MCCA: A Nimble Organization Continues To Raise The Bar With New Solutions And Expanded Programs

Monday, February 1, 2010 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Lori Garrett, MCCA, Managing Director for the Southeast Region.

Editor: Congratulations on being named MCCA's Managing Director for the Southeast Region. Would you tell our readers about your professional background?

Garrett: I came into the profession as a lawyer in commercial real estate. I worked at McGuire Woods as well as a smaller firm here in Atlanta. While I enjoyed the challenges of commercial real estate, I found that my passion lay in working with other associates and junior attorneys on professional development issues. I joined Emory Law School in Atlanta as associate director of their career services office, and in that capacity I worked primarily with alumni, advising them on myriad professional development issues. When the opportunity to work for MCCA arose in February of 2009, I realized I could merge my passion for professional development issues with my passion for diversity. I jumped at the chance to work at this wonderful organization.

Editor: Can you tell you us about MCCA's innovative KAN-Do! program?

Garrett: KAN-Do!SM , the online mentoring program that MCCA launched last year, stands for Knowledge, Access and Network (Do!). KAN-Do! provides access for attorneys across the country to an impressive network of attorneys who have signed on as mentors. Initially, the program offered more traditional one-to-one mentoring relationships; at the end of last year, we added group mentoring. We highlighted four panels from our Creating Pathways to Diversity Conference and used those panelists, along with other experts, to mentor conference attendees who wanted to continue dialogues started at the conference.

Through the tool, participants host discussions, post documents, set up webinars, and bounce ideas off the wider group. The highly flexible format allows users plenty of freedom to do whatever they need to do. We have one group forming this month on diversity leadership and succession planning, and going forward we will create various mentoring groups on topics we think will be of interest.

Another way we intend to use the group mentoring program is "team-to-team." For instance, we might bring in one company's established diversity committee to mentor another company's newly formed one.

Currently, we are in the process of bringing in our scholarship recipients to be mentored as a group by our scholarship selection committee. They can also choose one-on-one mentoring, but in the meantime they get the benefit of a variety of perspectives. So we are really excited about using KAN-Do! in some new and interesting ways.

Editor: I understand you will be managing the Lloyd M. Johnson, Jr. Scholarship Program. Please describe the scholarship.

Garrett: The scholarship program, now in its sixth year, awards fellowships and scholarships to aspiring attorneys with strong academic records who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and who also have a passion for diversity issues. On average we award 18 prizes a year, and over the lifetime of the scholarship program we have given out over $1.4 million, thanks in large part to generous support of the sponsors of the program. "Fellows" receive $30,000 dollars over the course of three years, while "Scholars" receive a one-time award of $10,000 their first year, all of which goes to their educational expenses. In addition to the financial award we provide professional development and mentoring resources, which is where KAN-Do! comes in. We conduct résumé reviews and give interviewing tips. This year, we are offering a group coaching session, at which Debby Stone, a career coach, will talk to the students about determining their own values and how they should use those values as a guide for making career choices. This professional developmentservice extends to them even after they graduate. Not surprisingly, we have a few former students disproportionately impacted by the economy, so we are helping them by connecting them with other folks in our network and providing them with the support they need. We are fortunate to have some of America's most admired companies and law firms - Microsoft, WalMart, McGuire Woods - support the program and serve on our selection committee, and they offer us networking opportunities as well. Editor: Would you tell our readers about a scholarship winner?

Garrett: One who instantly comes to mind is Andrea Arias. After graduating in 2008 from Emory Law School, she clerked for the Southern District of Florida and is presently clerking at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Raleigh. Recently she accepted a position with the prestigious Department of Justice Honors Program in the Antitrust Division. Not only is Andrea one of our stars, this hardworking young woman is committed to our program and giving back to it. In January she spoke to our class of 2012 recipients about judicial clerkships and offered herself as a resource to them. It's so nice to have someone like Andreato brag about.

Editor: I see that you will be writing a column for MCCA's magazine, Diversity & the Bar, this month.

Garrett: Yes, we named the column The Lawyer's Lantern to reflect our intent - to "light" the way through professional development matters. My first column will discuss the importance of mentoring, and I have written about KAN-Do! and the group mentoring program. I will also take the opportunity to discuss the importance of mentorship in leadership and succession planning, which will allow me to introduce the mentoring group I mentioned earlier.

Editor: How does MCCA assist in the placement of summer interns?

Garrett: We solicit information about summer internship opportunities from our members and other companies supportive of the organization. Many corporations will not hire recent law graduates because they typically lack experience; nonetheless, we have found corporations to be very dedicated to priming the pipeline by offering summer employment to law students. We have been compiling that information and presenting it to our scholarship recipients.

For interested companies, in turn, we bundle together resumes we have pre-screened for suitability for the position being offered. For a company, the process of making contact with a career services office, advertising a position and screening resumes can amount to a lot of work. So MCCA saves companies time and money while enabling greater opportunity for law students.

Editor: What other plans does MCCA have in the works?

Garrett: I am delighted to be managing the expansion of the online MCCA Career Center. On MCCA's website, jobseekers can now post their résumés and employers can create accounts. Additionally we are in the process of adding greater value, specifically, by simplifying various processes and adding reporting functions. We also are adding more content (such as informative articles that relate to professional development) to our skills development page. The career center already has a monthly hot jobs email blast, and many of the job positions come from our own corporate members.

Editor: MCCA's fall and winter conferences - the CLE Expo and Creating Pathways to Diversity Conference- are coming up. Could you give our readers a preview of the schedules?

Garrett: At the CLE Expo - our primary winter conference, which is always held in Chicago - we focus on substantive areas of law. This year, the expo will be on March 18 and 19. We will be addressing the predicament in-house counsel find themselves in as they face new priorities and demands during a recession. By providing more information about some of the areas of law that directly affect their businesses or practices, we hope to help attendees learn how to balance these challenges. We will be offering six tracks: governance and compliance; intellectual property; labor and employment; litigation and investigation; government relations, and external affairs and enforcement trends.

Our Creating Pathways to Diversity Conference will be held on November 10, and as I speak we are working on the content of that conference. We will be reading evaluations from the 2009 conference, and we would certainly be happy to hear from your readers about what they would like to learn at the conference.

Editor: What have you noticed in terms of shifts in the focus of diversity initiatives due to the financial crisis?

Garrett: The great amount of anecdotal information we've received indicates that many budgets, including diversity budgets, are being affected. That said, we have also learned that some organizations are intentionally demonstrating their commitments to diversity by not reducing budgets and not changing programming. In 2009 we were delighted to see that companies, law firms and nonprofits were still putting on presentations and looking at ways that they could advocate for diversity. True, a firm may be less likely to spend money on, say, a diversity retreat, but it may nonetheless continue its diversity programs and internal evaluations.

Meanwhile, MCCA has been called upon to help the profession find creative ways to focus on diversity that may not affect the bottom line as directly. For instance, mentoring is a great way for attorneys to prime the pipeline. By giving back to the community, lawyers can counsel mentees on the next steps in their careers without having to spend a lot of money. Another way we have seen firms and companies continue to advocate for diversity is by being very introspective - by looking honestly at the culture of their workplaces in terms of inclusion and then evaluating the systems that are in place. Certainly dollars can be spent on this, but taking a good look in the mirror is something that can be done on a limited budget.

As for MCCA events, we found our attendance was actually quite stable despite concerns over the then deepening recession. We took this as a positive sign that the profession is still committed to advancing diversity, notwithstanding limited budgets. MCCA has not conducted any formal research regarding whether minorities have been disproportionately impacted by the economy and lay-offs.

Editor: Do companies seek out your advice when they want to improve their diversity initiatives?

Garrett: Yes, we are frequently asked to consult on diversity matters for companies and law firms. One of the most important things that I think helps move diversity forward is benchmarking: companies and firms want to know what the rest of the field is doing and how they compare to others. At our last diversity conference we released two new research-related items, our 2009 law firm diversity professional's survey and a research report titled Examining the Role of the Law Firm Diversity Professional . Both of those reports addressed the burgeoning role of the diversity professional, who has become a fixture at law firms in the last three years. One of the things that came out of the research was that diversity professionals are constantly trying to maintain momentum. In order to do that, ideas have to change and people have to be creative. We try to facilitate those processes.

Editor: I have heard that retention is often more challenging than recruitment.

Garrett: Our research has certainly borne that out. It is essential to create an inclusive workplace in which people feel they are part of a business and are getting good work product. People need to feel they have a stake in an organization; if their opinions and perspectives are valued they are much more likely to stay than someone who feels isolated. Admittedly it is challenging to create such a work environment.

Editor: Are you hopeful about diversity going foward?

Garrett : I am. If you look back at diversity in terms of sheer numbers in 2000, you see a very different picture of the profession from the one you see today. Still, I think we would all agree that there is much work to be done, and change is difficult. One of the programs we are looking to do in 2010 relates to change: how do you prepare for change, and how do you respond to change in a positive way? How do you accept and deal with the fact that when it comes to diversity efforts, sometimes change is extremely slow?

My hope is that one day, the profession will be so inclusive that diversity and inclusion is not a topic of discussion. Then MCCA would no longer need to exist - and I would be just fine with that.