By: Joel Stern, NAMWOLF
Hello everyone and Happy New Year! Here’s wishing all of you a healthy and happy 2016 both professionally and personally. I hope we see many of you at our New Orleans Business Meeting, February 21 -23. We have a great agenda lined up with several sessions aligned by practice areas, two great keynote speakers, plenty of networking opportunities and a little bit of time to have fun with a great group of folks passionate about diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.
I’m sure many of you made your New Year’s resolutions in January. This year, rather than making my usual (and often unsuccessful) promises to myself to lose weight, eat healthier, watch less television, and win more of my tennis matches, I focused my 2016 resolutions on something that has always been very important to me – our youth. As many of you know, legacy is very important to me. The older I get, the more I want to give back. Whether it’s my three daughters, people who worked for or with me, or people I just come across day to day, I am focused on leaving a little bit of me (hopefully positive) with the folks I interact with. I’m guessing many baby boomers can relate to this. It’s why pipeline diversity has always been so important to me.
The importance of legacy and pipeline diversity can’t be emphasized enough. While we all have to continue to focus on diversity and inclusion from many vantage points including “big firm” diversity, supplier diversity (hint: NAMWOLF), and internal-focused diversity, the real “fix” is focusing on the children and young adults who must grow up in a society that is gender and minority blind where all people, regardless of color, gender or sexual orientation are treated equally and organizations like NAMWOLF are an anachronism. That’s the real panacea to the diversity and inclusion problem in the legal profession and probably much broader than the legal profession. That’s what I aspire to achieve – it’s my north star.
So, what can each of us do in this area to make a “real” difference in the fight for equality in the legal profession and something that enhances our legacy? Well, for me, it’s getting even more involved in activities that are focused on our youth and getting more minorities and women to focus on a legal profession beginning in the third grade and continuing until they are established in their careers.
There are so many opportunities to make a difference in pipeline diversity and many bar associations, law firms and corporate legal groups are doing great things in this space. The key is to find something you and your teams are excited about and then do it. And, you can partner with bar associations, law firms and other legal groups. The spirit of collegiality with respect to pipeline diversity is amazing and the benefits of partnering with others goes way beyond the initial opportunity.
I know the NAMWOLF Board is focusing on pipeline diversity as part of its 2016-2019 strategy and I look forward to working with the Board to implement some formal programs in this space.
One small example of something NAMWOLF is involved in is the 2016 Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Law School Online Career Fair Talk 2 Ten program that the ABA Law Practice Division, The Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession, NAMWOLF and HBCU law schools are hosting in January. This inaugural event is designed to encourage law firms and legal departments to have their lawyers meet online with law students from HBCU law schools and mentor them. The goal is to promote relationships that endure beyond the event and expand the pipeline for diverse law students into the legal profession. I am taking part in this program and very excited about making a difference and helping these law students achieve their dreams.
In addition, I’m working with a charter school system in Chicago to create a program whereby lawyers in Chicago spend time with children during the school year and get them excited about being attorneys. While the program is focused on minorities, it truly is an inclusive program and one I hope attracts several NAMWOLF Chicago firms to participate in.
There are also many legal groups and law firms across the United States that have other pipeline diversity initiatives that are aimed at elementary school, high school, college and law school levels. I know of one program focused at the law school level and getting more minorities in law school to go into intellectual property law. I’m also aware of several summer internships focused on minorities and women that give students the opportunity to work in-house or at law firms and ideally be positioned for a job once they graduate. The key is for all of us to participate and I challenge everyone who is passionate about diversity and inclusion to take part in at least one program aimed at our youth in 2016. It is not only an everlasting experience for the individual being mentored, it is one of the most self-rewarding activities that you will be involved in.
So, while I may fail again at my perpetual New Year resolutions, I am going to succeed in doing more in the pipeline diversity area. I promise!