Every year, a significant number of corporate law departments and law firms commit to diversifying their legal ranks, but discover that setting up a successful diversity plan can be a daunting task.
To address that challenge, MCCA has created two diversity conferences:
Creating Pathways to Diversity®, held every fall in New York, N.Y. and the CLE Expo-Principles in Action, which will take place in Chicago on April 30-May 1, 2003.
With a slate of accomplished speakers, concrete strategies, and opportunities for networking, the conferences further MCCA's mission of a more inclusive legal profession. Even those in the upper tiers of the legal profession and who already have a commitment to diversity can benefit from fresh ideas and insight into hiring, promoting, and retaining women and minority lawyers.
"Diversity is a very intuitive concept to be in favor of, but it can be more difficult to translate to actions, especially ones that can be appropriately measured," says Martin J. Barrington, vice president and associate general counsel of Philip Morris Companies Inc.
SUBSTANTIVE AND SYSTEMATIC
Creating Pathways to Diversity resonates with law firms and in-house law departments that are trying to address diversity in the workplace. Since the first conference in 2000, scores of law firm and in-house attorneys from around the country have gathered to examine diversity management issues and best practices, and to take advantage of first-rate skill-building sessions. The conference was most recently held on October 16, 2002 in New York City.
Diversity experts say that they are seeing a flood of interest in the type of hands-on, research-based sessions that are the hallmark of MCCA. Maureen Giovannini, a senior consultant at J. Howard & Associates who has been a leading consultant on numerous diversity research projects, spoke at the 2001 conference and noted that: "People came from many different law firms and legal departments that were at different points in their diversity efforts. It became clear that this is a long-term process rather than a 'program' or 'series of events.'"
The MCCA conference embraces two main objectives: One, to create a substantive dialogue about the diversity issues facing law firms and law departments, for example, recruiting, retention, and promotion; two, to provide practical information and resources useful in designing a systematic approach to setting diversity goals and achieving sustainable results.
"We help them launch their programs, tweak them, and make them better with the goal of recruiting, promoting, and retaining more representative numbers of women and people of color," explains MCCA Executive Director Veta T. Richardson. "Each year I have asked attendees the issues they would like MCCA to address through our research projects in the coming year. In 2001, we were asked not to ignore the needs of the members of the "invisible bar"–meaning gay and lesbian lawyers–and to take a hard look at bridges and barriers to career success in firms and corporations. In 2002, we did so," says Richardson.
Conference topics have included how to expand outreach programs to identify top-notch potential hires, the challenges facing minority lawyers for client development, and strategies for small to mid-size firms to keep talented women and minority lawyers from jumping ship. "There was a high energy level in the sessions that I participated in. I thought the topics were very timely, and the speakers were very well-prepared and knowledgeable," says Giovannini.
According to Grace E. Speights, partner at the D.C. office of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, "The conferences have been great! As an attorney in private practice, they give me insight into the issues that are important to in-house counsel. I've really made important connections at these conferences."
Philip Morris' Barrington, whose company has a longstanding and robust commitment to diversity, concurs, "Rather than spending a lot of time wrestling with 'should we do this or do that,' a best practice gives you a lead into where you might want to be focused. We held our program up and asked 'is someone working on something that we should consider?'"
Barrington says that MCCA's conferences stand out from the rest of the pack because they "…have the reputation of being first-class, and they have the ability to attract first-class talent." Barrington enjoys meeting and speaking with other attendees. "These are people who are passionate about the issue. But, nobody has the single right answer, so it helps to be exposed to a diversity of views about it. When I go, I always hear a new approach," adds Barrington.
Another key component of the conference is the skill-building sessions, which follow three career tracks: law firms, in-house law departments, and the individual attorney track.
Tina L. Harris is an associate at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, a firm that is a two-time recipient of the Thomas L. Sager Award, which is presented to law firms that have demonstrated a sustained commitment to improve the hiring, retention, and promotion of minority attorneys. A frequent participant at MCCA programs, Harris notes that the skill-building sessions offered by MCCA, like those dealing with mentoring and climbing the corporate ladder, are invaluable to attorneys who are looking to advance and to achieve excellence within their firms or law departments.
DUAL PURPOSE, MULTIPLE BENEFITS
The Annual CLE Expo-Principles in Action conference has a different but complementary goal to the Creating Pathways to Diversity conference-it offers continuing legal education seminars targeted to in-house counsel, while providing a forum to showcase the legal acumen of the minority and women attorneys from the nation's leading law firms who serve as presenters.
The conference, which takes place in Chicago on April 30 through May 2, 2003, stresses three themes: breaking barriers, strengthening relationships, and advancing the profession for women and minorities.
"Martindale-Hubbell is proud to support MCCA and we were delighted to sponsor the CLE Expo program," says Michael Gibeault, vice president of business development at Martindale-Hubbell. "This event, which promotes connections between in-house and outside counsel, is an excellent vehicle for showcasing the expertise of minority and women attorneys in the U.S." Martindale-Hubbell is also a sponsor of MCCA's N.Y. diversity conference.
The notion of a continuing legal education forum with minority and women presenters excited attorney Rhynette N. Hurd. Manager of knowledge sharing and counsel for information technology at International Paper Company in Memphis, Tenn., Hurd worked on a MCCA strategic planning committee to develop the idea.
Prior to the creation of the CLE Expo, Hurd says that there had been few opportunities to expand the network of minority and women outside counsel and to match them to the needs of in-house counsel. "This conference offers the chance for corporate lawyers like myself to see other diverse talent."
All total, the 2002 conference attracted managing attorneys from more than 60 different companies-attorneys like Hurd who are in a position to make decisions about the outside counsel the company retains.
Moreover, Richardson says, if women and people of color aren't offered an opportunity to demonstrate that they are experts in a particular area of law, then "naturally people won't think of them" when it comes time to hire outside counsel.
The high-powered program also resounds with attendees who gain exposure to managing attorneys from corporate titans like Eastman Kodak Company, Coca-Cola, Proctor & Gamble, and General Motors.
Bruce V. Spiva, a partner at the Washington D.C. office of Jenner & Block, says the conference offers an edge in the competition for clients because an attorney can establish him or herself as a viable resource for companies looking to employ diverse outside counsel. "The conference was a good opportunity for client development and to establish new and long-lasting relationships," says Spiva.
"The CLE Expo was an amazing experience for me," adds Shook, Hardy & Bacon's Harris. "I am a young African-American female at a big firm. To have that type of access to potential clients and business development is wonderful at my level."
Participants can chose from more than 20 legal presentations ranging from managing internal corporation investigations to handling major corporate transactions.
Hurd says that the program is also valuable to an attorney at her professional level. "Being able
to go to national conferences with a number of attorneys from different jurisdictions is a plus. You get some new information on an area of law that you are interested in, and then there is the added benefit of being able to see quality minority attorneys at work and being able to meet them face to face," says Hurd.
Hurd also points out that the speakers are experts on issues that most in-house law departments don't have the resources to handle. "Take e-commerce for instance," says Hurd. "Very few in-house people have already identified someone who can do this type of work for them, or are specialists in the areas of law that have surfaced as a result of Enron."
And, the attendees and speakers gain more than continuing education credits from the sessions. When talented and diverse lawyers are on stage discussing a complex area of law, it leads to business relationships. "The first expert you've heard speak on a particular subject is the one that you're likely to call," says Hurd.
The ample networking opportunities at the conference even prove to be worthwhile in a down-turned economy, and contribute to the conference's popularity in the gloomy fiscal climate.
"Generally we are not in a hiring mode and we are cutting down on the number of lawyers in-house. So we are more likely to need the assistance of outside counsel," explains Hurd.
Hurd's view was like music to the ears of law firm marketing officers like Theresa Jaffe of Jenner & Block. "At Jenner & Block, our commitment to diversity is woven into our ongoing commitment to the community and the bar and is articulated in our core values. We were proud to be the premier sponsor of the lst Annual CLE Expo in Atlanta last year and are continuing as the premier sponsor for the 2nd Annual CLE Expo in Chicago next spring. Our sponsorship of the Expo is completely aligned with the firm's values and culture."
According to Jaffe, "Jenner & Block has benefited tremendously thanks to our sponsorship of last year's conference. Our partners were able to strengthen existing relationships and cultivate new contacts and prospects within our core market-in-house counsel at the largest companies in the country. As a result of our participation in the conference, our partners have developed ongoing relationships with a number of in-house counsel in a variety of industries, including consumer products, manufacturing, media and financial services. We truly look forward to the 2003 conference."
Elisabeth Frater is an attorney and freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.
From the December 2002 issue of Diversity & The Bar®