Diversity: The Next Generation Recap 2008 Spring Conference
By Timothy R. White
Timothy R. White is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and practices in Austin, Texas.
On April 19, over 175 young lawyers from across the country came together in Washington, D.C., to discuss how, as bar leaders and as individuals, we are going to ensure that the profession reflects the society it serves and fosters an inclusive environment. During the five-hour Summit, entitled “Diversity: The Next Generation,” young lawyers shared experiences and knowledge and generated real solutions.
Some of you reading this article may ask the question, “Why did we need a Diversity Summit?” The answer to this question could yield many different responses from many different people, because the term “diversity” continues to expand to include women, people of color, those with disabilities, individuals of differing sexual orientations, and individuals of various gender identities.
Diversity celebrates our differences and allows us to be educated regarding the life experiences of others. In a world of over 6 billion people, we live in a society that is truly a “melting pot” of different races, colors, creeds, cultures, lifestyles, and experiences. The ABA YLD needed to have a forum on diversity because we are comprised of lawyers from this “melting pot.”
The idea for the Summit came from ABA YLD Chair Justin Goldstein, and its goal was to focus on the importance of diversity within the legal profession, in addition to providing tools on how the ABA YLD can help create a more inclusive environment in the personal and professional lives of its members. The Summit experience allowed participants to join with young lawyers and other ABA diversity entities to engage in critical discussions regarding diversity issues.
Marianna Dyson, shareholder of Miller & Chevalier, a primary Diversity Summit sponsor, delivered the opening remarks. Maureen A. McGinnity, former President of the Milwaukee Young Lawyers Association and current Chief Diversity Partner at Foley & Lardner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, then kicked off the Summit with a keynote address about the importance of celebrating and respecting our differences. She stressed that the issue is not how we as a profession can bring a diverse group together, but that instead the real issue is what we do when we have this diverse group together. What are we doing to help make attorneys from all backgrounds feel welcome? Are all attorneys being given challenging cases and working for the top partners? How are diverse attorneys advancing through the ranks?
Following the opening remarks and keynote address, Summit attendees broke out into eight-to-ten person groups to discuss twenty real-life scenarios that were submitted online by ABA YLD colleagues. The real-life scenarios covered stories regarding ethnic background, gender, disability, and sexual orientation. A few samples include being mistaken as an interpreter or parole officer because of ethnic background, how a disability was inappropriately handled in an interview, and how to feel comfortable asking benefit questions as a GLBT lawyer.
After the real-life scenario discussions, the small group discussions continued. Participants discussed the following topics and developed a series of Action Sheets for each topic:
  • What can law firms and legal departments do to create an environment of inclusiveness within their firms and the profession?
  • How can we encourage individuals from underrepresented groups to become lawyers and succeed in the profession?
  • How can young lawyer bar organizations create an inclusive environment in their organizations and the profession?
  • How can ABA entities create an inclusive environment and promote diversity within their leaderships?
According to Goldstein, the Summit exceeded his expectations. “Personally,” Goldstein said, “the Diversity Summit experience allowed the most frank professional discussion I’ve had regarding race and other differences between people. I am excited to hear the results of the Summit and the beginning of young lawyers shaping the discussion about this important issue in our profession.” While the Summit provided a starting point for discussions, there is still much more to be done regarding diversity, from increasing the number of diverse lawyers entering and remaining in the profession to creating an inclusive environment.
I believe that everyone who attended the Summit left with a new awareness and positive outlook on how we can continue to work together to celebrate our differences. I appreciate the opportunity to be involved in the Diversity Summit and encourage you to stay tuned to the ABA YLD website at www.abanet.org/yld for Summit updates and future diversity initiatives planned by the Division.
Diversity Dialogue Continues
The ABA YLD’s Diversity Summit sparked conversations that we hope will allow people to become more comfortable dealing with diversity in the workplace and will provide them with solutions for related issues. Our dialogue on diversity did not end at the Summit. As an outcome of the event, watch for the following next steps:
  • addition of resources to the Summit’s online toolbox,
  • review of Action Sheets with the expectation that we will take action,
  • development of a summary paper that captures the issues, ideas, and solutions voiced by Summit attendees, and
  • creation of a vignette-driven training manual that explores solutions discussed at the Summit.
Visit the ABA YLD website for updates as they become available at www.abanet.org/yld/summits/diversitysummit.shtml .