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November 05, 2016 Articles

A Call to Arms to Minority Attorneys: If Diversity Dies, We Are to Blame

Experienced first-chair trial attorney offers sage advice for ensuring the success of the diversity and inclusion movement.

By R. David Ware

For years now, we have been engaged in the steady slog of trying to convince corporations and other entities of the need to engage minority counsel and convince firms to hire minority lawyers. While those herculean efforts have met with some success, we are still very far behind. I’m frankly worried about it. My fear is not that the commitment is not there from those giving out the work or hiring lawyers—we know that. My fear is that minority lawyers are becoming weary in pursuing the business and insisting on diversity in hiring. Everybody I talk to is “tired” and disappointed. We need to refocus. My appeal is that we get back in the “gym” and become relentless about the pursuit of the work we all rightly deserve. We cannot afford to grow weary; the stakes are too high. This admonition reminds me of a Bible verse: “For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” (Hebrews 12:3). Think hard about the phrase in italics, “lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” Has that happened to us? Are we so discouraged about the lack of progress that we spend more time lamenting than implementing and, in the process, are allowing the commitment to diversity in the selection of counsel to die a slow, agonizing death? Are we so angry by the seeming lack of sensitivity to the need for diversity in counsel that we have opted out of trying? I encourage you to shake off past disappointments and jump back in there.

Twenty-first-century marketing is obviously different from the way marketing used to be done. Minority counsel must come up with new, innovative ways to showcase their talents. It is not a bad idea to pool resources in order to hire a marketing firm, social media consultants, issue experts, and the like. The Lone Ranger approach has not worked and will not work. We need to sometimes pitch a team that includes not only lawyers in our firms but lawyers in other firms as bench strength. We have to do a much better job courting and following up with general counsels about the need for diversity and why it is good business. I know we’ve tried. Let’s try again. We must strive to become as politically savvy as possible to ensure that we are strategically positioned in areas of interest so that our names are on the forefront of consideration when it comes to selecting attorneys. It’s time for us to get back on our game.

What do we need to do, given that we cannot afford to get tired? Consider:

  • Everybody’s success is your success. Every time you hear about a minority attorney or firm getting work, talk it up. Congratulate them, even if they got work you wanted. Offer to help.
  • Lose the urge to remain silent when you encounter resistance to diversity. Tell the shareholders about it; tell the board about it; tell their customers about it. Tell everybody about it. It’s not acceptable.
  • Be sharp, all the time. You know the rules: You have to perfect. Yes, it’s unfair. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Yes, it’s discouraging. But it is reality. The rules didn’t change because the president changed, and the rules may never change. So you decide, right now, to be at your best every single day. No time to cry. No time to cast blame. Just be the best. You always have been anyway. No need to stop now. Being the best is in your DNA. So recall what you know about those who’ve gone before and blaze your own trail of perfection. You wouldn’t be doing this if you weren’t the best. So be you. All the time.
  • Aim high. While the popular term “low-hanging fruit” may be a cool marketing strategy, it’s much better to try to get the whole tree. When you only go after small matters to get your foot in the door, you give the impression that that is all you want and that you cannot handle more complex matters. That is not to say you should ignore or turn down matters that allow you to become better known to a new client. But don’t stop there. Go for it all. I don’t think Ricky Bobby’s philosopher father was right when he said, “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” But I do agree that if you don’t want to be first, you will likely end up last. There is no reason for you to limit yourself when it comes to work you seek. You’re good at this, so go for the gold.
  •  Maintain a good set of advisors who do what you want to do. Most successful people love to share strategies and insights. Align yourself with them. Yes, they’re busy. Yes, they have a lot on their plates. But if they are truly successful in the holistic sense, they will want to share their “secrets” and open doors for others. Somebody held the ladder while they climbed it. Reciprocity is required.
  • Mentor every law student you can. Get them ready for the interviews. Help them with their resumes. Help them with their presentation skills. Help them learn the job search ropes. Advise them of every opportunity for a job. Help laterals. Make sure you know who is available and tell everybody you know about them. When they are hired, don’t let them fail. Just don’t.

Finally, remember, we are in this together. We can make this happen. We owe it to ourselves and our progeny. The Jungle Book is a popular film. The author of the original Jungle Book poem, Rudyard Kipling, poignantly captures the point of my reminder to us:

As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk 
the Law runneth forward and back—
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf,
and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

Remember, we cannot afford to become weary and faint in our minds. Diversity will not die. We will not let it.

Keywords: litigation, diversity, inclusion, advice for lawyers, corporate counsel, unity, R. David Ware

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