Making Strides: A Recap of Diversity Panel Led by ABA President Paulette Brown

The legal profession is the least diverse profession in the country, compared to comparable fields such as engineering and accounting.

One focus of ABA President Paulette Brown’s tenure has been to try and address that issue from a variety of angles. President Brown has made an effort to improve the pipeline into the legal profession by examining the best ways to spark a student’s interest in the law as early as elementary school. She has also commissioned a series of training videos designed to teach judges, public defenders and others within the courts about implicit bias.

“People have more in common than they realize,” President Brown said. “You might think, ‘That person doesn’t look like me. They might not think the way that I do,’ and then be surprised.”

On March 15, President Brown moderated a panel at the BBA with other professionals who hold diversity in the legal profession as a high priority, called Making Strides: Retaining and Promoting Diverse Talent. The expert panelists who joined President Brown shared practical ways that they have worked to advance diversity and inclusion within their organizations.

Some of our takeaways were:

Identifying Bias
• Michelle Ifill, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Verizon Corporate Services Group, spoke about training on implicit bias that all Verizon employees will soon have to complete
• Richard Meade, Chief Legal Officer for Prudential Financial’s International Insurance and Investments Division, said the first step toward achieving diversity and inclusion is to recognize biases and expose oneself to information that runs counter to those biases

Overcoming Bias
• At Prudential, Meade participates in a “reverse mentoring” program, where more experienced attorneys are paired with younger attorneys of different racial and ethnic backgrounds
• Ifill also spoke to the importance of turning to “someone who doesn’t look like you” as a mentor or mentee, giving both parties exposure to a new perspective

Establishing Connections
• Matthew McTygue, Managing Partner at Locke Lord LLP, talked about the importance of not only hiring diverse attorneys, but making sure they are afforded the same opportunities and included a variety of activities within the firm
• Ifill described Verizon’s efforts to build connections between future in-house and firm leaders by developing networking opportunities where junior inside and outside counsel can get to know one another on a more personal level

Building a Pipeline
• McTygue spoke about the BBA’s Summer Jobs program, which gives Boston Public School students from a variety of backgrounds the chance to work in a law firm for the summer. Some of these students go on to law school.
By providing educational opportunities to younger attorneys and fostering a relationship between new hires and senior counsel, Verizon works to set their younger generation of legal employees up for success, Ifill said.

The panelists took questions following their presentation from a highly engaged audience and President Brown attended a reception with many BBA leaders and members following the program. We are very grateful to President Brown and her fellow panelists for their time and their thoughtful remarks, and to program co-chairs Joseph Wang and Doreen Rachal for organizing an important discussion about diversity and inclusion.