By Rachel DuFault and Phenise Poole
Rachel DuFault is the ABA YLD Associate Editor of
The Young Lawyer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. J. Phenise Poole is the ABA YLD Diversity Director and can be contacted at email@example.com
To help continue the dialogue about diversity, The Young Lawyer asked this year’s MIPC scholars for their insight about diversity. This year’s MIPC scholars include Manish Borde, Melissa Ho, Maurice Ruffin, Jason Sengheiser, and Antwaun L. Smith.
Manish Borde is an attorney with Williams Kastner, where his practice encompasses commercial litigation, products liability, and mass torts.
Melissa Ho is the first in her family to have received an American education. Her family originally encouraged her to seek a career in medicine. Her father explained that as a physician people seek you out for help and will not be as concerned with issues of gender or ethnicity. He was afraid that as a female and an Asian American she would never be able to compete or solicit clients because she was not “what the public expected.” She currently practices in the area of criminal defense.
Maurice Ruffin is an associate at Adams and Reese, LLP, where he is a member of the firm’s Commercial Dispute Resolution. He is chair of the Young Lawyer’s Section of the New Orleans Bar Association and gives presentations on diversity, pro bono service, and work/life balance. He received the 2007–08 President’s Award from the Louisiana State Bar Association.
Jason Sengheiser clerks for the Honorable Robert G. Dowd, Jr. of the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District. At age 17, Jason was paralyzed from the chest down after he broke his neck in a fall. He is active in Amnesty International, the Missouri Bar’s YLS Council, and YLD, where he serves as chair of the Individual Rights and Responsibilities Committee.
Antwaun L. Smith is an attorney with Shook, Hardy, & Bacon LLP, where his practice encompasses insurance litigation and complex commercial litigation. He is a continuing fellow with transatlantic leadership societies.
TYL: How do you define “diversity” in the legal community (in particular for young lawyers)?
Smith: A diverse legal community is one in which all members of society, regardless of labels, are provided educational and professional opportunities and the chance to succeed. Diversity embraces not only race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, but ideology, class, religion, and geography as well.
TYL: What are the benefits of diversity in the legal community (either in or outside of the workplace)? Can you provide an example?
Sengheiser: I think the legal community should reflect the society it inhabits. It should strive to have diversity with respect to all of the common classifications, such as race, color, and religion, and any other classification that is legally protected from discrimination. I think cultivating that kind of diversity can help minimize violations based on such classifications. When confronting a multifaceted problem, it can be helpful to have lawyers with different areas of expertise. For example, to tackle a human rights violation, it is important to have lawyers who understand the violation and the affected group and lawyers who know what remedies are available and how to seek those remedies.
Borde: Diversity in the legal community is important in many respects. A community’s interests cannot be adequately represented if those representing the community do not accurately reflect the members of the community. Moreover, having a diverse legal workforce allows attorneys to build their knowledge and understanding of different groups so as to not rely on stereotypes that exist due to lack of information.
TYL: Do you have some tips and/or suggestions for how young lawyers can be involved in promoting diversity in the legal community?
Ruffin: Give of yourself to everyone you meet—especially give your time and patience. Lay people want to know more about the law and if we don’t tell them, where will they learn from? The Internet? Reality television? The next time you give your time to explain the legal profession to a child you may be talking to the next Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Ho: I believe that you must also include in the definition of diversity the ability to embrace new ideas and concepts that may go against the grain. Young lawyers in particular can and should be involved in promoting diversity in the legal community and others. They can do so best by showing up, expressing their ideas, and allowing their confidence to shine through.