Every two years the Law Journal sets out to spotlight excellence among New Jersey’s diverse attorneys. Diversity means many things, and we recognize diversity in all its forms. Diversity is well worth celebrating in and of itself, but it’s particularly important to highlight as many institutions—including organizations made up of lawyers, and those that count lawyers among their team members—are striving to do better on the diversity front. As I write this, an ALM Intelligence report was published noting that female partnership at Big Law firms has been holding steady at 20 percent for a few years running. The report looks for answers as to why. Indeed there are many questions, and the answers aren’t always readily apparent. It’s up to all of us to keep searching.
To that end, we asked this year’s honorees to share their thoughts on matters of diversity, as well as on matters of developing professionally and achieving excellence. We ask these questions not to put the honorees on the spot, but because we know we and our readers will learn from the answers. The responses vary in many ways, but are all insightful. We thank all of the honorees for sharing them.
We look forward to our next Diverse Attorneys of the Year recognition. In the meantime, let’s all keep asking—and seeking answers to—important questions.
A partner a Hill Wallack as of 2016, Supti Bhattacharya is one of the firm’s youngest partners and chairs the divorce and family law department in the Princeton office. She helped form the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee, which she co-chairs, and is heavily involved in its women’s initiative. Bhattacharya also is active with the New Jersey State Bar Association, including as co-chair of the organization’s Diversity Committee, and as a CLE lecturer.
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? Lawyers are service-based professionals. Our sole product is communication in its various forms. We talk and write for a living. How we communicate makes the services we each provide unique. Diversity in the way we communicate helps expand the reach of the legal profession to individuals who otherwise may have been isolated due to cultural, ethnic, religious, language or other barriers. People also often seek services from those with similar backgrounds to match their own world experience. Diverse backgrounds also bring different life experiences and thought processes to the table, which expands how a team can tackle client issues. Be it individual or corporate legal services, diversity helps clients to achieve a better result.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? While law firms and organizations employing lawyers recognize the need to foster diversity, many simply do not know how to diversify because they lack experience in this area. Unconscious bias can undermine diversity and inclusion efforts as well. Education about unconscious bias and active efforts to address and tackle it in the workplace is important. In addition, appointing diverse attorneys to recruitment and hiring committees, to lead departments, to firm management, and to other firm and company leadership roles shows visibly a firm or company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Actions speak louder than words.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face—on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? Diverse attorneys are often the sole minority within a law firm. We encounter assumptions and preconceived notions about who we are based on our physical appearance, which isolates us and highlights our differences, rather than naturally integrating us as professional colleagues. To be included, we often must make extra efforts to extend ourselves socially in order to break past unconscious biases that create barriers. Non-diverse attorneys do not have this experience of being “the other,” and by default are included on a daily basis.
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why. My mother is one of my greatest inspirations and my first mentor. She raised me to value education, to be independent, and to treat people with honesty and respect above all else. As an immigrant from a conservative, non-Judeo Christian culture, my mother experienced and overcame racism and sexism while living in both Europe and the United States after she left India in the 1960s. I live and work as I do today because of diverse immigrants like my mother who came before me, and I appreciate their efforts every day.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? Find what makes you unique and use that trait, skill, knowledge, or ability to create a career that makes you different than your colleagues. Therein lies your value and indispensability to your clients and law firm.
As assistant general counsel at Fox Rothschild in the firm’s Princeton office, Rachelle Bin’s work, according to one colleague, is “all-but-invisible to the outside world, but critical to the firm’s overall success as she tackles a steady stream of complex questions that arise in almost every area of the law.” The work includes frequent travel to the firm’s numerous offices for attorney training. Bin, a daughter of Cuban immigrants whose first language was Spanish, is a former in-house lawyer for Univision Communications and currently a Spanish language volunteer with Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? We are not a homogeneous society anymore. Society is diverse. Diversity is important in the legal profession because we should be a reflection of the clients we serve and of our communities. There is a very real benefit that flows from this. In a law firm, you want a variety of different voices; otherwise, you will find yourself in an echo chamber where you all think alike. Beyond law firms, diversity is essential throughout the legal profession—from law schools to the courts to Congress—because our legal institutions depend on the public’s trust for their legitimacy. If some segments of society are shut out of the profession, that trust is eroded and can be lost.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? I cannot speak about all law firms, but I can speak about Fox Rothschild. Fox is very committed to diversity—not just racial and ethnic, but diversity of all types. We care about diversity because it is the right thing to do and we benefit as a firm. There is a value to working with people from diverse backgrounds as they offer a healthy variety of perspectives and opinions. Our clients also care deeply about diversity.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face—on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? Many diverse attorneys grew up without professional role models in their families or even in their neighborhoods. Imagine spending the first two decades of life unable to picture yourself in the role of a lawyer. That can be a real obstacle even for a gifted student who works hard. Those kids need to find role models on their own. That is one reason mentoring programs in law firms are so important.
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why. The two people I continue to admire are my parents, Manuel and Marta Bin. They were Cuban refugees who fled communism and came to the United States in 1960 to give their family a better life. They taught me that with an education and hard work—which were the paramount values in our home—you can get ahead in this country. I was always taught that this is the best country in the world, a country that accepts refugees and immigrants like no other country does. That is how my brothers and I were raised and that is how my husband, who is an immigrant, and I are raising our three children.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? Both of my daughters are in college now, so we talk at times about career choices and whether law school is a path they might consider. I try to show them how much you can do with a law degree—that you can truly make a difference in society by using your education and your access to legal institutions to help those who do not have access. Since my daughters are bilingual, I tell them there is an even greater need for their skills to represent the Spanish-speaking community. Whatever path they choose, I hope they see the law as a vehicle for social good.
Lee Cortes Jr.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes, along with fellow prosecutor Vikas Khanna, were responsible in 2016 with prosecuting the “Bridgegate” criminal trial of Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni. The trial—which, along with the events leading up to it, garnered immense media coverage—lasted six weeks and pitted Cortes and Khanna against seasoned defense attorneys, including Michael Critchley and Michael Baldassare. They also prosecuted former Port Authority Chairman David Samson. Cortes has been with the U.S. Attorney’s Office since 2011, after seven years in the white collar practice at Kaye Scholer in New York.
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? Attorneys represent the interests of individuals, businesses, or, in the case of prosecutors, entire communities. It is important that those we represent see that their representatives in the legal system are just like them, with a diversity of background and life experience. Moreover, a diverse legal team simply provides better legal advice because different perspectives yield more comprehensive and rigorous analysis.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? The legal profession has come a long way, but there is still a lot of work to do to encourage diverse candidates to go to law school in the first place and hire them once they are part of the workforce. But for firms and companies to show a true commitment to diversity, they also need to promote and laterally hire qualified diverse attorneys for supervisory positions. Meaningful diversity means diversity in leadership.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face—on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? Building a successful legal career is hard enough on its own, but diverse attorneys face the additional pressure of having to do that knowing that some people will evaluate them—consciously or unconsciously—with a bias based on their gender, appearance, accent, and the like.
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why. One of my mentors is Daniel Alonso, Managing Director and General Counsel of Exiger. I met Dan when I was an associate at Kaye Scholer and after he joined the firm after leaving the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. I asked to work with Dan on white collar matters and was rewarded with a mentor and friend who taught me a great deal about how to be a lawyer, sought out opportunities for me to achieve, pushed for me to succeed, and also encouraged me to participate in the Hispanic legal community. Additionally, I greatly admire Paul Fishman, who was the United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey for the majority of my time at the Office, who, in addition to being a supremely talented attorney and teacher, made creating a diverse environment at the Office a bedrock principle.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? To aggressively pursue opportunities to achieve and to work on the matters that you are interested in. A rewarding legal career does not just happen; you have to work relentlessly to make it happen.
Sanmathi ”Sanu” Dev
Sanu Dev is a partner in Capehart Scatchard’s school law and labor & employment groups in Mount Laurel, and founder and chair of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee. In her practice, Dev represents school boards and charter schools in court and before government agencies, handling a range of matters, including civil rights, and labor and employment law. Outside of her practice, Dev is involved in numerous professional and philanthropic pursuits.
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? Diversity is imperative in the legal profession in order to create and maintain a more inclusive workplace in which individuals from different walks of life can build on each other’s strengths while simultaneously improving their weaknesses. Based on their unique experiences, each individual’s perspective increases innovative ways of thinking.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? Taken as a whole, efforts to increase diversity and inclusion can contribute to staff retention and productivity. Law firms, like any other organization, can always do more to increase diversity and inclusion. Diversity should be viewed broadly—it includes fostering an atmosphere where individuals of difference race, ethnicity, nationality, color, gender, age, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, religion, marital and parental status, disability, socioeconomic status, and political expression will thrive professionally and personally. In addition to diversity with respect to attorneys, law firms should also consider diversity efforts pertaining to assistants, paralegals, and support staff.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face—on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? Diverse attorneys face challenges in which they must navigate their differences in various settings—whether it’s within the firm, courtroom, or beyond. These attorneys often face subtle and not so subtle biases by other individuals based on their appearance or name. Diverse attorneys often need to prepare for others to make generalizations or stereotypes based on their race, gender, religion, etc. before they have the opportunity to demonstrate their talent.
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why. I admire my parents greatly. They immigrated to the United States from India for better opportunities for themselves and their family. They’ve always worked hard and instilled in me the value of education. From my parents, I developed a strong work ethic and a vision to pursue my ambitions.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? My advice to someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession—work hard, love what you do, and treat everyone with respect.
Jhanice Domingo, a partner at Einhorn, Harris, Ascher, Barbarito & Frost in Denville, is one of the firm’s youngest family law partners, according to the firm. Domingo, who came to New Jersey at age 9 from Manila, Philippines, is outgoing president of the National Filipino American Lawyers Association, a role in which she created affinity networks for young and women lawyers. She’s also former president of the Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey, and works to promote diversity through her involvement in the organization’s appointments committee.
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? To truly administer justice, advocate for litigants in a multicultural society, and adequately address complex issues of equality, fairness and justice, the representation of all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures and genders in the bench and bar is important. A diverse bench/bar achieves a balance in the legal workforce by promoting reflection and dialogue about different perspectives and life experiences, all of which promotes understanding of client needs and shapes public policy. Attorneys play a critical role in developing legislation that affects and shapes the debate on politics, economics and society. A diverse bar provides the necessary exchange of different opinions, perspectives, ideas and experiences. A diverse bench is important because it instills an invaluable sense of legitimacy and credibility for the Judiciary in the eyes of the community that it serves, and it ensures the Judiciary reflects the diverse communities over which it presides.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? There is no “one size fits all” approach. However, the retention of Chief Diversity Officers and the formation of diversity committees in law firms/organizations are steps in the right direction. Having a clear strategy and action plan with defined metrics on how to foster diversity are key, as well as, the requirement that senior/managing partners are active players. The success and sustainability of any diversity initiative needs collective attention and the active involvement of a firm’s/organization’s leadership. A friend of mine who served as Chief Diversity Officer for one of the largest law firms in New Jersey had a tagline that he shared whenever he spoke at bar association events: “Diversity is not a ‘you’ thing. It’s a ‘we’ thing.” Simply put, life is not a zero sum game. We achieve the best for our clients, communities, families and ourselves when we promote and participate in bringing diverse and multicultural persons and talents to the fore, using the variety of sources and experiences to forge innovative solutions to the problems facing our society.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face – on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? Diverse attorneys have a greater sense of “outsider status.” Sometimes, even those who find themselves a seat at the table feel that they don’t belong or that in order to “fit in” or “keep their seat” they need to disconnect themselves from their race, color, ethnicity or gender. This is in part due to the composition of the legal profession. According to the 2010 census, Asian Pacific Americans, Blacks and Hispanics/Latinos collectively represent 41.5 percent of New Jersey’s population. Yet, New Jersey’s bench and bar do not fully reflect the vibrant constituencies of our state. Our differences should not divide us, but rather unite us, and make us a better legal community and society.
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why. I am blessed to have many mentors and to be surrounded by many people I admire. It’s difficult to name just one. But, my parents are my most important role models. They taught me, by example, to work hard, to be generous with my time and talents, to be resilient, to have the courage to be a dissenting opinion when it’s right, and to not settle for the path of least resistance. In general, I admire those who face adversity with strength and grace, and I am even more impressed by those who use their power for the greater good. To paraphrase a quote from Abraham Lincoln, nearly all people can stand adversity, but if you want to test a person’s character, give him/her power. Those who use their power to lead with love (not fear) and hold firm to principles of integrity impress me the most. And of course, there is my nine-year-old daughter, Gisel, who inspires me every single day, never ceases to amaze me, and reminds me that above all things, being kind to people is most important. At such a young age, she is the ultimate problem solver/mediator—always looking to promote harmony.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? Immerse yourself in the legal community and public at-large. No person is an island. You can’t make a strong impact by sitting in your office alone burning the midnight oil day-in and day-out. You need to know and understand the community that you took an oath to serve and connect with people who can help you be the best advocate you can be.
Christine Michelle Duffy
For three years Christine Michelle Duffy worked as editor-in-chief and contributor for “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace,” a book aimed at providing guidance for employers, as well as attorneys and judges. A senior staff attorney at Pro Bono Partnership in Parsippany, Duffy focuses on employment law; Duffy’s writing on gender dysphoria and the Americans With Disabilities Act was cited by an amicus in Blatt v. Cabela’s Retail, a case pending in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Duffy identifies as gender affirmed and gender diverse. Duffy “does not use the term ‘transgender’ … because it has no accepted definition, is linked with negative stereotypes, is misleading, and needlessly causes confusion,” Duffy said, adding that a better expression to use is “gender-affirmed and/or gender-diverse.”
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? Diversity is important in higher-paid professions, as they typically have disproportionately lower participation of individuals who are within underrepresented demographics. People who haven’t been exposed to the life issues, including discrimination, that members of underrepresented groups have faced often are unaware of those issues and the erroneous nature of the stereotypes that are placed upon those members. As I explained in the preface to a treatise on gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination, by being exposed to diverse people and “recognizing our diversity, we are better able to see our similarity in our common humanity.” In addition to providing role models for youth, diversity among lawyers facilitates the provision of legal services, as a diverse lawyer might better understand the nuances of legal issues that clients with similar backgrounds may be confronting. I often see this when attending seminars and even oral argument on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, Asexual, Ally, and Diverse (LGBTIQQAAD)-related issues—some lawyers really have no clue about issues relating to gender identity, thereby providing misinformation (and perpetuating stereotypes) to audiences and judges or being unable to adequate respond to questions presented to them.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? Article after article suggest that more needs to be done—for example, law departments are still struggling to achieve diversity internally and among their preferred law firms. The topic is too complicated to address in this short piece, though emphasis needs to be placed on diversifying avenues for recruitment, strong leadership by senior and middle management, and meaningful and measurable mentoring. Mentoring of all employees, not just diverse employees, is an important part of being a lawyer, as the Law Journal’s editorial board recently noted.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face—on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? Overcoming stereotypes and getting opportunities, from being hired to being assign significant roles in high-profile work. Being able to demonstrate your abilities helps break down stereotypes and opens the door to a potentially productive and rewarding career. Senior managers need to be willing to take risks by ensuring diverse/underrepresented lawyers are involved in significant projects. Such leadership will be noticed by others in the organization. It was great to read that Judge Jack Weinstein recently adopted a chambers rule that encourages law firms to provide more opportunities for junior lawyers in litigation—hopefully this will foster more opportunities for diversity in the courtroom.
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why. I have to mention two people. Tom Sheridan was a janitor at Seton Hall, where I went to high school and college and worked. Tom was a wonderful role model, a beautiful and humble person. My wife of 30 years, Kathie, who has helped me see some blinders that I had and has made me a better person.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? For both questions: Live by the Golden Rule. Unfortunately not enough people adhere to this rule. As Blaise Pascal said, Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. This has proven so true in the area of discrimination against diverse/underrepresented people as well.
The law led Tanya Freeman to a second career; formerly a professional auditor, the mother of six began attending Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center in Huntington, New York, in 2009, and graduated with honors. She practiced at her husband’s firm in Jersey City, growing her practice to necessitate the hire of two associates and the opening of a second office in Short Hills. In 2015 she joined Weiner Law Group in Parsippany as a partner in the firm’s family law group.
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? As our population becomes more diverse and our citizens reflect cultures from around the world, the Bar must reflect the people it serves. Our system of jurisprudence should reflect the ideals, cultural awareness, and diversity that make up the tapestry of this great nation. The American system of jurisprudence is based upon equality and justice for all. America is a haven for opportunity for all people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. The days of there being a stereotypical lawyer with a one size fits all approach have come to an end. Litigants want representation that is competent and can also relate to the uniqueness of the community it serves.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? While law firms and corporations continue to make great strides to foster a culture of diversity, there still remains room for improvement. Diversity is far more than just hiring people of diverse backgrounds; it also encompasses cultivating the careers of diverse staff members within our organizations. Law firm partners and corporate leaders must make greater efforts to mentor young professionals that can follow in their footsteps. Organizations should assess its diversity programs, which should also include a measure of the number of diverse candidates that advance though the organization.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face—on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? Diverse attorneys must overcome assumptions that continue to foster a sense of second-class citizenship within the Bar. Why is it necessary for a Hispanic attorney to explain to a judge that she does not need an interpreter when she is mistaken for the litigant? Why is the African American attorney from northern New Jersey told she is “passed the Mason-Dixon line when she appears in a court in Central New Jersey.” While the members of the bar that made these comments may believe they were harmless “mistakes,” these statements continue to under mind the very progress that all the diversity programs seek to advance.
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why. I will always admire Retired Essex County Superior Court Judge, Michelle Hollar-Gregory. I had the opportunity to intern with her during law school and what I learned during the few months I shared with her will carry me through my career. She reminded me to treat all people with respect, the litigants, my fellow attorneys, and all members of the court staff. I also learned to be thorough in my research and preparation for every court appearance, whether it’s a status conference or a trial, I need to know my client’s facts, relevant court rules, and applicable law.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? My father gave me the best advice in life when he told me to treat everyone the way I wanted to be treated. I often put myself in my client’s shoes and ask myself how I would want a lawyer to speak to me if I needed representation. All to often lawyers take the approach that we know best and our clients need to just listen to the advice given. Instead we should focus our attention on what we would want or expect from an attorney if in our client’s situation.
Mary Cate Gordon
Mary Cate Gordon is an associate in Ballard Spahr’s Cherry Hill office, representing clients in court, and before agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Among her recent pro bono engagements was her representation of the U.S. Women’s National Ice Hockey Team in a wage-and-hour action against USA Hockey. Also, she was selected for a client secondment. Outside her practice, Gordon advocates for the LGBT community. She is also an adjunct professor at Drexel University, teaching health care law and other topics.
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? Varied perspectives allow for more creative solutions to difficult problems. In my experience, diversity is an investment that pays for itself quickly.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? While the legal community has improved its efforts to foster diversity, I think that we can make strides advancing diversity earlier. Investing in diverse law students through pipeline programs can help place them in the running to earn more top jobs out of law school.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face—on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? Securing initial opportunities (depositions, argument in court, client interaction, etc.) is the biggest hurdle for diverse attorneys. Success breeds more opportunity, but diverse attorneys often have to work harder to secure those early opportunities in order to prove themselves.
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why. My most influential mentor was the incredibly supportive Beth Esinhart, of Old Dominion University, who set me on my legal career path. Beth was many things to me: professor, pre-law advisor, guide, challenger, supporter (in the classroom and on the field hockey field), and friend. She was also particularly inspiring to me as the first woman to make partner at her law firm.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? The most useful advice I got as a young lawyer was a practical quip about writing succinctly: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”
Hervé Gouraige, a partner in the litigation practice at Sills Cummis & Gross in Newark, has handled upward of 30 trials, according to his firm. He recently represented a former president of the U.N. General Assembly. He is a former assistant U.S. attorney and was the first assistant in the Southern District of New York designated as a health care fraud prosecutor. A December 2016 article Gouraige wrote for the Rutgers Law Review, “Do Federal Courts Have Constitutional Authority to Adjudicate Criminal Insider-Trading Cases?,” was cited shortly thereafter in a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Salman v. United States.
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? Because the profession serves a role in the function of administering law as the institution that governs relations among people who live in one community, it must take seriously the diversity of the humans subject to legal norms.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? No, although many are trying in good faith to do better. Most firms view diversity as an issue that can be resolved by having a certain number of individuals from different ethnic, geographic, gender, sexual orientation, religious, and racial background. That is a very superficial approach to diversity. It does not dig deeper into the issue of diversity of humanity to ascertain the diversity of greatness that exist in different persons.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face—on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? We are often judged by certain presumptive determinations that are driven not by recognition of our unique abilities but by superficial outward appearances.
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why. Conrad K. Harper, a retired partner from Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett, and the Honorable Jed S. Rakoff, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York. Conrad was always profligate with his time and wise in his counsel. One thing I remember from his early counsel was that I should always make time to read almost on a daily basis no matter how busy I was in my legal practice. I owe much to Judge Rakoff, who is largely responsible for my getting the best professional job I have had in my career, an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York. He is fully committed to the practice of law and rigorous in his pursuit of justice as a judge.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? Leave a large Wall Street firm and go try cases. I have never regretted that I did that, and I think I am a better lawyer today for having done that. A young lawyer should remember that law is a discipline constrained by a set of principles that have been adhered to by generations of lawyers and judges. A lawyer need not share a client’s beliefs, political views, or objective in a particular litigation. The lawyer’s role is simply to be the best and most aggressive advocate for the client’s position. Much as understanding a particular point of view is a task prior to criticizing it, being a great advocate requires that the lawyer gets into the mind of his or her client and understands the client and the client’s point of view or business. Once the lawyer does that, the lawyer will then be in a position to be an effective advocate for that client’s view. That is probably the most intellectually challenging thing a person can do.
Julian Hill has been an assistant Morris County prosecutor since March 2004, serving in the Appellate, Juvenile, General Investigations, Special Services, and Weights and Measures units. He has been the Drug Court special prosecutor since 2012, a role in which he supervises about 220 special probationers and appears three times per week. He also has a leadership position in the advisory committee for the statewide Drug Court program. Outside his practice, Hill is involved in professional and community organizations. Hill spent six years in the U.S. Army Reserves, and was honorably discharged in 1992.
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? Diversity is important because it serves the legal profession well by helping to ensure that justice is transparent and available to all members of society without exception.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? As a public sector attorney, I am not familiar with the efforts of private law firms regarding diversity, however, I strongly recommend outreach programs, intensive training sessions, multi-disciplined networking events, mentorships, fostering positive long term relationships that showcase one’s talents, work ethic and strong points.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face—on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? All attorneys have and face challenges, nevertheless diverse attorneys have to make sure that they establish a strong reputable consistent body of legal work and should be afforded career opportunities and pathways to expand one’s skill set especially to those who have a strong desire to serve the public with honor and distinction.
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why. My sister, Tanya Adrienne Lawrence, Esquire, Supervising Acting Director, Civil Rights Division, Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C. She has been a respected government attorney for 30 years, has always been there for me and she maintains her humility while continuing to make significant contributions in the legal profession.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? Best advice: Be patient and treat each human being with professional respect and courtesy. One’s reputation is paramount and do not neglect the development of one’s character because nothing is more important than one’s professional integrity. In addition, one should specialize in making cogent magnanimous arguments that make society better for all. And remember, it is not about the individual, it is about the greater good and that justice is done. More importantly, never give up and remain on the battle field of justice until the battle is won. “In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.” The Honorable Thurgood Marshall, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, 1967-1991.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna, along with fellow prosecutor Lee Cortes, were responsible in 2016 with prosecuting the “Bridgegate” criminal trial of Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni. The trial—which, along with the events leading up to it, garnered immense media coverage—lasted six weeks and pitted Cortes and Khanna against seasoned defense attorneys, including Michael Critchley and Michael Baldassare. They also prosecuted former Port Authority Chairman David Samson. Khanna has been with the U.S. Attorney’s Office since 2011, and since earlier this year has been deputy chief of the Health Care and Government Fraud Unit.
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? Because lawyers’ arguments and judicial decisions help shape the contours of the law, the perspectives that lawyers and judges bring to the legal profession are vital in defining the laws that govern us. If people from diverse backgrounds participate and thrive in the legal profession, then we can ensure that legal precedents are not just defined by a subset of society, but are reflective of the entire community.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? Based on my experience, the legal profession in New Jersey has taken significant steps in fostering diversity. This is reflected not only in the varying backgrounds of the lawyers who work at law firms and other organizations, but also in the judges on both the state and federal bench. One way of continuing to promote diversity is to encourage lawyers to mentor students from cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds that are not as well represented in the legal profession.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face—on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? One challenge for diverse lawyers is not to shy away from bringing their unique perspectives to their legal practice. The legal profession can sometimes be conformist and diverse lawyers will sometimes face stereotypes from others, including clients, about what makes a successful advocate. Diverse attorneys, therefore, face the challenge of maintaining successful practices, while at the same time helping develop the profession in a manner that incorporates their backgrounds and experiences.
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why. Paul Fishman, the former U.S. Attorney, is someone I admire. Not only is he an enormously talented lawyer and leader, but he has set the standard for valuing and fostering diversity at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey. One of my mentors is a partner I worked with while in private practice, Scott Resnik. I particularly admire how Scott tirelessly advocated for his clients and litigated aggressively without becoming antagonistic, unprofessional, or unpleasant. The ability to argue effectively while maintaining strong and respectful relationships with his adversaries almost always resulted in better resolutions, while upholding the best traditions of the profession.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? The best advice I have received is that while conflict is inherent in the practice of law, one should always strive to reflect the ideals of the legal profession even during the heat of battle. Some of the lawyers I admire most have advised that lawyers are privileged to practice a profession that is so vital to our nation’s core values: striving for justice and maintaining the rule of law. Attorneys should defend their clients vigorously, but in doing so, uphold these values by treating the process and their adversaries with dignity and respect.
In 2011 Neil Mody became one of the youngest attorneys at Roseland-based Connell Foley to make partner, at age 35. Representing insurers in complex coverage matters, Mody has grown business with existing clients and won new ones, leading to a seven-figure book of business, according to the firm. He’s taken a lead role in litigation resulting from Superstorm Sandy, being retained as trial counsel in some 200 cases and serving as special coverage counsel to a group of major carriers. In one significant case, a court held that it’s the policyholder’s burden to demonstrate that property damage resulted “from wind alone.” Mody also is co-chair of Connell Foley’s Hiring Committee.
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? Diversity is important in all professions and the law is no exception. The legal profession produces lawmakers, governors, prosecutors, corporate heads, and countless local leaders. A diverse bar promotes access to legal services and encourages differing viewpoints. The bar should be as inclusive as the population it serves.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? While law firms have increased efforts to recruit new diverse associates, there are still challenges for these candidates as they rise through the ranks at law firms nationwide. For example, according to the latest NALP survey, minority women represent just 2.76% of partners, while minority men account for 5.29% of partners. Although law firms are hiring more diverse candidates, diversity representation tends to drop nationwide as minorities approach partnership, underscoring the ongoing importance of retention and promotion for law firms in the context of diversity.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face–on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? It is an unfortunate reality that some portion of our population does not view diversity as a positive societal development and, perhaps as a result, may have trouble looking past the fact of one’s diversity in evaluating his or her arguments or value. I find these belief systems to be outdated and often negated by doing great work and achieving strong results.
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why. Our firm’s founding partner Adrian “Bud” Foley often reminded me to approach the practice of law as a vocation designed to help others, rather than just a business. As Bud put it, if you focus on doing great work for your clients and community, the rest will follow. He lived a great example of this simple approach to building a successful and gratifying legal practice.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? The practice of law is a vocation. Approaching the law as a profession designed to serve others rather than just a “means to an end” has helped me find joy in my work, while achieving some great results for my clients, team, and community.
Mo Nabulsi is a partner at Mandelbaum Salsburg in Roseland and co-chair of the health care law practice. He joined the firm less than a year ago but, at 37, according to one colleague, is “one of our top originators … and his knack for rainmaking is astonishing. He is passionate about the work he does and it shows with client referrals.” He handles a variety of transactional and regulatory matters for physicians, medical practices and related entities, and sits on the firm’s Diversity Committee. He does frequent pro bono work for the Islamic Center of Passaic County.
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? Diversity is important to the legal profession because it allows the legal profession to cater to a broader client base, particularly because clients of diverse backgrounds may prefer to be represented by attorneys of a similar background.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? Based on my experience, law firms have been increasingly focusing on the hiring and retention of more diverse attorneys, so as to remain consistent with the increasingly diverse legal, and other, industries. Law firms should participate in diverse community events, as doing so would cultivate a diverse client base which would result in the hiring of more diverse attorneys.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face—on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? Like in virtually every other industry in the United States, the legal industry is not immune to bias. As such, while the true impact of personal bias of judges, and other figures of authority in the legal industry, may be impossible to quantify, it nonetheless does adversely affect diverse attorneys.
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why. I admire similarly-situated attorneys of diverse backgrounds who have achieved success, despite all adversities they have faced, by virtue of their diverse background.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? In this business, the key to success is proficiency in your practice area, the ability to connect with people, and to generate business.
Karen Painter Randall
Karen Painter Randall, a litigation partner at Connell Foley in Roseland, is founder and chair of the firm’s cybersecurity and data privacy practice. According to one colleague, she “singularly developed the strategy for her firm’s Cybersecurity practice long before most firms realized the need to do so.” She was appointed to the ABA Cybersecurity Legal Task Force, and successfully proposed forming the State Bar Association’s Cybersecurity Task Force, which she now co-chairs. She participates in numerous other professional groups dedicated to data security.
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? Diversity in the legal profession continues to be an important priority recognizing that diversity benefits both clients and society. Many law firms have created Diversity Committees and stepped up visible efforts to recruit and retain competent diverse attorneys. As a profession we are competing on a regional, national and global level for clients and attorney talent. Corporate clients, many of whom have agreed to a public initiative promoting diversity, are progressively demanding more diverse law firms as well.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? To foster a successful diversity program, a law firm’s senior management might consider implementing best standard practices, including setting goals for what kind of diversity that firm would like to achieve. Organizational accountability, integration of diversity efforts, mentoring and firm culture should also be part of the equation and primary drivers for a diverse and inclusive work environment.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face—on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? While experiences vary considerably, many diverse attorneys overcome challenges by focusing on their sources of strength, growth, and opportunity. Being part of a mentoring culture that includes developing and implementing an effective and tailored internal mentoring program, helps diverse attorneys achieve success in a challenging environment.
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why? My parents, who knowing there were fewer women than men obtaining law degrees, encouraged me to go to law school, work hard and achieve success in a challenging legal profession.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? The role of the attorney is evolving as advances in technology revolutionize today’s professional landscape. The legal profession is continually changing and evolving, bringing new challenges and rewards. Lawyers must be not only problem-solvers but innovators willing to become more tech-savvy to embrace new technological challenges such as e-discovery, e-billing, information security & privacy and electronic case management to leverage technology as a key strategic asset.
Rekha Rao founded Rao Legal Group in Princeton in January 2016 after practicing commercial litigation at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York. She undertook to focus on estate planning and elder law because of an unmet need for such services, particularly among first-generation Americans and immigrants. Rao herself immigrated from India, where her uncle was Supreme Court chief justice and her grandfather was founder of the first law school in Bangalore. Earlier this year, she created a webinar on international tax law with help from professionals in New Jersey, Florida and India.
Why is diversity particularly important in the legal profession? When companies hire individuals who look like one another, have the same friends and eat the same foods, etc., then these individuals begin to think and act like one another; they also come up with similar solutions to problems. Any organization can benefit from diversity which leads to a rich palette of ideas, enhanced creative thinking and enriched problem solving.
Are law firms and other organizations employing lawyers doing enough to foster diversity? What could they be doing better? I do see big law firms increasingly emphasizing diversity – they accept a larger pool of minority attorneys into their ranks, they help with scholarships and grants to minority attorneys so they can gain an equal footing, and they support minority organizations promoting diversity. I was fortunate to be a recipient of a Minority Fellowship Award which provided me with the opportunity to intern at the New York Attorney General’s office during the summer of my second year in law school. However, it is quite surprising to still see a large number of firms comfortable with the status quo – they continue to hire from within, hire less women and minorities, and shy away from sponsoring events encouraging diversity. One way to combat this problem is to encourage individual attorneys to help effectuate a sea change by supporting organizations promoting diversity; small changes can have significant impact.
What unique challenges do diverse attorneys face—on their teams, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and beyond? Growing up in a diverse country like India, I had not even heard of the term discrimination until I came to the United States as a young adult. To date, I don’t believe I have ever faced any discrimination directly (or perhaps I was too naïve to recognize it); however, I do recall what happened to a law school classmate during an interview for a summer internship. There, she was told by the hiring partner that because of her strong “accent” she would never get a job anywhere if she spoke English the way she did. While she did not get that job, she did go onto becoming the valedictorian of our class year, then hired by one of the top 5 law firms in the country and is now senior legal counsel of a big corporation. The firm had lost the opportunity to benefit from, both culturally and economically, the addition of this rising star!
Name a mentor, or someone you admire, and why. I truly respect and admire those attorneys who encourage, motivate and lift other attorneys along with them. Early on in my career, three attorneys held out their hands to pull me up when I needed help the most. Richard Greenberg, who always found the time to lend a helping hand to a newbie attorney; Thomas Begley, Jr., who readily answered my numerous questions with his gentle personality and warm encouragement, and my former employer, Neel Shah, of Shah & Associates, who gave me my first real break into the world of sophisticated estate planning and who gave me the confidence I needed to excel.
What is the best advice you ever got? Or, what is your best advice for someone looking to make an impact in the legal profession? Network, network, network! Get your name out and get exposure. I always thought I was best at sitting behind a desk and researching the law. I even found a perfect job that had allowed me to do just that. At that time, I did not realize how important it was to drum up business. But whether we like it or not, we are all in the “business” of the law. And no matter where we are in our careers (even if in a big law firm), it is important to always think like an entrepreneur because ultimately it’s not about how much we know but it’s about how much business we can bring in.