Goal IX Newsletter

Summer 2001, Volume 7, Number 3

Lawyers Transistion to Diversity Consulting by: Charlene L. Usher

Many lawyers of color have accomplished their goals of graduating from a top-notch law school, passing the bar examination, and obtaining gainful employment in some of the largest and most well-known law firms and corporations across the country. Many of these same lawyers, however, found themselves filling the unexpected role of the first, the only, or one of very few lawyers of color in their workplace. From such experiences, a growing number of minority lawyers have inadvertently become "diversity experts." They have gained first-hand experience of the legal profession's need for minority outreach, recruitment, and retention. In order to retain lawyers of color, legal employers need to initiate changes in the environment in which these lawyers work and practice law. Recognizing this glaring need, many minority lawyers have diverged from the standard law career tract and become diversity consultants.

Charlene L. Usher

One such lawyer-turned-diversity-consultant is Verna Myers of Boston. She provides diversity consulting to large and mid-size law firms, government agencies, law schools, and some not-forprofits. Myers, an African American female raised in Baltimore and educated at Harvard, began her legal career at a large majority firm in Boston. She next worked at a minority firm before becoming executive director of Boston Law Group, a consortium of Boston law firms committed to increasing diversity in the legal profession.

Myers now owns and operates Verna Myers & Associates, which provides cultural audits and assessments of environments to further recognition and appreciation of diversity. The firm also conducts training in diversity awareness and leadership.

Law firms and law schools that call on Myers to assist them must first implement a long-term plan for changing the current environment. Myers emphasizes that training alone is not effective without a commitment from high-level partners within firms to continually review and analyze the policies and procedures that promote their diversity goals. She emphasizes a coordinated, comprehensive approach that addresses recruitment of entry-level lawyers, as well as of lateral lawyers considered for eventual partnership. Myers also advises her clients that their nonminority lawyers should become involved in the minority community through pro bono work and participation in minority bar associations.

 Involvement in minority bar activities led another Harvard Law School graduate to make the transition from practitioner to diversity consultant. Francey Youngberg became involved in the Asian American Bar Association in Washington, D.C., at a time when heightened tensions strained the city after the fatal shootings of several Asian American merchants. Youngberg was enlisted to assist victims and their families with public services and access to justice. This experience highlighted for her the dearth of understanding and information about Asian Pacific Americans among public policymakers in the D.C. government.

Youngberg received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to provide training on diversity issues. She now serves as president of Youngberg & Associates, a diversity consulting firm that provides diversity management strategies to public agencies. Her clients include the D.C. Department of Public Works, the D.C. Department of Health, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. She also has provided multicultural training to the D.C. metropolitan police department.

"Ignorance is the enemy of tolerance. Tolerance paves the way for acceptance," Youngberg notes. Hollywood's portrayal of Asians perpetuates a lot of stereotypes, she says. As a diversity consultant, Youngberg seeks to provide opportunities for those stereotypes to be examined, through education about the culture and history of Asians in America. She believes this will lead to more compassion, understanding, and acceptance.

Thus far, Youngberg & Associates has trained more than 600 people, and the number continues to grow. She has also started working with businesses from Asia that are seeking U.S. business opportunities to help them navigate the cultural differences in doing business in this country. "Cross-cultural understanding is also crucial to their potential success," Youngberg says.

Prior to starting her consulting firm, Youngberg practiced tax law for large firms in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Her legal employment experience has directly benefited her consulting practice. "Legal training helps me analyze problems, makes me a better community advocate, and gives me credibility with large law firms seeking to recruit or retain minority associates," Youngberg notes. "I have worked for large law firms, the federal government, and the nonprofit sector so I have some familiarity with the different cultures in these different institutions."

Myers has also experienced the advantages of having been in legal practice before transitioning to diversity consultant. "My clients really appreciate that I am a lawyer and that I have worked in and with firms," Myers says. "Some of my clients have had consultants and then elected to hire me after the engagement is over because they said the consultant was too corporate-oriented and didn't understand their business."

Diversity consultant Susani Dixon had more than a decade of law firm experience before becoming a consultant. She remembers seventeen years ago when, as a new litigation associate, she was the only lawyer of color at Holland & Hart, LLP, in Denver. She practiced law for nine years with the firm, during which time she chaired its recruiting committee. She then became director of attorney recruitment and professional development for the firm. Today, she works directly to improve diversity at the firm as director of diversity for its Workplace Diversity Coaching division.

Holland & Hart developed its diversity division after it recognized the need for firmwide education on diversity issues and for a "go-to" person to implement such a program. Since establishing the division, the firm has seen an increase in recruitment and retention of persons with diverse backgrounds. Today the firm has fifteen lawyers of color, including two partners, three of counsel, and ten associates.

Workplace Diversity Coaching provides services to clients both within and outside the firm, including coaching diversity committees and providing diversity assessments and training for other organizations. Thus far, the division's diversity clients include other law firms and some of Holland & Hart's clients.

Dixon notes that in Colorado, firms seeking to employ and retain lawyers of color must face problems created by the fact that few have native connections to Colorado. The lawyers usually have relocated from other locales and feel disconnected both outside and inside the firm. To help offset this, lawyers are encouraged to participate actively in specialty bars.

Minority lawyers can also form connections through activities sponsored by the Denver Law Firm Group. Holland & Hart was one of the initiating law firms of the group, which comprises more than twenty law firms that pledge to promote and advocate for diversity within their ranks. The group sponsors summer clerk events and networking receptions for lawyers of color.

Dixon's path to her current position as a diversity consultant allowed her to remain with the firm in which she already had more than seventeen years invested. Peggy Nagae, on the other hand, traveled several career paths to get to her present position as owner of Total Diversity Management Consultants in Eugene, Oregon.Nagae worked in the private and public sectors for fifteen years. She was a partner in her own law firm, as well as an assistant law professor and assistant dean.

Nagae became involved in diversity consulting as a result of pursuing her true interests. Since her undergraduate days, Nagae has done volunteer work on race and gender issues to contribute to the betterment of society. Now she provides diversity consulting services to Fortune 100 companies, governmental agencies, and not-for-profit organizations.

Nagae's work takes her across the United States. She has noted an increased interest in diversity by corporations and large law firms during the past ten years. She attributes this awareness to changing demographics among law school graduates and programs for summer associates; to the work of the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession in promoting the message; and to corporate clients who initiated demands for diverse legal practitioners for their work.

For the process of diversity to succeed in the legal profession, follow-up on initiatives and plans is important, Nagae states. She also believes there must be buy-in from top leadership to effect change throughout the organization. "No one likes change except wet babies," she lightheartedly notes. Total Diversity Management Consultants takes pride in bringing humanity and humor to the process.

The above profiles are just a few examples of lawyers who recognized the need for change in the legal profession and the country overall. Some have focused strictly on the legal community. Others have expanded their services to reach out to corporations and public agencies. Interestingly, they all are women. Although four people certainly do not statistically represent an entire niche of the profession, gender may play a secondary role in the decision to become a consultant.

"There are many more women in the field. The work may seem too touchy, feely for some men," observes Myers. "The income and the risk may not be as attractive to men who often carry the burden of producing more money in the family."

Dixon concurs with the likelihood that some men may not consider consulting because of family financial obligations. She offers another possibility for the gender difference. "I suspect that women attorneys feel more at liberty to transition from practicing to diversity consulting than do male attorneys. In general, I think that it is more difficult for males to leave the law than for women. There is that sense of obligation to succeed in the profession."

For women, the family obligations may help to support a move to consulting. "My subcontractors are mostly women lawyers and other professionals who work from their homes," says Youngberg. " Some are my translators, editors, and researchers. Most of them are home because they have taken off to raise a family."

As the nation's population changes and more minorities experience economic prosperity, there are now, more than ever, greater numbers of minority clients who can afford and use the services of mid-size and large law firms. This changing environment leads to greater "rainmaking" opportunities for lawyers of color.

Wise law firms, corporations, and agencies that are planning ahead are investing in diversity because they see it as an integral part of the future. They are examining ways to recruit and retain minority lawyers to align with their newly diverse client bases and to add to everyone's bottom line.

Charlene L. Usher is principal attorney at the Law Offices of Charlene L. Usher, 1142 S. Diamond Bar Blvd., #375, Diamond Bar, CA 91765; Ph: 800.395.2166, Fax: 909.468.9539, E-mail: cluesq@aol.com.

Considering Becoming a Diversity Consultant?

Here Are a Few Tips from the Experts
• Know yourself—be aware of the tradeoffs. Make certain you have a passion, a “love” for this type of work and profession.
• Determine if you’re willing to be a risk taker.
• Be aware of and work on your own biases and assumptions—we all have them.
• Develop a community of people and mentors that you can learn from and who will support you. You need support in this work because it is exhausting and it can make you sad at times.
• Learn to collaborate with others.
• Ask other consultants about their experiences so that they can help you avoid pitfalls.
• Get a mentor who will work with you to develop your consulting practice.
• Take courses on consulting, curriculum development, and facilitation.
• Serve your clients with the utmost integrity.
• Know how to market yourself.
• Have a vision and strategy to improve your clients’ business.
• Create a business plan. Use software or books to outline your plan because the process will help identify your strengths and weaknesses.
• Use your own personal experiences in your consulting work.
• Volunteer on bar committees; give presentations free of charge; and be actively involved in the legal profession.
• Decide if you are more comfortable with adequate resources, a steady paycheck, and predictable hours—if so, then being an independent consultant is not for you.

Compiled from suggestions offered by Verna Myers, Peggy Nagae, and Francey Youngberg.

For More Information on Diversity Consulting Contact . . .

Susani N.H. Dixon
Holland & Hart, LLP
555 Seventeenth St., Ste. 3200
Denver, CO 80202
Ph: 303.295.8334
Fax: 303.295.6261

Peggy A. Nagae
Total Diversity Management Consultants
86541 Lorane Highway
Eugene, OR 97045
Ph: 541.334.6884
Fax: 541.334.5030
Verna Myers
Verna Myers & Associates
73 Chestnut St.
Newton, MA 02465
Ph: 617.559.9800
Fax: 617.558.5578
Francey Youngberg
Youngberg & Associates
7505 Elba Rd.
Alexandria, VA 22306-2504
Ph: 703.660.9166
Fax: 703.660.9643
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