Chicago Committee on Minorities in Large Law Firms
Like other diverse cities, Chicago exhibits a continual emphasis on building community spirit. The Chicago Committee on Minorities in Large Law Firms (Chicago Committee) has been excelling in this endeavor for more than two decades. The membership-based nonprofit organization, founded in 1987 by ten minority lawyers, was initially created to provide networking opportunities and support for minority lawyers in order to alleviate feelings of isolation at large law firms in the city. Its mission is to help members recruit, retain, and promote members of color.
“Law firms are integral to the power structure of Chicago,” explains Venu Gupta, the group’s executive director. “The Chicago Committee has a tremendous history of being rooted in the community and being successful at fostering long-lasting, professional relationships at the local level—ultimately, relationships are built at the local level.”
Gupta has served as the organization’s executive director since 2006. In that time, the Chicago Committee has grown in every way possible—its staff has increased, while more associates and partners have become active in the organization. “With the creation of our Associate Board in 2007, we have been able to tap into the associate perspective, which has been critical over the past few years,” Gupta notes. “I am incredibly fortunate to work with individuals who are committed to racial equality.”
Not only has the Chicago Committee grown in size during the past twenty-two years, it has also greatly expanded its scope—concentrating its efforts on providing substantive programming for minority law students, associates, partners, and its member law firms. Today, the Chicago Committee counts almost fifty Chicago law firms as its members, serving thousands of Chicago lawyers in private practice.
One recent program that has opened doors further into the Chicago community is the Corporate Membership Initiative. By extending membership to Chicago-based corporate legal departments, the Chicago Committee aims to make even greater progress toward achieving diversity in Chicago’s law firms and the legal community more broadly. Current corporate members include Allstate, Exelon, McDonald’s, Motorola, Inc., and Sara Lee—businesses that have demonstrated a strong commitment to diversity and have established ties to the Chicago area.
According to José A. Isasi II, a litigation shareholder for Greenberg Traurig, LLP, in Chicago, the Corporate Membership Initiative presents a valuable opportunity for corporate legal departments and the Chicago Committee to collaborate on a diversity initiative that will benefit both corporations and Chicago law firms. Isasi also serves as chair of the Chicago Committee, and has been an active member for more than ten years.
José A. Isasi II
Another successful series sponsored by the Chicago Committee is its pipeline program. Chicago LegalTrek prepares college students who have been historically underrepresented in the legal profession by providing them with a tenweek curriculum about the legal system, advice from law school admissions counselors, LSAT preparation, and mentors from Chicago Committee members. The program is conducted in partnership with Northwestern University School of Law, and is directed by Northwestern Law professor Sheila Maloney.
Additionally, the Chicago Committee is coordinating a citywide Pipeline Symposium in March. The event will bring together a broad spectrum of participants in the Chicago legal community who share a common goal in increasing the diversity of the legal profession. The Chicago Committee looks forward to welcoming representatives from all sectors of the profession. The one-day program will include a keynote address, as well as panel discussions on a variety of topics from the role of public schools to the role of the private sector. The symposium is another way in which the Chicago Committee is working to strengthen relationships in Chicago’s legal community.
Although Gupta and Isasi feel that the Chicago Committee’s mission has been successful thus far, they recognize that minority lawyers continue to face many challenges in the Chicago metropolitan area. For instance, the economic downturn has had a lingering impact on the community. Many minority lawyers have been laid off by large law firms in the past year and a half, while fewer minorities are going to law school. “In a down economy, people need to get together for both career and moral support,” Gupta asserts. “The Chicago Committee offers a forum for our members to talk to one another about their individual successes and challenges, as well as the status of diversity in profession. A space to have these conversations is especially important during this difficult time.”
|Calender of Events|
March 2010 pipeline Symposium
Friday, March 26, 2010
For more information about this association,
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
See www.chicagocommittee.org for
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
“Progress is happening—minority lawyers have come a long way in the past twenty years,” Isasi adds. “But now, the progress of minority lawyers is not occurring at the same rate it once was.”
“The Chicago Committee helps provide tools to aspiring lawyers,” Gupta attests. “We [must do more than simply] expose a new generation of lawyers of color to the rules of how to succeed in the profession; we also need to engage with them and discover their goals, dreams, and aspirations as lawyers.”
Isasi asserts that efforts by the Chicago Committee must be constantly evaluated in order to remain relevant and speak to today’s bright, diverse, and young talent pool of minority lawyers. “Providing mentorship to young lawyers is the key,” he suggests. “Members of the Chicago Committee must go into communities, and talk to kids about entering the law profession. Lawyers must have a presence—as role models and mentors.”
Above all, Isasi has hope in the power and the opportunities that the U.S. legal system can provide. “I still believe the law is the single most significant profession that can directly impact all citizens of the country,” he concludes. DB
Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer and editor based in the Washington, D.C., metro area.
From the March/April 2010 issue of Diversity & The Bar®