Keeping the Pipeline Flowing: Minority Attorneys Advancing Personal Success and Positively Impacting the Practice of Law, and Improving the Administration of Justice

Coverage of the 2018 Forum on Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession

by Chris Fortier

How do you deal with today’s climate, especially if your goal is to retain new attorneys for the long term? Mentorship can guide a young attorney through the challenges, but these mentorships have to be thought out. The most successful mentoring programs match mentors and mentees based on personality and ambition, with the aim to create an engaging connection. A long term mentor-mentee relationship impacts the younger person’s growth in the profession or the organization. The challenge is to inspire people to do more and join us in our work.

The third panel at the forum focused on personal success with careers in the law. Numerous topics were discussed, such as how to include diversity and inclusion in your everyday actions in the firm. The moderator was Alex Levay, Esq., and panelists included Debra Powers, Esq., Michael HuYoung, Esq., Judge Rondelle Herman, and Professor Doron Samuel-Siegel.

Professor Samuel-Siegel urged redoubling focus and intent on causes such as equal justice and anti-racism. Diversity is not only good because of the varying perspectives at the table — but is just due to our history of injustice that needs to be reconciled. Ms. Powers noted that some metrics conclude that the legal industry will see gender parity in 2081. “The difference has to come from us as we have to do whatever we can to get there.”

Judge Herman reminded the attendees that judges have to keep professional and personal sides separate. “You have to be mindful of who you are and what you are doing.” Attorneys miss cultural nuances (such as best friends not knowing their legal names, as nicknames are primarily used in some cultures). She studies current fashion, music, and lingo to help her relate with the people in her courtroom.

There is power in diversity and inclusion. Ms. Powers urged attendees to think about their involvement in major decisions in their firms. They should ask, “What about diversity? Are we including different types of people, especially when electing organization leaders.” Ms. Powers recommended attendees look at practice areas and socioeconomic issues to find different types of diversity. Ask questions such as 1) how do young lawyers fit into your networking event and 2) what do they need to show their best in front of a hiring partner?

Professor Samuel-Siegel noted that with recruitment of faculty or students, schools and programs must think in terms of getting youth in the process at younger ages. Attorneys can design programs to prepare students for law school. “We can go to the K-12 level to spark the flame for law.” For example, Rule of Law Day (a Diversity Conference co-sponsored project) reaches to Richmond-area middle school and high school youth. Mr. HuYoung has kept in touch with program alumni, many of whom are in law school. He urged attendees to show someone else the way and share their wisdom.

Ms. Powers emphasized that mentorships matter but there are costs to attend meetings and be part of bars. Firms pay fewer bar membership dues, and young attorneys have to balance priorities. For example, “Do you work (and eat) or attend the meeting (and not make money)?” She noted that, “you have to see and be seen in order to get noticed. Small gestures matter. Introduce yourself to the lone person in the room, talk to them, and invite them back. That may be the difference. You have to tell others someone is great in order for others to notice them.” Professor Samuel-Siegel observed that those from disadvantaged backgrounds in the law get approached to serve on committees or to mentor but such work can be tiring. Welcoming gestures make the first years of practice easier for new attorneys.


Chris Fortier serves on the Board of the Governors of the Diversity Conference, working on the Invictus newsletter and the Diversity Conference website and social media. In his day job, he works at the Social Security Administration (SSA). The views in this article do not reflect the views of SSA or the Federal Government.

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