I received my offer from Reed Smith in August 2010, right before my third year of law school. I had spent two summers as a summer associate and I was excited to jump back into my work after the bar exam. However, my offer came with a condition: I was going to be deferred until January 2012. While deferrals had become increasingly common at that time, it still left me with a large question: What was I going to do for the five months between the bar exam and my start date? Some of my peers saw their deferral periods as a burden, but I saw mine as an opportunity. At first, I thought about interning or finding a legal job locally, which would certainly have been a prudent way to spend my time. I decided instead to have a more unique deferral experience.
Tapping into Old Relationships
During my undergraduate career at Penn State University, I had the opportunity to work with the Race Relations Project directed by two sociology lecturers, Dr. Samuel Richards and Dr. Laurie Mulvey. The program provided students with an opportunity to have candid dialogues about race relations. During my three years as a facilitator of these dialogues, I experienced firsthand how facing this taboo topic in an honest way could change perspectives, including my own. I developed an appreciation for how limited my perspective on race relations was by my own experiences. Through these dialogues, I was able to relate to people who had life experiences very different from my own. I later learned that the program had been expanded globally and renamed the World in Conversation Project. Though it had been nearly three years since I had worked with the program, I reached out to Richards and Mulvey to see if they could find a place for me in their new venture during the period of my deferral. They graciously agreed.
Moving Cultural Dialogue to the Global Stage
I began working with the World in Conversation Project in August 2011, just a few weeks after taking the bar exam. While working for the program, I served as director of the More Than Words initiative, which used videoconferencing technology to bring undergraduate students from Penn State and the Middle East together for cultural dialogues. The students discussed everything with one another — their families, politics, college experiences and even war. This frank and open dialogue gave the students new perspectives on each other’s lives, helped to shatter prejudices and changed cultural misconceptions. This initiative opened my eyes to the beneficial impact of expanding the dialogue on diversity to a broader, global platform. Previously, I had spent most of my time committed to working through race relations locally. Through my work with the More Than Words initiative, I suddenly saw the benefit of a global perspective.
At the beginning of the program, some of the American students harbored feelings of resentment toward people from the Middle East, assuming they’d support terrorism. Some students from the Middle East harbored resentment toward Americans, assuming the Americans would believe they were terrorists. Once the students from both places realized how they could relate to one another, these prior misconceptions faded away. Their conversations allowed them to focus on their similarities and learn from their differences. This initiative allowed me to see the advantage of understanding the ways individuals and cultures around the world could relate to and connect with one another.
Toward the end of my time with the World in Conversation Project, I learned that Richards and Mulvey had been invited by the United Nations to attend the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Conference in Doha, Qatar. When I discovered that my students in the Middle East would be in attendance, I immediately informed Richards and Mulvey that I wanted to be a part of the team attending the conference. They agreed. Before I knew it, I was rushing my passport, packing my bags and flying halfway around the world.
Understanding Our Place in the World
The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations invited hundreds of students to participate in the conference. At the conference, world leaders were discussing global issues like poverty, hunger and war. Students were encouraged to offer opinions, to develop their own solutions, and they were even given the opportunity to share their ideas with the world leaders. As a facilitator, my role was to continue facilitating candid dialogue about national and cultural relations with students from various countries around the world. Each day we attended meetings where world leaders discussed their solutions to global issues, and each day we would sit with the students and obtain their perspectives. These conversations were beneficial not only for the students; they were also beneficial in helping form my own opinions on global issues. It is amazing how my identity developed — I was no longer a Latina living in America; I was a Latina and an American. I realized my perspective had been limited, having only considered my experiences in my local community. I started to see that my country’s actions abroad affected the way I was viewed as an individual. Something about having a conversation with a young Iraqi man about the war and how it changed his life made me think about how it had affected mine. My global perspective was developing, and I was starting to understand my place in the world.
At the time, I didn’t know how these experiences would affect my legal career. It wasn’t until I agreed to do some pro bono work for a nonprofit organization that I realized how valuable my global experiences were. The nonprofit had a local and global presence, operating within Pennsylvania and outside the United States. A few months into the engagement, I received a phone call late on a Saturday evening from my client with a crisis abroad. While this crisis was out of my jurisdiction, I knew there were people I could reach out to for help. I took the initiative and called the people with whom I worked at the World in Conversation Project, and they willingly came to my client’s rescue.
My ability to see this crisis from a global perspective allowed me to recognize that my client’s needs were complex and required more than a referral to an attorney abroad. I was able to identify others with the appropriate global understanding who could realize the nuances involved when a conflict arises between an American organization and a foreign country’s government. My client’s concerns were handled with the delicacy required and I had demonstrated how I could be an asset to my client.
As lawyers, many of our clients have a global presence and so do our law firms. Reed Smith, for example, currently has 23 offices around the world in places such as London, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Beijing and Munich, just to name a few. Having global contacts and understanding global issues is increasingly important as our clients and our firms grow worldwide. I took every opportunity during my deferral period to make and maintain relationships with individuals and organizations both locally and abroad.
Through my work with the World in Conversation Project and my experience at the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Conference, I was able to develop a global perspective that helps me see beyond what I was capable of seeing before these experiences. I see the value in hearing differing opinions so that we can discover new solutions to problems. I appreciate the benefit of understanding our clients’ reputations locally and globally, as our actions could be interpreted differently by different cultures around the world. I understand that this process is ongoing and that I have to continually challenge myself to learn from people who see the world differently in order to broaden my perspective. Most importantly, I recognize that developing a global perspective is worth the time and effort it takes, both for my clients’ benefit and for my own. •
Cassandra Lee Matos is a junior associate in Reed Smith’s Philadelphia office. She is a member of the firm’s Eastern commercial litigation group, focusing her practice on complex commercial litigation matters and products liability defense. She can be reached by telephone at 215-851-8260 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.