Tag Archives: Diversity

Federal Judge Encourages Class Action Lawyers To Include Minorities and Women In Class Action Litigation

Generally, class action litigation is complicated and expensive.  The cases are often intense, intellectually challenging and financially rewarding.   The law firms and lawyers  that litigate class action cases are members of a relatively small club.  The number of minority and female lawyers who handle class action cases belong to an even smaller club.  At least one federal judge wants to change that.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Harold Baer of the Southern District of New York issued an Order in a securities class action case which required that:

  Co-Lead counsel, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP and Labaton Sucharow LLP, shall make every effort to assign to this matter at least one minority lawyer and one woman lawyer with requisite experience.  

Judge Baer’s order noted that the class included thousands of individuals who likely had diverse backgrounds and gender.   The order noted that it should be important to all concerned that the Judge consider diversity “in terms of race and gender” when appointing class counsel. 

Judge Baer’s order raises an important issue regarding the exercise of a unique duty a judge must exercise when appointing counsel for a large group of people with various backgrounds, genders and races.  In my view, diversity should be considered when appointing counsel of any type.  The method defining how that consideration is done should be  be fairly debated and reasonably applied. 

The appointment of class counsel is a judicial function on behalf of the  plaintiffs.  There is no similar appointment authority for class action defendants.  On the defense side, diverse attorneys must rely on the goodwill of the defendants and the defense bar to be included in class litigation defense.   Hopefully, the class action defense bar will also recognize the need for diversity and include more minorities and women in the defense of class action litigation.

I have been fortunate.  I have worked with, in my opinion, some of the best class action defense lawyers in the country and I have grown professionally as a result of the experience.  Likewise, I have been able to provide valuable service to the clients in each case.  Increased diversity on both sides of the class action equation is a win-win proposition.

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Defense Research Institute – Committed to Diversity

When I became a member of Defense Research Institute (DRI), I was unsure what to expect.  I had no idea whether I would be welcomed into the group or whether I would be treated like an outsider.  I knew DRI had minority members but I wasn’t aware of whom they were or whether they were pleased with their membership.  After joining DRI, several DRI committees and attending a number of DRI events, I am happy to report that I was enthusiastically welcomed into the organization and that I am very pleased with my membership. 

Since joining DRI, I have served on the faculty of at least two national events, most recently the Insurance Coverage and Claims Institute (ICCI).  I met Lee Craig, Insurance Committee Chairman,  at one of the DRI events I attended.  Lee is an active Chairman and supports DRI’s diversity efforts.  Lee invited me to be a presenter at  the 2010 (ICCI) program on the topic of Defending Bad Faith Claims.  Lane Finch was Programming Chair and did a good job.  I was impressed with the number of participants and the quality of the program.  As a result of speaking at this year’s Institute, I made several new contacts and I enjoyed meaningful fellowship with lawyers who practice in the same area that I do.

One of the slogans of DRI is “Committed to Diversity.”  You have to join DRI to take advantage of all of the benefits that come with membership.  Speaking opportunities, writing opportunities, referral opportunities and fellowship opportunities all await you at DRI.  I am enjoying my membership and I encourage more diverse defense attorneys to take advantage of the benefits of DRI by joining the organization.  Success is a destination.  For diverse defense attorneys, DRI is a great stop on the road to success.  I look forward to seeing you at a DRI event in the future.

Companies Make Thirty Million Dollar Pledge to Diverse Law Firms

This is a tough economy.    Diverse defense firms are experiencing severe financial stress as a result of this economy.  Amidst the backdrop of this financial crisis, several companies, including Dupont, Excelon, Microsoft, Accenture, American Airlines, Comcast, General Mills,  GlaxoSmithKline and Prudential have decided to “put their money where their mouth is” and they have pledged to spend at least thirty million dollars with minority law firms in 2010. 

According to published reports in Law.Com Corporate Counsel, the companies have dubbed their effort the “Inclusion Initiative” and they have agreed to work with the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) to identify best practices for corporations to maximize relationships with high quality minority and women owned law firms. 

According to Thomas Sager, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Dupont, this initiative will help to improve chances “that the economic downturn does not disproportionately affect minority and women owned law firms.”  Sager also pointed out that many minority law firms are smaller and more cost effective.  Sager views this initiative as a way for corporate law firms to cut costs at a time when many law departments are trying to trim budgets.

This initiative is a “win-win”  for business and for diverse law firms.  Hopefully, long term business relationships  will result from the initiative.

Minority Defense Lawyers: Look Beyond Diversity Programs For Business Development

Minority defense lawyers face significant challenges to maintaining existing business and generating new business. While some of these challenges are the same as our majority counterparts, many are not. One of the biggest challenges is the difficult task of meeting and developing relationships with prospective clients. Diversity programs and networking events provide opportunities for minority lawyers to meet in-house counsel who might otherwise be inaccessible to them. Most minority lawyers and minority law firms lack a historical or “legacy” relationship with large companies and their in-house counsel. The historical relationships between corporations and majority lawyers and law firms are a significant obstacle for minority lawyers. Networking opportunities are extremely important means of access for minority lawyers.

Networking programs provide access to minority lawyers. For minority lawyers in large firms, these programs serve to augment existing client relationships that they may have developed through their firms. For minority lawyers in small firms, these programs provide invaluable access that they might not otherwise be able to achieve. These programs should be preserved, expanded and objectively measured so that they can improve minority defense lawyers’ chances of achieving some degree of parity in the distribution of corporate defense work.

While the benefits of diversity programs cannot be denied, these programs are not panaceas for all of the business development challenges faced by minority defense lawyers. While working on a recent project, I learned that diversity programs are not immune to the effects of the current recession. The number of opportunities and the resources available to fund those opportunities are not as plentiful as they were during healthier economic times. It is more evident now than ever that diversity programs are not substitutes for independent business development efforts. In this environment, it is more important than ever for minority defense lawyers to increase their personal business development and marketing efforts.

There’s an old expression about being out of sight and being out of mind. The point of the expression is that people tend to forget about you if they don’t see you. This adage is particularly true in the legal profession. Successfully building a defense practice requires that you establish and maintain a strong presence within your community and in your practice area. Maintaining a strong presence in your community improves the chances that your name will be mentioned when someone seeks information regarding defense counsel in your area. Maintaining a strong presence in legal circles involving your area of practice greatly increases your chances of being considered for defense work within that area of practice. A combination of a strong community presence and a strong reputation in your practice area will help you develop your individual “brand” and your “brand” will make you a visible and viable candidate for defense work.

Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you have a strong presence in your community. Next, ask yourself if you are known as a defense lawyer in one or more particular practice areas. If the answer to either of these questions is less than an enthusiastic “yes,” you should improve your marketing efforts immediately. Don’t wait for business to come to you by merely attending one or more diversity programs. Be proactive, be visible, develop and market your “brand.”

Flexible Work Schedule Initiative Designed To Improve Opportunities for Female Attorneys

Attorney Carla Fox and her daughter Ashley Fox

Attorney Carla Fox and her daughter Ashley Fox

Many female attorneys have difficulty juggling time between their work schedule and taking care of their family at home.  Some have had to choose between their practice and taking time off to raise young children.  Others have chosen a compromise by practicing law part time and spending more time at home with their families.  Part-time employment is often difficult to find.  The lack of sufficient part-time opportunities is especially disappointing in the current economic climate.

Carla Fox is  a Nashville attorney and mother of three.  She is a graduate of Mississippi State University and the University of Tennessee Law School.  Her resume reveals an impressive background, including law review membership and past work at a top notch law firm.  However, after the birth of her children, she decided that the demands of a full time law practice prevented her from spending as much time as she needed to spend with her children.  Attorney Fox chose to leave the big firm practice, home school her children during the critical early years and seek part time work.  Her choice paid off.  Her oldest daughter, Ashley, recently graduated from high school with high honors and is pursuing her own higher education.  Ashley’s siblings are working hard on the same path.  Attorney Fox was able to maintain a balance between her law practice and her family life by successfully maintaining a part time corporate law practice advising clients on business and transactional matters.  Attorney Fox is fortunate.  Statistics show that few mothers have had the opportunity to work part time on corporate matters.  According to a recent article in the National Law Journal that was recently posted on Law.Com, the Project for Attorney Retention is trying to change that.

The Project for Attorney Retention (PAR) has started an initiative called the Diversity and Flexibility Connection.  The goal of the initiative is to encourage legal departments and law firms to support flexible work schedules and provide more opportunities for female attorneys and others who need flexible work schedules.  The initiative seeks more than just window dressing.  The initiative seeks not only to improve opportunities but to also insure that these employees are given meaningful work and important roles in their firms.  Corporate participants in the initiative include Wal-Mart, Shell Oil, Macy’s and others.   Law firm participants in the initiative include Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, Morrison & Foerster, Sidley Austin and others. 

The Diversity and Flexibility Connection is a worthwhile initiative.  Hopefully, it will jump start similar efforts by other corporations and law firms.  One shouldn’t have to choose between a fulfilling professional life or a fulfilling family life.

Corporate Counsel Women of Color: Working Today For A Better Tomorrow

Laurie Nicole Robinson, Esq.

I recently learned about the Corporate Counsel Women of Color  (CCWC) .   It is the brainchild of Laurie Nicole Robinson.   Ms. Robinson is a distinguished graduate of North Carolina Central University and the Indiana University School of Law at Bloomington.  She is an author, public speaker and accomplished attorney.  She currently serves as Vice President and Assistant General Counsel of CBS Corporation.   As a female attorney of color, Ms. Robinson understands the challenges they face in the legal profession.  Ms. Robinson founded CCWC to promote diversity in the legal profession by helping women of color successfully handle obstacles to inclusion. 

CCWC  provides career strategy guidance to members and prospective members.  Law student scholarships and continuing legal education programs are also offered by CCWC.  Membership provides women of color with an invaluable opportunity to network and develop long term business relationships.  Members may publish diversity articles and take advantage of speaking opportunities.  Member achievements are acknowledged and highlighted on the CCWC website.  Finally, the CCWC website posts job listings for employment opportunities. 

The  non-profit corporation has grown from a vision in the mind of Laurie Nicole Robinson to an international organization with over 2400 members.  The membership consists of female attorneys of color who primarily work for Fortune 1000 and Forbes 2000 corporate legal departments.  Members include attorneys from the United States, Canada, Asia, Africa and Europe.  The roster of companies represented in CCWC’s membership ranks is very impressive.

This organization is a jewel.  It’s goals are impressive.  It’s founder is impressive.  It’s membership is impressive.  CCWC is proof of what can be accomplished when determined individuals work together for a common goal.  Each member of the organization is an individual who has demonstrated that they have the ability to succeed on a difficult playing field.  I plan to promote CCWC   because it’s continued success will insure that diversity remains a core value in Corporate America.   As an attorney and the proud father of a female attorney, I support CCWC.    I urge you to pass the word about this group.   The group has 2010 meetings scheduled for Dubai, Singapore and New York City.

Kudos to Laurie Nicole Robinson and the Corporate Counsel Women of Color.