Diversity is on the tips of everyone’s tongues. It’s become an issue at the forefront of the United States’ cultural and political conversations, the media and legal profession.
But in Miami, a city brimming with people from different backgrounds and walks of life, some attorneys say the lack of diversity among law firms is holding the region back.
Among those raising their voices is commercial trial lawyer and former ACLU Miami chapter chairwoman Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, who calls for a less “insular” legal sector. Never one to bite her tongue, Rodriguez-Taseff has tackled problems at the voting booth and discrimination on the federal bench.
“I think it would be foolish to believe that the legal industry isn’t going through the same growing pains,” she said. “I’ve seen firms deal with it well and become more diverse and inclusive, and I’ve seen others do not as well. I’ve been fortunate enough to be at firms that are grappling as well as they can with diversity and inclusion.”
But now, Rodriguez-Taseff would like to see Miami’s entire legal sector broaden its reach by bolstering its ranks.
“With the exception of a few shining examples like DLA Piper, Miami really needs to improve on thinking bigger, more globally, more internationally,” she said.
After spending 19 years with Duane Morris, Rodriguez-Taseff left the firm to join DLA Piper in July. She says the move was inspired in part by an increasingly global client base.
“DLA’s platform made absolute sense for me. It is a global, outward-facing law firm that is interconnected across the world,” Rodriguez-Taseff told the Daily Business Review. “[DLA] is a global powerhouse in a market like Miami, where what is needed are folks that are outward looking.”
A key step: diversifying big law firms.
“The bigger the thinking, the more international and more global the opportunities will be,” she said. “In order for the Miami legal market to lead, its weightiness needs to seen by the world. Miami becomes more weighty when its legal market becomes more diverse, more global, and more focused on the things that are important to corporations and individuals that conduct business around the world.”
She added: “Cultural awareness, linguistic diversity and cultural sensitivity is key to successfully navigating international business, and once the Miami legal market really learns to appreciate the value of that, it will be able to attract better work.”
However, other attorneys look at the state of Miami law as it pertains to diversity and professionalism and see a market that outpaces other metropolitan areas in the United States.
“If I had to measure our experience with litigation in Texas, New York and California, I will tell you that the Southern District of Florida to [my firm] has always been much more impressive in the sense of its care for ethical rules and professionalism between counsel,” said attorney Jorge Espinosa.
Espinosa, managing partner with Miami law firm Espinosa Martinez, conducts trademark litigation both domestically and internationally. In conversation with the Daily Business Review he asserted three prongs for assessing diversity efforts in legal communities.
“When we talk about diversity we really should look at it in three ways,” Espinosa explained. “One, are established firms bringing women and minorities into the firm? Are women and minorities employed by firms? Two, are they able to start their own firms and prosper? And three, are they integrated into the judiciary side of it?”
According to Espinosa, the Southern District of Florida has become much more diverse since he began practicing law in the early 1990s.
“We certainly have a large number of Hispanic-owned firms. I think we could do better with regards to woman-owned firms and certainly non-Hispanic minority-owned firms,” he said. “A lot of the larger firms in South Florida have done quite well to integrate minorities and women into their ranks … So maybe I don’t see it, but I don’t think South Florida fares badly relative to other parts of the country in that regard.”
Espinosa stated that one of the things holding Miami back from being an international legal player in accordance with its status as an international city is a lack of companies headquartered in the Magic City.
“We don’t have R&D on the scale that they have in New York City, Los Angeles, Orlando … so you don’t see the giant companies that generate work,” he said, contrasting Miami against the likes of San Francisco’s industrious corporate landscape.
Ultimately, both Rodriguez-Taseff and Espinosa believe there’s always room for growth and improvement.
“There is an opportunity for South Florida to be a top-tier international legal market,” Rodriguez-Taseff said. “And the opportunity begins with globalizing our local legal market.”