As law firms throughout the country continue to work on making their firms more diverse, many in Connecticut believe the Nutmeg State is ahead of the curve.
For the third consecutive year, the Connecticut Bar Association will sponsor “Connecticut’s Diversity & Inclusion Summit.” This year’s event is scheduled from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Quinnipiac University School of Law and is intended to focus on the success of the CBA’s five-year pledge plan, the importance of pipeline initiatives and out-of-the-box ways businesses and law firms in particular could be more diverse.
“This is truly a collaboration. It’s more about just talking, it’s also about putting action behind those words,” said Christine Jean-Louis, chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Summit Committee and an assistant attorney general for the Office of the Connecticut Attorney General.
Jean-Louis said it was important for her and other organizers of the first summit in 2016 to “target … individuals making hiring decisions, practices and policies within their organization.”
“We are targeting management at small, mid- and large-size law firms, as well as at in-house legal departments within corporations,” she said.
To date, 33 entities have signed on and committed to taking the bar’s five-year pledge plan regarding diversity and inclusion. Of these, 20 are Connecticut law firms of all sizes.
There are goals for each of the five years, Jean-Louis noted. They included recruitment and retention in the fourth year and advancing and retaining talent in the fifth.
Many law firms said they had diversity initiatives already in place when approached by the CBA on the pledge plan. But, they agree, being a part of the pledge plan and attending functions like the summit later this month is a chance for law firms to share notes, ideas and work together.
“No firm can make the change we need to make across the state by themselves,” said Jessica Grossarth Kennedy, a partner with Pullman & Comley and co-chair of that firm’s diversity committee. “We all need to come together.”
Kennedy noted that Tim Shearin, chairman of the firm, will attend the summit. She said Pullman & Comley was “a little bit ahead of the game” when it comes to diversity outreach.
She noted the firm has a strong recruitment effort with the University of Connecticut and Quinnipiac University law schools. In addition, Kennedy is on the board of the Lawyers Collaborative for Diversity. The statewide organization, she said, is involved in planning and efforts, via a college intern program and a mentor/mentee program, to assist diverse candidates in their career development. Pullman attorneys, Kennedy said, have also been in the forefront of the bar’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender section. Kennedy co-founded the section and now, Pullman’s Erick Russell chairs it. Of the firm’s 97 attorneys, Kennedy said, about 40 percent are either women, minorities or members of the LGBT community within the ranks of lawyer.
Karen DeMeola, the bar’s immediate past president and a faculty member at the University of Connecticut School of Law, said the excitement and commitment on the part of the CBA and law firms in the state to be more inclusive and diverse is encouraging.
“When I joined the leadership track of the bar association in 2015 I was the first person of color to be a CBA president. I was worried, though, that I would be a token,” DeMeola said. “But, when we had the first summit and I saw the desire of people to really embrace and learn about the ways they can change their organizations to be more inclusive, it was very empowering and validating for me.”
DeMeola added the most promising take-away from the first two summits was how “the conversation has changed. It is no longer about simply numbers, and much more about the importance of diversity to the individual organizations and that law firms can be inclusive has really changed the narrative.”
The summit on Oct. 24 will feature nationally recognized consultants in the area of diversity in the workplace, said Cecil Thomas, co-chair of the bar’s diversity and inclusion committee and staff attorney for Greater Hartford Legal Aid. Thomas said the signatories who signed on for the pledge “can access those resources at the summit.”
Attendance at the summit is free. To register visit the bar’s website: www.ctbar.org.