In early March, I was honored to moderate a plenary panel at the 2023 ABA Insurance Coverage Litigation Committee CLE seminar in Tucson, Arizona, along with panelists Lacrecia Cade, of the What-if Collective; Linda Kornfeld of Blank Rome; and Will Purnell of Bowman and Brooke.
Titled “The Elephant in the Room: Why Diversity in the Legal Profession Continues to Grow at Such a Slow Rate and How to Embrace Uncomfortable Conversations and Move Forward,” the panel discussion focused on how to support colleagues and peers of underrepresented backgrounds and how everyone in the legal space, from first year attorneys to managing partners, has a responsibility to be a part of the conversation.
I appreciate that the ABA made the session plenary. Bringing the discussion to the main stage speaks volumes about the ABA’s priorities. On top of that, the room was packed, and I was appreciative of the audience’s enthusiasm to participate in the discussion and, frankly, I was humbled by it.
My opportunity to moderate the ABA panel followed a similar one that Jonathan Terrell had in November at the annual DRI Asbestos Medicine Seminar. He, too, moderated a panel focused on challenging conversations around diversity. I am immensely proud that KCIC embraces diversity, equity and inclusion as a Core Value and strives to lead in the area, both internally within KCIC, and externally.
Setting the Stage for Action
In Tucson, the panel first set the stage. The fact of the matter is, progress has been “glacial” (Slow Going: Despite diversity gains, some law firm leaders bemoan lack of progress.”). Recent studies, including the 2021 NALP Report on Diversity that was cited multiple times during the discussion, show that the summer associate and associate levels in law firms are much more diverse than the partnership ranks. This begs the question, why?
As we continued to set the stage, we spoke about the societal and economic benefits of having diverse voices at the table. Much of the conversation centered around the retention of diverse attorneys. Simply put, if attorneys feel supported by their firm and its people, they are more likely to stay. But what can a firm do to show that support?
We then moved the conversation into a discussion about the tangible actions and behaviors that legal professionals at all levels can adopt to encourage retention of underrepresented attorneys.
Open the Circle
Strive to include more than just your “inner circle” in workplace events, even social events. The panelists were frank about this. They’ve seen it time and time again: an attorney from an underrepresented background doesn’t find his or her “group” and continually feels left out of social events. The bonds developed in social interactions often transform into long-lasting professional associations. Don’t be afraid to include a wider circle of people. You want people to feel like they belong and that they have a voice.
Similarly, we spoke at length about the idea of mentorship. Lacrecia extended this idea further, stating that it’s not mentorship — it’s sponsorship. In a “sponsorship” relationship, the mentor’s success is intertwined with the success of the mentee. So take risks, bring the mentee along for client meetings, and introduce him or her to the client network. Make his or her success linked with your own success. Linda mentioned that early on in her career, there were several partners who took a deep level of responsibility for her success as a young attorney and how valuable and memorable these relationships were.
I was grateful to the ABA for including this panel in the seminar’s programming, and I look forward to the conversation continuing in years to come. With the room at capacity, the audience was extraordinarily enthusiastic about the discussion. This topic is obviously a priority for the ABA, but it was wonderful to see that it is a priority for attorneys as well. If given the opportunity to moderate a panel like this again, I will make sure to leave more time for questions!
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Robert Parrish is the lead on custom solutions projects where he provides clients with product development, product maintenance, reporting and support. From requirements gathering to data migration to the creation of the user interface, he works with clients to create innovative solutions to address the client’s most complex problems.Learn More About Robert