January 22, 2021 Column

FROM THE CHAIR: Forum’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with the Law Student’s Perspective

By Lynn Carrillo, with a guest column by Katie Mellinger

Dear Forum Members,

This year, the Forum on Communications Law has dedicated all its efforts to supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Keeping with these efforts, I have decided to turn my column over to give a voice to those that we normally would not have the opportunity to hear from—voices that may not have the platform to discuss their experiences or their view of our profession.

In this issue, we hear from Katie Mellinger, a diverse law student, a member of the group for whom we are trying to create opportunities. In the Annual Conference communication, we will hear from Sara Bell, a young lawyer, a member of the group that will form our future.

Every initiative we have undertaken this year arose from one of our Governing Committee members. I know that the efforts of the Forum are only part of the solution. But with the continued encouragement from our members and support of our sponsors, our initiatives will open doors, inform, and lift up law students and young lawyers that will benefit the media bar for years to come.

Join me in spreading and shining our light, not only for our own futures, but for those that are coming behind us.

Thank you for the honor of serving as the Forum Chair.

—Lynn D. Carrillo, Vice President, NBCUniversal Media, LLC

 

Forum’s Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion from a Law Student’s Perspective

By Katie Mellinger

It’s no question this past year has forced each of us to re-examine and readjust almost every aspect of our lives. Today, the experiences we might have once considered minutiae matter more than ever before, as many hunker down at home or head to the streets in protest for their lives. This past year, chock-full of challenges, has also been chock-full of resilience, reflection, and growth for individuals and institutions alike.

Diversity and inclusion have emerged at the forefront of the seemingly ever-changing landscape of our lives, beckoning us to question ourselves both as people and as legal professionals.

Law students and lawyers undoubtedly have a joint role in promoting equity in our field and broader society. The Forum on Communications Law has not shied away from its role to support diverse students and young lawyers aspiring to practice communications law, and it continues to take encouraging steps to promote equity and opportunity for underrepresented communities with its reinvigorated commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The Forum was my first law school involvement that has served as an abundant source of support, mentorship, and opportunity.

Having grown up in Miami, Florida, I was privileged never once to question whether Latin women like me could become successful professionals because so many of the teachers, doctors, and lawyers I knew were Latina.

When I moved to North Carolina for law school at a predominantly white institution, however, I realized my outlook of the professional world was not remotely representative of either the legal industry’s1 or my law school class’s demographic compositions. Moreover, it seemed the industry, and the communications sector in particular, were skewed toward students attending select elite law schools or those schools with extensive communications curricula, both categories of which I didn’t attend. The cumulative odds felt stacked against me until I became involved in the Forum.

With a single semester of law school under my belt, I ventured into the Eden Roc for the ABA Forum on Communications Law 2019 Annual Conference. I hoped what I lacked in experience would be compensated for with my passion for communications. Nevertheless, as a first-time conference attendee, I was, naturally, petrified to drift through a sea of world-class communications lawyers. However, my anxiety was assuaged by the outpouring of kindness I encountered—from Frank LoMonte’s and Chuck Tobin’s (Go Gators!) beaming smiles of welcome to Lynn Carrillo’s dedication of her time to brainstorm my path in communications law.

The mentorship and inclusion didn’t rest only with the attorneys; the students also shared a role in shepherding me into the Forum. One student, in particular, Jasmine Bell, a third-year student and the Forum’s student liaison at the time, took me under her wing, introducing me to the Women in Communications Law (WICL) Committee and encouraging me to apply for her liaison position, in which I’ve now served for almost two years. The rest of the student cohort also created a sense of community by jointly attending the diversity moot court competition, pairing up for plenaries, and even exploring Miami Beach. Although many of us students live in different parts of the country, the Forum that brought us together has held us together as we look forward to reuniting for every annual conference to come—virtual conferences included.

The 2019 Annual Conference was my first real foray into communications law that spurred what I hope will be a lifelong career. With each panel or plenary, I broadened my knowledge of communications issues I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to study in an academic setting. I also made new Forum friends, and I bolstered my resolve to pursue communications law.

The conference even helped me discover my passion for communications regulatory work, which I have pursued at the Federal Communications Commission through the support of both the Forum and the Federal Communications Bar Association.

Without either organization, my interest in communications law might not have ever manifested itself in a desire to promote equitable broadband deployment in rural and remote communities.

Having the Forum’s support, mentorship, and opportunity offerings so early on in my career has been transformative, a sentiment that I’m sure is shared by many other student and young lawyer Forum members.

However, as conference attendance and my work with the governing committee have revealed, the Forum could and should be engaging with more diverse law students and young attorneys so they too may benefit from and contribute to the vibrant and dynamic industry we serve.

Our Forum’s 2021 commitment to diversity and inclusion is vital, not just for diverse law student or attorney members seeking to break into communications law but also for current members and the communications industry as a whole.

As law students and lawyers, we are called to a profession founded on the principles of equity and service. Although we all share the same calling, we are each fashioned with unique talents, backgrounds, and experiences. Unfortunately, not all of us are born into the same privilege. Therefore, diversity and inclusion must come from those privileged with the platforms to make a difference. To echo the words of former Forum Chair Dave Giles, “diversity is a key component of success . . . [and] it’s the right thing to do,” for attorneys and students alike.2

This past year has given me quite a bit of time to reflect. As a Latina, I reflected on how my ethnicity and gender have molded my identity and shaped my experiences, and I ruminated on the way I view and support others who don’t share my background.

As a third-year law student, I questioned where I fit into the mix as I readied myself to enter a predominantly white and male-dominated profession.

The questions I asked myself were reminiscent of questions I had asked before. This time around, as I inch closer toward actualizing my dream of becoming a communications lawyer, my answers overflowed with more gratitude for the experiences, organizations, and people who have gotten me to this point. They also evoked more hope that the Forum’s initiatives might help unstack the odds for students or young lawyers like me who might not be able to pursue communications law otherwise.

Endnotes

1. According to the ABA’s 2020 National Lawyer Population Survey, only 5 percent of surveyed attorneys identified as Hispanic. ABA National Lawyer Population Survey, Am. Bar Ass’n, https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/market_research/national-lawyer-population-demographics-2010-2020.pdf (last visited Dec. 10, 2020).

2. Dave Giles, “Legal Profession Must Evolve in Step with the World Around Us,” 35 Commc’ns Law., no. 2, Winter 2020, https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/communications_lawyer/winter2020/cl_35_2.pdf.

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By Katie Mellinger

Katie Mellinger is a third-year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law, concentrating in communications and technology law and policy. She studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Katie serves as the Law Student Division liaison for the ABA Forum on Communications Law.