Co-presented by California Lawyer and the California Minority Counsel Program
In July in-house and outside counsel gathered for a forthright discussion about diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. Panelists discussed what their law firms are doing in this area and what corporate clients can do to help their firm's diversity and inclusion efforts. The corporate counsel addressed how they let law firms know that diversity is important to their companies and legal departments and how law firms can get their foot in the door. The lawyers also discussed whose responsibility it is to raise diversity issues - outside counsel's or in-house counsel's? The panelists are Jolen Anderson of Visa, Craig Barnes of Sedgwick, Lisa Hamasaki of Miller Law Group, Chris Noma of Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean, and Isabelle Salgado of AT&T. Marci Rubin, executive director of the California Minority Counsel Program moderated the discussion, which was reported by Krishanna DeRita of Barkley Court Reporters.
CMCP/Rubin: Is your firm doing anything different or interesting that promotes diversity and inclusion? Are there things that another firm could adopt?
Our firm has been a longtime supporter of the Bay Area Minority Summer Clerkship Program (BAMSCP), which is organized by the Santa Clara County Bar Association and supported by the Alameda County Bar Association. The program places first-year minority law students from the Bay Area in summer associate positions in law firms, and in in-house and government law departments. The law students are those who have overcome personal or family challenges. Many are first-time college graduates in their families. The quality of minority students placed through BAMSCP is absolutely top notch. The purpose of the program is basically to provide the students with a "leg up" and experience and exposure to the legal profession that they would not have had or did not have growing up.
Wendel has hired first-year associates through the program. In the fall of 2011, we hired a BAMSCP summer associate who was our summer associate in both 2010 and 2011. She is now a first-year associate in our litigation department. In the last several years, BAMSCP has been the primary way we've hired first-year attorneys. Many larger firms have their own summer associate program, but I really believe that the program is excellent. A few major firms in Santa Clara participate in the program and include the BAMSCP student in their regular summer associate pool.
We encourage people to join minority bar associations and organizations of that nature. Because we don't hire out of law school, we don't have summer internship programs as other firms do, instead we reach out to clients who have programs and make opportunities available for their interns. In some cases, we've just talked with interns about career paths and various issues. Other times, we've invited interns to hearings and trials to give them opportunities to see a side of the legal practice that they may not be seeing in-house. Even though we are a women-owned firm, we deal with the same issues as larger firms and do a lot of the same things to promote diversity and inclusiveness. For example, we have a diversity committee that includes attorneys from different ethnicities and backgrounds, including Caucasian men. The committee and our diversity mission are about being inclusive of everyone.
[At AT&T], we don't really hire out of law school. And we just don't say, "We hire a certain number of people every year." It's a question of headcount, need, and budget. So it's hard to project far into the future. Several years ago we kept hearing that outside counsel didn't always have diverse attorneys to bring to our matters. We created a 1L summer intern program. We've been successful working with our firms to map our program to theirs, and our associates then get to know the firm as well. That has led to associates sometimes getting hired by our firms in their second summer, and then hopefully getting permanent jobs and working on our matters. We can help forge these relationships.
Another innovation was a reverse secondment where we hired an attorney out of law school, placed them in our outside firm, and paid a percentage of their salary. The associate dedicated a percent of their billable hours to our matters, got the law firm training from the firm and the matter training by working with us. There was a plan that this attorney would migrate into our department, which she did very successfully.
[At Visa] we have recently adopted a mentoring program in our legal department. It's a global program as well, which allows for cross mentoring since lawyers in California have a chance to learn about what life is like as a lawyer in Brazil or other countries where we operate. And it's great for the lawyers outside the U.S. because it gives them the chance to interact with the senior attorneys located in California. We have also given attorneys the chance to pursue international assignments, which provides a chance to further adopt that cross-cultural learning.
We have put a lot of emphasis on pipeline initiatives. It's a two-prong effort: One is to try and have contacts for the next generation and the other is to get people at the firm engaged in diversity. It helps if you get younger people involved who can energize you. We work with the Posse Program, which President Obama supported with a partial donation of his Nobel Peace Prize award, and we also support Girls Inc. We have interns in our offices through the summer.
Although we have a centralized Diversity Committee, we decentralized many of our efforts through local diversity committees and affinity groups. The affinity groups were set up recognizing that historic barriers have kept a lot of diverse lawyers from the law firms and that it's important for people to feel that they can approach someone about the challenges they are facing and talk comfortably about it. The affinity groups are open to everyone at the firm.
CMCP/Rubin: When you opened the affinity group, what did you do to make the other groups feel included and want to join?
There were challenges we faced when we opened our affinity groups. To be quite frank, for some in the African American Lawyers Forum there was a sense if we open it up, something is going to go wrong. Part of that is a product of our own unique history. But the LGBT Action Committee has a far different history. For the LGBT lawyers, there may have been some who were reluctant to come out so opening the LGBT Action Committee allowed them to participate without having to worry about coming out. Now that's not to say affinity group members don't get on the phone and talk amongst themselves, but there's no room for other people to participate in the regular meetings. On balance, opening things up allowed all of us to feel freer from obstacles that historically held us back. If you open it up and have a dialogue, people will finally feel comfortable talking about perceived slights, differences in how we view issues or areas where we see things the same.
CMCP/Rubin: What can corporate clients do to help your firm's diversity and inclusion efforts?
They can make sure who will be the point person on the team and what their role will be. They may feel like it's not incumbent upon them to tell the law firms how to run their business, but the reality is it is their case. For lawyers trying to move up the ranks, if the client says this person is indispensable, we need her on the team, then she can more easily become a partner one day. Most firms have to figure out how to do succession planning. It helps if you've got the client saying, "I'm going approve that person to do this trial or to second chair a trial. I want to give this person a chance." If that dialogue is occurring, there is a greater opportunity for the diverse associate to move into the partnership ranks.
In-house counsel can probably be most effective in our firm's diversity and inclusion efforts if she or he discusses the importance of the effort with our management committee. Wendel is small enough that the in-house attorney client has direct access to our managing partner. You can talk to our management committee or managing partner about the importance of diversity and inclusion and that carries a lot of clout because the message will then be delivered to the entire firm. Wendel also has a business development committee that is very influential in our firm and can make the business case for diversity and inclusion. The partners on that committee include a woman attorney and a Latino/Hispanic attorney. Our biz dev committee works to get the management committee on board and the rest of the firm follows.
As others mentioned, it helps when clients and companies make their values known. There have been times when a client has come to us and said, "I want to work with this particular person." That feedback is helpful - it gives us a way to channel that attorney into a position of importance and a key role with the client. The one thing that hurts firms like ours, minority- and women-owned firms, is when companies consolidate their list of outside counsel and look for one firm to handle work over a broad spectrum. We have 25 attorneys and we practice employment law only; those types of decisions cut us out of the running.
CMCP/Rubin: How do you really let your outside counsel know that diversity is important?
We participate in all the organizations that sponsor diversity so people know this is important to Visa. This is a way to have a conversation with Visa. While we don't necessarily have any formal metrics or measurements, it surprises me sometimes that the firms don't recognize this commitment or pick up on the subtleties associated with our support. For example, you are given the opportunity to pitch to a room full of women and you showed up with no female partner to get the book of business. How do you think that's going to reflect to the people in the room?
That's a good point. The legal team may not appreciate the importance of inclusion and diversity to the company.
When we say, "we hired this firm and we really enjoyed hearing from this person," you hope the message is sent. But we could have a much more formal conversation and tell them that they didn't show up with the right team. We have said, "make sure the people you bring have something to say and will be supporting the matter, don't just put them there as window dressing." We've given that feedback because we've been at law firms. We know what's going on.
I strongly agree with Craig [Barnes]'s comments on succession planning. I have several situations where outside counsel - not in California - are smaller boutique firms, often with a Caucasian male senior partner working on our matters. So I will say, "Who do you intend to put on our team in the future? I would like to see it staffed this way. Can I meet the people in your firm?" We've had some success. I try to make a point of letting the partners know when someone junior is doing great work for us. I also communicate directly with the lawyers working on our issues, to build a direct rapport that isn't just cycled through the partner.
CMCP/Rubin: Are there different ways firms can get their foot in the door at your companies?
We do rely on organizations like CMCP and NAMWOLF (National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms) that a lot of firms are members of. We contacted these organizations and said we need a firm with this expertise in this part of the country, send us some contacts. We have been able to develop new relationships that way.
Although we have go-to firms that we use over and over again, that doesn't mean that we don't welcome opportunities to network with new people. Developing those relationships and fostering them over time is very helpful because when something does come up, I will reach out, but in the meantime let's stay in touch. Send me updates so I can see the good work that you are doing and your expertise. It helps me to say, "We can trust this person. I know we haven't used them before, but here is all the success they've had in the past." So it's good to send articles or invitations to events so that we can develop the relationship.
CMCP/Rubin: What if your firm is not a minority-owned business?
Let us know what your expertise is. If you hire someone who really understands our industry, let us know. Also, make sure they don't have a conflict. If I'm not in the right practice area to talk to them, I'll try to find a colleague who is, and at least try to make that connection.
CLE can be difficult to get at the in-house level. If a law firm volunteers to conduct training on site, it's a great opportunity to meet the entire department.
CMCP/Rubin: Is it the law firm's responsibility or the in-house counsel's responsibility to raise diversity issues?
While generally, I believe that it is both the in-house counsel's and the law firms' responsibility to raise and discuss the issue, it also depends upon "who" the corporate client is. If a company has already publicly gone on record that it has a commitment to diversity, then the in-house attorney should not need to raise the issue. When outside counsel pitches business to AT&T, Visa, Microsoft or Wal-Mart, the law firm should know that diversity is important. They should know to bring a diverse team. But in some cases, the law firm may not necessarily know that diversity and inclusion is important to the company. It is, however, the responsibility of the law firm to communicate to in-house counsel that the firm is committed to the issue and to ask, "Is there something more we can do?"
Agreed. But what worries me is when we [in-house counsel] take our foot off the accelerator, maybe we think we've said enough - will we slip backwards? We've been doing the same thing for a while and the numbers haven't changed. Are numbers the right measure? There's a point at which you wonder if you are getting the returns. Maybe this method has taken us about as far as we need to go. Should we try something new?
The other question is how much does external pressure really change the internal culture of the firm? We can say what we want. You may staff our case beautifully, but when that case is over, then what? Do we start all over again on the next case?
I asked the people on our Diversity Committee whether they believe we are better lawyers if we have a more diverse firm. If you don't believe that, let's do something else. If you all believe that, then you have to have religion about it. That is because I firmly believe if it's just about numbers, it's not going to work. In terms of law firms, I shouldn't have to tell you, by the way, we are diverse. We are good and part of the reason we are good is because we are diverse.
Having diversity within a firm, or any environment, is hugely valuable as it promotes diverse perspectives, which can be extremely helpful in the practice of law. For example, differing perspectives assist in determining the next steps in a piece of litigation and help attorneys to think outside of the box.
But to go back to the question, I'm not comfortable saying that either in-house or outside counsel are "responsible." In-house counsel create the business case for diversity by making known that they value diversity. It's then the firm's obligation and the firm's duty to take diversity beyond the business case, to create and to perpetuate a diverse firm culture and to make known both internally and externally that the value of diversity extends beyond the business case.
One thing Isabelle [Salgado] raised that is incredibly important is to let outside counsel know when you are working with somebody who you think is doing a great job, particularly if that person is not the relationship partner. Let that attorney know and let firm management know that you're happy with their work. It's not always just about diversity. Frankly, it's about attorney development in general, and getting that kind of feedback is very helpful.
It's both our responsibility as in-house and law firms to support the message, set the vision, and demonstrate our commitment. I've talked about the fact that this is stating the obvious and assuming that everybody gets it, but maybe that's an assumption that I shouldn't make. We need to reinforce it and bring up the message. Maybe we should also to tout some of the things we are doing in our corporations, like mentoring, so it's clear to external counsel that we are trying to set the example within our own departments.
I was very interested in the question about what can corporate clients do to help your firm's diversity and inclusion. If there's something you need from me to support that, I would be happy to, so feel free to bring it up. It may not be something that I'm conscious of as well. It's on both of us to be more honest in the conversation about this.
CMCP/Rubin: Diverse attorneys are all attorneys, not just attorneys of color. Inclusion is promoting an environment where people of different cultural backgrounds are integrated into the organization and are given equal access and opportunities and the ability to contribute. For purposes of this discussion, we are defining the legal profession as the business legal community - not government. How is the legal profession doing in addressing diversity and inclusion?
There are traditional barriers that have prevented certain participants from being involved with law firms. Diversity efforts have to recognize those barriers and address them because if we just start from square one, we miss the fact that certain people have been disenfranchised. If you look at it historically, the pipeline might not be as full as it should be. If you look at African-American attorneys, traditional barriers said, "You cannot be part of this bar organization." But what does that say in terms of opportunity at a majority firm? You are forced to go on your own or go into government.
Until we get to the point where enough of the generations have advanced where it's no longer a factor, that legacy will endure. There has to be recognition that barriers have been built into the process, and that also applies with Hispanic, Asian, and women lawyers.
My other thought is that if it's numbers driven, it doesn't sustain. If law firms are saying, "Our clients want us to be diverse so we need to hire diversely," they are doing it purely for business reasons. Their commitment won't sustain. They'll do it for a specific sector within the firm that matches that client's needs and it won't change the culture at all. The reason has to be: We are better lawyers. We are better people. We operate in a more efficient effective way. When we have all different points of view, all different sectors of society as part of the organization, we are better informed. Then it won't be affected by the ebb and flow of the marketplace. It will be because this is what we think is right.
I agree with Craig [Barnes]. To answer your question, law firms in general are doing a fair job, not a great job, not a horrible job. For law firms, as Craig mentioned, the primary motivation is the business of law and if it doesn't make business sense to them, then they will not be seeking to have a diverse attorney pool. But once the law firm gets their business needs met, then it is a value to have the diversity.
I had an interesting discussion with Patricia Lee who is in charge of the California State Bar's Council on Access and Fairness. I asked her, "If you are looking at trying to diversify a law firm, you are primarily getting people right out of school. So out of the people who passed the bar, what's the pool of African-Americans, what's the pool of Latino attorneys, what's the pool of Asian-American and Caucasian attorneys?" When she gave me those numbers, it illustrated to me why it has been so difficult for law firms to hire a critical mass of under-represented minority attorneys.
For example, since 1999 (over ten years) the number of African-American/Black law students who have passed the bar roughly is about 200 tops a year for the entire state of California. That is just not enough to constitute a critical mass. For Latino/Hispanic graduates about 400 to 500 have passed the bar each year since 1999. So you've got 200 Black, 500 Hispanic, and about 950 to 1,000 Asian lawyers annually entering the profession. In contrast, you've got about 4,000 additional Caucasian attorneys each year. So if a majority law firm is trying to increase the number of African-American attorneys, your pool may only be 200 potential candidates out of the entire state. That really doesn't leave law firms much of a pool to recruit from. (Note: the numbers might be slightly off because the State Bar stats also have between 400 to 600 people who put themselves in the category "other minority." I don't know what that means, whether that means mixed or another minority, such as Native American or Pacific Islanders.)
When I've looked at the statistics recently, I've been disappointed. There isn't as big a pipeline coming out of the law schools as I would hope, but the even bigger problem is that when you look at statistics associated with attorneys who have reached partnership, there is next to no diversity. There are very few equity partners in large firms who are people of color, and frankly the percentage of women is fairly stagnant and not representative of the population of lawyers coming out of law school.
All the statistics I've seen - the AmLaw surveys and Bar Association of San Francisco's Bottom Line Task Force report?show numbers that have been stagnant for the past ten years. So even though the pipeline is widening and there are more diverse first-year associates entering law firms, by the time there's a partnership review, they appear to have dropped out. It seems we've not been able to crack those numbers.
As an in-house attorney, it has been my experience that when we go to hire people, the available pool of lawyers who are experts doing the kind of work where we have a discrete need can be even more narrow. My colleagues hiring outside counsel in litigation or employment law tend to fare better than, say, those of us seeking telecom regulatory counsel. One thing we're trying to do is create a pipeline of diverse lawyers in relevant practice areas, because it won't meet our objectives if they don't have the right expertise that we happen to be looking for.
Obviously there have been strides. We are having conversations about the issues. Everyone understands the buzzwords of diversity and inclusion. If you go to any big law firm, they will all say, "Yes, we support and promote diversity," but we've been having the same conversation for a really long time. So that leads you to wonder why are we not taking it to the next step? What's really going on that's preventing that from happening? Perhaps we need to take a step back and address the barriers that seem to be affecting retention and the pipeline. I've seen a lot of programs focused on increasing the pipeline. It's like we are almost taking a step back from building the business case to addressing the social issues that got us here in the first place.
We [at Miller Law Group] don't hire out of law school. We hire primarily people who are leaving the big firms. As a result, we hear a lot of things from attorneys looking to make a change: lack of mentoring, unhappiness as they progress in their career, and other quality of life issues that are not being adequately addressed at those firms. But until we, as a profession, can figure out how to retain attorneys through the entire pipeline and create an environment where there are significant minority and women partners, the lack of diversity will self-perpetuate. For example, we routinely hear about lack of mentoring, particularly among diverse attorneys, but if diverse attorneys are not making it up to the partnership level, the diverse junior attorneys have no one like them to look up to - no one to mentor them.
To answer the question on the state of the legal profession, I don't think we are there by any stretch. Craig [Barnes], your points on the business case for diversity are very well taken and I agree with them 100 percent, but I also think that the business case for diversity creates an impetus for firms to move in the right direction. The business reason may get firms to focus on diversity. My hope is that diversity will move beyond the business reason; that attorneys and firms will begin to understand the humanitarian benefits of diversity beyond just the business case.
When the numbers are stagnating, then you need to try to do something else. The shift that has to happen is the shared conviction that the business case for diversity is supported not only in terms of getting that one case or client in the short term, but that diversity is essential for the long-term health of the firm. If our [telecom] industry saw a major avenue of business growth coming in the near future, we would start building today the pathways to be there in the market when the demand hit. We would know that we need to do that to stay competitive.
I struggle to understand why law firms don't take the same approach with diversity. Certainly the numbers in California birth rates bear out that we are turning into a majority minority state. So if you look at where the trends are, you can be very objective about it and see it is supported by the demographics: that need is absolutely going to be there. It's a little bit easier on the in-house side because the diversity of our employees, customers, shareholders, and regulators, speaks for itself. Those are our constituents. It also matters that we are a global company, and having a broad cultural intelligence is more important than ever. I feel fortunate to work for a company that has a strong history on diversity, but we are not done yet. It is challenging in the STEM [Science, Techonology, Engineering, and Math] fields that are the backbone of innovation. I don't understand why law firms wouldn't take that approach in the long run to say, "That's where we need to be in the future," which reaches beyond a client asking for it.
CMCP/Rubin: Do you measure diversity? If so, do you measure it internally? Do you measure it externally with outside counsel?
Let me take those one by one. Internally within our legal department [at AT&T], lawyers receive an annual appraisal, which includes consideration of that person's ability to deal with, and work cooperatively and constructively in a diverse environment. It creates a measure and sends a strong message that it's as important as other skill sets that we use to appraise our lawyers. We support our lawyer's active involvement in diverse organizations and bar associations throughout the nation. As a corporation, we have a Chief Diversity Officer who's a Senior VP - a very senior title. Her organization works to develop pathways to diversity as part of talent development for all of our business units.
Externally, we measure law firms in several ways. We have an electronic billing system that law firms are required to use which also allows us to assess the firm's diversity composite for billing attorneys. We also have a pretty robust MWVBE [Minority Women Veteran Business Enterprise] supplier diversity network. In addition to supporting vendors for every aspect of our own business, we have helped qualified vendors to become certified so that they can market themselves to their other customers.
Our firm's history is an interesting one because we started off with very low numbers. The effort that was made during the late '80s and early '90s, was really business driven and it didn't sustain. We'd go up and down in our numbers and people didn't feel like they had buy-in. I thought it was important to make sure diversity was just as important for the non-diverse attorneys as it is for the diverse lawyer. The way you get buy-in is to show the importance of diversity in terms of their career advancement. They needed to see how their practice would flourish and grow and the firm would be better for it.
So the numbers took a while to catch up to the effort and people might say that they haven't seen any change in numbers from year to year. But the people here have been here a while and they are moving up. I think on a long-term basis, that sustains. I know a lot of people don't believe that. They say, "I've got clients right now who want to see the numbers." They'll go out and try to hire someone and that person coming in may not be comfortable.
If you were Jackie Robinson, would you feel comfortable the first time you had to go to bat or would you feel like whatever you do is being scrutinized? If you don't have some support, you are always going to have that anxiety. Then you ask, "Why do I have to put up with this?" But if you create an inclusive environment where people feel that it's important that this lawyer does well, they'll stick it out. When I show numbers, I often want to say, "Let me tell you the story behind these numbers."
[At Wendel], we don't run numbers because there are not enough of us. Our firm is 60, 65 attorneys, and as a result, the management committee and the business development committee leadership are both part of and know who the diverse attorneys are, what they do, and what they are bringing in terms of value to the business of law. So when we get matters in, the idea is to have a diverse legal team, whether it is women, minority, or LBGT lawyers working on the case. Because of the close-knit nature of our firm, most of the attorneys have been there for a long time.
We have lots of attorneys who came in as associates and they are now partners, including minority attorneys. Because we are smaller, it's easier for us to subjectively measure what the value of diversity is in our firm. On the objective measure, it's the bottom line. You get the origination credit, you get the responsible attorney credit, and at the end of the day, they will get measured. In terms of origination, we slice and dice origination in many different ways. Origination doesn't go to just one person, so the focus is on a team effort.
At a CMCP corporate connections event several years ago, there was a group of us attorneys who went to the conference. We landed a client and origination was diced up four ways, and then there were other attorneys who were actually doing the work, so we also diced up responsible attorney credit. At the time, three associates were part of the CMCP team and they also received origination credit. Out of those associates, two of them are now partners.
Visa is a global company. We have offices in more than 40 different countries around the world and the culture of our company as a whole is reflective of that. There are global diversity initiatives that are promoted by the board of directors who have made it clear that it's an important management goal for the company. We also have a global head of diversity and inclusion that is responsible for promoting and managing employee programs. All of this is of benefit to the legal department because we are able to be part of these initiatives.
Globally, we are about 7,500 employees. So despite our market presence, we are a fairly small company and the size of our legal depart is reflective of this, with less than 70 attorneys across the world. Within the legal department, we have very diverse attorneys, especially with respect to women who hold many of the management-level positions. In terms of measuring outside law firms, we don't have formal metrics in place. We certainly expect law firms to support and promote diversity and communicate that this is an important objective for Visa. We hope that we don't have to state the obvious. It's curious to me how firms miss this message or don't do more to speak to these issues when pitching for new business.
At Miller Law Group, we do not measure diversity in any formal way, but we absolutely value it. We have a total of 25 lawyers in our firm, eight are partners. As a result, it would take me no time at all to count up or figure out our diversity numbers. However, as a woman-owned firm, our diversity is a little different. When I joined the firm, there were no male attorneys at all. We currently have quite a few fabulous male associates and special counsel and we recently brought in our first male partner. There are seven female partners and one male, so diversity is about inclusion of all, not just about increasing the numbers of attorneys who may be underrepresented in other areas of the profession. In our firm there is no such thing as a non-diverse attorney. Everyone brings a different perspective. So our goal is to have an open and welcoming environment where everyone has equal access to good work, equal opportunities to be heard and equal chance of success. I can't speak for everyone in the firm, but I feel like we do pretty well in that endeavor. We try to make it clear to every attorney that we want him or her to succeed and we try to provide our attorneys with what they need to succeed, whether that is mentoring or something else.
CMCP/Rubin: What would be a vision of what a diverse and inclusive law firm or in-house department would actually look like? What's your ideal?
A group with everybody. You'd have a critical mass of all the ethnicities, all genders, and all sexual orientations. You'd have men, women, African-American attorneys. You'd have Latino, Hispanic, Asian-American lawyers?that would be ideal. And it doesn't mean you need to have equal numbers. You just need to have enough based upon the size of your firm that it feels comfortable. The smaller the firm, the less numbers you need. The larger the firm, it's not numbers, it's a feel. It's how attorneys of color or a gay or lesbian or a woman attorney feels. Does she feel included? Does she feel that she is valued at the firm? Does he or she feel that they have a voice and that it is important and that the management of the law firm promotes them, respects them, encourages them and helps them live up to their potential? I think that's key.
I agree. That would be the void of feeling like you're "the one." So you wouldn't have to feel like the only anything, whatever that might be, and you would have models of success above you and behind you. You would have a team of people with similar experiences who you could be mentoring and could also look to higher levels of management - and see the same picture. So there wouldn't be that feeling, "Am I going to be able to reach the next level and if I do, am I going to be the only one?"
I agree with Chris [Noma], it's about a feel or a feeling - a feeling of absolute inclusiveness. Frankly, if we were to hit the ideal, there wouldn't be a discussion. We wouldn't need to have a discussion about diversity. The profession would simply be diverse.
I'd like to think that ultimately, the statistical likelihood that any lawyer will reach their desired career success would not be adversely affected by their "diversity" status in any way, shape, or form. The diversity distribution across different practice areas would be equally blind.
If diversity is done because they think we are more competitive, we will be better. If it's what the clients wants, every diverse lawyer is saying, "Do they still want diverse lawyers doing work?" because it's reactive. If it's a change in culture where the firm says, "It doesn't matter if we are not doing employment, you are vital to this firm," they won't look around worrying.
Think about it this way: If most African-American lawyers were doing bankruptcy and all of a sudden bankruptcy became a thing of the past, we'd all look around wondering, do I have my job? That wouldn't happen if the law firm said you are a valid asset to this firm irrespective of what you do. My ideal is when someone says you are going to meet the managing partner, you have no vision of what that person looks like or where they come from. All of us are speaking more than one language or at least trying to. That's how the world operates. In our country, we speak one language. You go anywhere else in the world, that's not the expectation of people. If we don't change, we are going to find we are not competitive. Most countries speak at least three languages and too few of us have that in our mindset.