According to the American Bar Association, the legal field is the least diverse profession in the United States. That sad reality — and the proven fact that diversity improves the product for a client, enriches the work environment, and enhances the overall image and morale of our country — should prompt all segments of the legal profession to implement a program to reverse the current situation. That is why I am happy to be associated with the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD). The LCLD is an organization of the most powerful corporate, chief legal officers and law firm managing partners in the country who are dedicated to creating a truly diverse legal profession.
Recently, I had the opportunity to represent The Williams Cos. at the annual LCLD conference and was able to speak with corporate legal diversity pioneer Rick Palomar, General Counsel for Sara Lee Foods, Inc., who drafted the 2004 Call to Action paper that laid the groundwork for the establishment of LCLD. I was thoroughly impressed with the LCLD and its leadership.
First, unlike many “diversity” conferences and events I have attended, I found the LCLD conference to be not only inspirational and educational, but also serious. More importantly, I was encouraged by attending LCLD’s conference because the “decision makers” and “captains of industry” of the legal profession were in attendance. Lastly, it was clear to me that LCLD members consider the LCLD worthy of their time and their organizations’ money, as many of the members stayed for the entire conference despite their tremendously busy schedules.
Below is a brief overview of the LCLD conference’s major points and recommendations for how to move legal diversity forward:
- Progress has been made, but much more needs to be done to increase diversity;
- The number of African-American and Latino law students and attorneys is trending downward;
- While championing diversity is “the right thing to do,” more importantly it is the “must thing to do” to effectively compete in the 21st century global business world;
- Without clearly articulated, understood, and measurable goals and objectives, there will not be any transformative success in diversifying the legal profession;
- Tangible resources and opportunities must be purposefully allocated towards diversity by law firms and corporate legal departments;
- There must be an acknowledgement and celebration of diversity successes within an organization;
- True change and improvements will only come through sustained and consistent efforts by leaders within the legal profession;
- Partnerships and collaborations between law firms, law schools and corporate law departments are essential to solve the lack of diversity problem;
- Increasing the numbers of diverse individuals in the legal pipeline is the most crucial element needed to solve the diversity problem long-term;
- Corporate legal departments should be willing to utilize the “power of the purse” to ensure that law firms are committing themselves to diversity.
In closing, with the rapid diversification of our Nation, it is of the utmost importance that there is adequate diversity and representation within the legal profession because: a) it is lawyers and the law that serve on the frontlines of justice and equality in this Nation, and without sufficient diverse legal practitioners the opportunities for justice, equality and opportunity for all citizens diminishes, and b) it has been proven that diversity improves the final product for clients, enriches the work environment, and enhances the overall image of a firm and/or legal department. So, while the current state of affairs is disappointing, it is encouraging to know that LCLD and its members have taken a leadership position in this most important and worthy cause. Because of these efforts, I fully expect to see tangible progress in the next few years.
Damario Solomon-Simmons is one of the most powerful champions of culture change in the nation. He has acquired significant experience in his diverse legal, consulting, and academic careers, and his award winning legal and advocacy work has made him a coveted speaker, consultant, and legal counsel on matters of diversity, community and economic development, sports, and civil rights, for organization across the country including Notre Dame Law School, WPX Energy, Inc., and United States Department of Agriculture