer and I have no problem with that. They’ve come to me and said, “You’re the person we want,” and I know that one reason they want me is that I happen to be Latino, and that’s fine. I’m fine with that. I think that’s going to happen more and more. I was in Los Angeles watching the Raiders trial against the National Football League about three years ago, and 11 of the 12 jurors were jurors of color. And more and more, it’s probably the most dramatic change in the profession, other than computers. Clearly computers and e-mails have changed our profession. But other than that, the most dramatic change that I’ve seen in the profession is the composition of the jury. And along with that, is the composition of the city councils and the boards of supervisors that we frequently appear before to argue our clients’ causes. And, slowly but surely, the bench is becoming more diverse. But the most important thing is the jury. Because if you’re a litigator, if you’re a client, and you’ve got a big problem, guess who’s going to decide your case? It’s most likely going to be decided by a jury, not a judge, and those juries are more and more diverse. I just think that it’s a wonderful thing when I get a call from a client � it happened just recently when I was in New York, actually � when a client called me and recognized they were probably going to be in front of a diverse jury. They were looking for someone who might appeal to that jury and they were very candid about it. And I appreciated the candor. More and more clients are starting to realize it. It’s taken years. I’ve noticed this for quite some time � that the composition is changing � and I have written an article about it. I am not going to tell you a juror is going to vote in your favor just because your lawyer is brown, but I will say this: the smartest thing O.J. Simpson ever did was to get Johnnie Cochran to be his lawyer. And you’d be a fool to think that didn’t make a difference. He had a bond with those jurors. Corporations need to think about that, too. Who am I going to get to stand in front of this jury in this jurisdiction? That’s just one of reasons why corporations are starting to think more about diversity, and that’s one of the reasons law firms should, for selfish reasons, put more effort into their diversity effort. Going back to the law firm diversity efforts, is there anything else you want to add about specific steps law firms can take? Let me tell you something law firms can do � I think it’s very important for every lawyer, but especially lawyers of color, to have someone they can turn to, the minute they walk in the door, to talk about any issue they want to talk about. Some people call these mentors, other people call them different things, but there just has to be someone there whom that person can turn to. And if you happen to be fortunate enough to work at a law firm where they have minority partners, sometimes that’s the person. Sometimes, it’s not. But I think law firms have to identify those people and try to make sure someone is looking out for every lawyer of color at the firm. It shouldn’t be that hard � at some law firms, you’ve got one or two African-Americans. Someone should be assigned to make sure they get opportunities. Should that be a partner of color? That is a great question, and I’m glad you asked that. Let me make this point which I think is very important. You don’t have to be a black person to serve as a mentor for a young African-American lawyer. You don’t have to be a Latino to serve as mentor for a young Latino lawyer. I believe strongly that any person who is willing to take some time and who cares about other human beings can be a good mentor. I would much rather have a white guy who is open-minded and somewhat sociable and friendly serve as a mentor to a young Latino than a Latino person who perhaps is reserved and doesn’t think very highly or fondly of mentoring because “I made it on my own, why shouldn’t he or she?” That’s just not going to work. I think what matters more is the attitude of the person doing the mentoring. My mentors have been predominately white men because when I started working there weren’t Latino lawyers. At Morrison & Foerster, my mentors have been Jim Garrett, Jim Brosnahan, Jack Londen, Mel Goldman, Bill Alsup and other white men. What efforts can firms take to retain minority associates or partners? It’s less complicated than people make it seem. Retention is going to be determined, in large part, by the opportunities you give the lawyer. In other words, if you give a minority lawyer good opportunities to practice law as opposed to him sitting in the library all day, every day � or even worse, sitting in front of a computer monitor reviewing documents for eight months � then it is likely that that lawyer will stay. And if you give the lawyer feedback so that that lawyer can improve, it’s more likely that the lawyer will stay. If a partner goes by on occasion and asks, “How’s it going?” and maybe even once a year takes that young lawyer to lunch and shows they care about this person’s future and not just how many hours they bill, it’s more likely the lawyer will stay. It really is a matter of treating people with respect and giving people opportunities..
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Sometimes the little things are what matters with respect to whether or not associates feel comfortable or decide to stick around. I remember, when I was a very young associate, Carl Leonard was chairman of the firm, and he took the time to meet with me and the three other Latino associates � there were just four of us � and we had lunch together. And it was very meaningful. We talked to him about our concerns and where we thought the firm needs to go with respect to diversity. And he listened Andy Monach is the lawyer who recruited me from Harvard Law School. About three years later, after I had been at the firm for awhile, he came by � we weren’t working on a case together or anything � and asked me to lunch and we had lunch together. It was just one of those things that wasn’t planned, he just wanted to know how things were going� and it was very nice lunch. Jim Garrett. I recall, my first year invited me to his home for a Christmas party which I attended. Again, it’s the little things that help make people feel their part of a firm and not just an employee of the firm. What can be done for the minority partners you mentioned who are hanging on by their fingernails? It’s true. I’m not going to mention names, but it’s true. With respect to partners, I think it’s very important for the firm to look to involve minority partners on firm committees and firm management. I think that makes a big difference. I also think it’s important for management to make sure that when opportunities come into the firm, that minority partners are considered for those opportunities. One thing that’s very controversial is whether you should consider, in determining compensation, how well practice group leaders have done with respect to diversity in retention. If you have a group that historically has not been able to retain lawyers of color, why is that? What should be done to improve that? What do you think about that? Should compensation come into play? My view is that firms make money from associates working very hard. We lose money when associates come in the door and leave within two years. That results in a net loss to the firm because it’s very expensive to hire these folks as summer associates, train them and try to develop them. So if you have a partner who has a revolving door, I do think that should be factor in determining compensation. I think that firms underutilize or under-compensate partners who do a very good job of providing lawyers with feedback, with mentoring and with the day to day advice that is necessary to make sure someone ends up being a good lawyer. Some people think it’s a soft issue � “Oh so what? He’s a good people person.” But you lose those people persons and your law firm isn’t going to last very long. We give lot of credit in large firms to lawyers who bring home the bacon and bill the hours, but I think it’s very important to give credit to those lawyers who are willing to take the time to improve the environment of the firm, associate morale, and to make sure people remember why they became lawyers in the first place. I think that pro bono opportunities go a long way to improving morale and retention. Because pro bono gives young lawyers opportunity to practice law. If you have a young lawyers working on a securities fraud case, what is the chance that young lawyer will ever do an oral argument? Pretty slim. However, what you can do, is have the young lawyer work on the securities fraud case that is very important to the young lawyer and the client and even though you may not get a lot of on-your-feet experience, we’re also going to let you work on this small pro bono matter that you will run on your own with partner supervision. If there are depositions, oral arguments with the pro bono case, you’ll get to do that. I’ve been very fortunate � which is part of why I’ve stuck around for 22 years, is that every single year that I’ve been at Morrison & Foerster, I’ve had at least one significant pro bono case on my plate. I think that’s a big reason why I am still at the firm. Did you ask for those opportunities? The cases have pretty much come to me, but, of course, you have to get permission to do them. In 22 years, nobody has complained to me that I’ve done too much pro bono work. Now that could be because with many of the cases we’ve been awarded legal fees, and that’s always nice to get. But I’ve got such good experience on these pro bono cases. I’ve tried eight civil rights cases, you’re not going to find too many civil rights lawyers who have tried eight civil rights cases, and I have. And I’ve done it at a big firm. I’ve argued in the California Supreme Court, in the Ninth Circuit, in the California Court of Appeal twice, all pro bono cases. I’ve gotten some great experience from pro bono cases and some great exposure for me and the firm. And I’m proud to say, I’ve gotten some great opportunities for young lawyers. Just yesterday, I decided to go ahead and take three pro bono cases that have been lingering for about a month � people trying to get me to accept their cases � just yesterday, I assigned those to three young lawyers: one woman, one lawyer of color and one young white lawyer who hadn’t yet had a chance to take a deposition. All three of them are going to get deposition experience, motion experience � on-their-feet experience. They’re basically going to run the case on their own, with minimal supervision from me. I think that’s the type of thing that helps keeps lawyers happy and helps you with retention. And I think it’s especially important for lawyers of color, because in many cases lawyers of color have a desire to give something back to their community. I’m not an advocate for forcing someone to do pro bono if someone doesn’t want to, if you don’t want to hang around with poor people, that’s OK. But it you want to, it should be something firms allow you to do. Would you recommend that partners think very carefully as to which associates they assign pro bono? It’s a matter of making sure all opportunities are evenly distributed. And that if you have an associate who has not yet had experiences in the courtroom, that you look for opportunities, and pro bono is often one place where you can find those opportunities. If a firm doesn’t have a lot of minority associates or partners, how does that firm attract more if they don’t have any to begin with? There are a number of law firms that historically have not placed a lot of emphasis on diversity and who are now trying to play catch-up because they see now that, all of a sudden, you have Wal-Mart asking questions about how many Latino attorneys, and all of a sudden, the answer to that question suddenly matters � Wal-Mart being one of a number of companies that deserves substantial credit for their efforts in this area. Now you have a lot more competition for the few Latino and African-American law students at the top schools. About 15 years ago, when I went to Boalt for the first time to recruit, there weren’t that many law firms, if any, that were making special efforts to find Latino and African-American law students. I was interested because I wanted to diversify our firm. In fact, I recruited two of my law school classmates from Harvard who were Latino to join me at Morrison & Foerster, to triple our number of Latinos. What I found is, in the last five years, the interest of law firms in supporting minority groups at the law schools has just exploded. So that that now you have more firms competing for a smaller pool of talent because of Prop 209 and other things that affects the size of these classes. That has made it extremely difficult for firms that do not have minority lawyers to become players, because if you’re a minority law student and you’re looking at law firm No. 1 that has no African-American partners, no Latino partners, and law firm No. 2 that is the same size but they’ve got two African-American partners and three Latinos, it’s a no-brainer, I know where I’m going. Those numbers just jump off the page. When a law firm doesn’t have a single African-American partner, that’s bad. That law firm needs to be making a special effort to find a lateral whom they can bring in as a partner to help in this area. Because it’s going to be extremely hard for them to compete with a firm like Morrison & Foerster, where I think we have 15 African-American and Latino partners combined. Is there a reason you’re saying African-American and Latino but not Asian? Yes. I’ll tell you why I am focusing on this. Let me say something about my Asian brothers that I’ve said before publicly. Many law firms believe, in my view, that it’s less risky to hire an Asian lawyer than an African-American or a Latino. Nobody will want to say that, and that’s what I believe, and I’ve believed that for a while, and I think the numbers support that. There are a lot more Asians who are given opportunities at big firms than African-Americans or Latinos. Having said that, let me say this on behalf of my Asian brothers, they too are struggling on the path to partnership. Big law firms have managed to accept the notion of having Asian associates in their ranks, but it has been difficult to convert that to Asian partners. Asian partners are doing better than African-American or Latino partners � in fact, I think there might be more Asian partners than African-American and Latino combined in San Francisco. But they still are having a difficult time. So the reason why I focus my comments at times on African-American and Latino is pretty simple: because that’s where the numbers are so dismal. Asian associates at least are having better luck getting their foot in the door. Why are they having better luck? People are going to say I am stereotyping but I am going to say what I believe: There are people who feel less threatened by an Asian lawyer than they do by an African-American or a Latino lawyer. I think there are people who think Asian-Americans as a group are more intelligent than African-Americans or Latinos. That may sound controversial, but that’s what I think some people think. Therefore it becomes a little easier for their Asians to get their foot in door, but that’s not to say they don’t have problems. They’re not advancing as well as I would like to see in the rank of partnership. We’re doing better than when I started, but it’s a slow process. What can those firms without diverse partnerships do if they want to increase minority representation? If I am running a law firm and I have no Latino or black partners, I am going to make it a priority to find me a lateral that I can bring in. It has to be a priority of firm management; it just can’t be one well-intentioned person out on a hunt. It needs to be a management priority. The firm needs to recognize: I’ve got a problem. If you’re a medium-size-to-large law firm in California, and you don’t have African-American or Latino partners, that’s a problem. You need to ask yourself why. And you need to make efforts to get someone in. If that means going to the U.S. attorney’s office and finding an outstanding trial lawyer, or if that means, going and raiding a smaller firm for someone who is very talented in what they do, there are people out there who are talented who can be brought in. I’ll tell you what the key is: If you simply introduce them to your clients � that has got to be in my view, the most underutilized tool of law firms throughout America. Partners aren’t doing as good of a job as they could in introducing their minority partners to existing clients. It’s really unfortunate, because there really are many existing clients who would love to give work to an African-American but who may not know you even have an African-American partner, because no one has told them, or has even bothered to introduce them to that partner. Cross selling is something that can benefit firms in general and minority partners in particular, and it just doesn’t happen enough. What is going to motivate firms to diversify? There’s an easy answer: That’s the client. At the end of day, whether large law firms are diversified in my lifetime is going to depend on amount of interest and pressure that is placed upon firms by the client. And, do you see the level of diversity dramatically changing in your lifetime? The reason why I’m cautiously optimistic is, I’ve been hearing a lot lately from minority attorneys who work with clients in-house who are talking about increasing efforts of some very well-intentioned people to take steps to ensure that firms are giving credit to minority lawyers. Step No.1 was clients asking firms to report on the numbers of minority lawyers working on your cases, how many hours are they working. And that was OK, but now clients are taking it a step further. And they’re asking more questions: who is getting credit for the work that comes in the door? And that’s critical because that’s how people advance. If you have an African-American lawyer � or Asian � who brings in a big client and bills lots of hours, that is a significant factor in determining whether that lawyer is going to succeed and how high that lawyer is going to climb. And that is a powerful weapon that clients have that I think they’re going to utilize more in upcoming years. Kellie Schmitt is a reporter with The Recorder, which publishes Diversity. She can be reached at [email protected].

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