MCCA: Leading The Way To Diversity And Inclusion

Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 09:09

Editor: After coming off a banner year in 2012, how does MCCA hope to exceed that remarkable success in 2013?

West: Last year, we concentrated on improving our CLE programs to make sure that the subject matter was timely, interesting and useful, and we focused on lining up top-quality speakers. We also launched the Academy for Leadership and Inclusion, a training program to help corporate law departments and law firms learn how to be more inclusive.

We will continue to cover in detail the business case for diversity by focusing on case studies of collaborations between corporate law departments and law firms that  illustrate the value of diversity and inclusion. We will also examine the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Fisher case when it is handed down later this year – not only as it affects the legal profession, but also what it means for diversity and inclusion from the standpoint of efforts to influence high schools and colleges to fill the pipeline to law schools with more minorities and women. We are continuing to expand our research portfolio. We will change the regional networking forums that we have had in the past to focus almost exclusively on their networking aspects so as not to compete with our well-regarded CLE programs. 

Editor: How has MCCA’s mission expanded since its founding in 1997?

West: Our focus is no longer only on diversity as a recruiting tool but also on reducing attrition among diverse lawyers and enhancing their opportunities for advancement. The legal profession remains the least diverse white collar profession because the profession has done a poor job of creating inclusive environments in corporate law departments, in law firms and in governmental entities. Therefore, we have expanded our mission beyond recruiting to helping legal and governmental departments and law firms create inclusive environments where all lawyers have unfettered opportunities to advance.

The other way we have expanded our efforts is through creation of our law firm affiliate network. We have always had a category of membership for our corporate members. Since we created the law firm affiliate network in 2011, we have almost tripled our membership.

We are now actively soliciting membership by law firms all the way down to the sole practitioner level. In the last few years, many lawyers have migrated to smaller law firms. This reflects the feedback that we have received to the effect that it is not just large law firms that benefit from the services that MCCA provides.

Editor: How inclusive is your membership?

West: MCCA does not focus on any particular ethnic or gender-based constituency. Our focus is not just on African-Americans – it includes women and all racial and ethnic minorities.  

At all our events, you see a fully diverse group in attendance and among our speakers. We pride ourselves on the fact that we collaborate with a large number of organizations that focus on specific ethnic or gender constituencies. We collaborate with the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Hispanic National Bar Association and the National Bar Association. We are working now on some collaborative issues with the National Association of Women Lawyers and with the National Association of Minority and Women-Owned Law Firms.

We work with the American Bar Association in its diversity efforts. We also have a lot of research materials and programs focused on disability and LGBT issues. Diversity in the Bar, our magazine, spotlights the full range of the diversity spectrum. The January/February issue features the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s  “Best under 40” and covers at length tremendously talented Asian-American lawyers who work in the corporate legal space.

Editor: Please talk about the various opportunities afforded members of MCCA in terms of conferences, research materials and interaction with fellow members.

West: We have three large CLE events every year. Our flagship CLE event is the Pathways to Diversity Conference in New York. This year’s event will take place on September 16 at the Marriott Marquis  and will precede by one day the MCCA Diversity Gala at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on September 17, which is now in its third year after having been very well attended in each of the first two years, averaging 1,200 to 1,400 people participating. Our first Gala, in 2011, honored Vernon Jordan with the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2012 Dennis Archer received our Lifetime Achievement Award. Our selection committee is narrowing down the choices for this year’s awardees, and from the names that we have been working with, I can assure you that it will be another person deserving of the honor.

The second of the three major CLE events is our CLE Expo, which historically has taken place in Chicago. However, as a result of the large and vocal demand that we got from our members and supporters on the West Coast, it will take place this year in San Diego on March 5-7.

The CLE Expo differs from our other CLE offerings in that we have opportunities for companies that provide ancillary services to set up booths and display their wares. We also have opportunities for sponsors that are not necessarily law firms or corporations to have a presence. The expo not only provides top-rate, best-in-class CLE opportunities, but it’s also an opportunity for legal service providers to have a presence to demonstrate their products or services and to network with our members.

At the Expo we are focusing particularly on our professional-development and skills-training workshops. Attendees can take back with them valuable and useful best practices that will be helpful in their respective practices. The vast majority of the programs are substantive in nature. We have subject-matter experts in many areas who will provide valuable training and skills development for the attendees. All of the information is on our website at www.mcca.com.

I mentioned that last year we started our Academy for Leadership and Inclusion training program series. We will be doing that again this year in six cities around the country, and they all will be available on our website.

The feedback we received regarding our regional networking forums was that we should provide more opportunities for networking. Therefore, we have converted our regional networking forums into wine-tasting events where we will focus only on providing the opportunity for our law firm members to network with, and spend time getting to know, our corporate counsel members. The quality networking and business development opportunities that we will be featuring in 2013 are focused on addressing the concerns about judicious deployment of resources by law departments and law firms.

Editor: Please tell our readers about your General Counsel Diversity Leadership Seminar on April 18-20.

West: The GCI is one of our most popular events and sells out more quickly than our other events. It’s another of our CLE programs, and we also take advantage of that opportunity to conduct a meeting of our board of directors. Aside from that, the focus of the GCI has always been on the general counsel of the corporations that are members of MCCA and on other corporations that we hope will become members. In addition to the CLE and the programs, there are spa opportunities and a golf tournament available for members and attendees, and since it takes place at the Doral Resort in Miami, what’s not to like?

Editor: Please describe some of your research reports.

West: We are proud of our robust research portfolio. Our Sustaining Pathways series is designed first to identify those areas in law firms and corporations where barriers exist to diversity and inclusion and then to suggest best practices that can be implemented to make sure that those barriers are removed.

Another of our important research offerings is entitled “Examination of Diversity Demographics, Initiatives and Policies in Corporate Law Departments.” For a number of years, we have conducted demographic studies of law firms. For the first time, we have put corporate law departments under the microscope to look not only at their diversity initiatives and policies but also at the expectations that corporate law departments have of their outside counsel. That study shows an increase in the number of corporate law departments that have their own diversity and inclusion committees. Even if they do not, they increasingly expect their outside counsel to have diversity programs. This should cause more law firms to become serious about diversity and inclusion.

Another important positive development is that our annual women and minority general counsel survey that we released back in September showed a significant increase in women and minority general counsel. The numbers for women increased over the last several years more dramatically than for minorities, but both are generally in an upward trend. This sends a clear message to those law firms that may be lagging.

Editor: Why has diversity become more important?

West: If you are corporate counsel or a partner in a law firm, you are increasingly facing decision makers who are women or minorities. Everywhere you turn, there’s greater diversity, yet there are a large number of talented lawyers who happen to be women and minorities who are underutilized and underappreciated. It’s incumbent upon general counsel and law firm leaders to provide opportunities for advancement of those talented women and minorities because they may be the most effective advocates before increasingly diverse decision makers.

Editor: Why should every legal department own your research papers?

West: The most immediate answer to that question is that our profession is very show-me oriented, so it’s helpful to have this data so that people in corporations and in law firms can understand the need for diversity and inclusion. The National Law Journal asked me to write an article shortly after the election about the implications of the presidential election on issues of diversity and inclusion. What I observed was that after President Obama’s election, people realized that being supported by a diverse coalition can provide a competitive advantage. The shift in the racial and ethnic composition of the electorate has now been recognized. Our research supports the proposition that our profession is at a tipping point where people truly appreciate the power of diversity.

Editor: MCCA is well known among law firms and corporate counsel for its two awards, the Employer of Choice Award and the Thomas Sager Award (honoring law firms that have demonstrated their commitment to advance the hiring, retention and promotion of diverse attorneys), which are conferred at your annual gala in September.

West: It’s important when corporations and law firms achieve outstanding results in the diversity and inclusion space to recognize their accomplishments. The Thomas Sager Award is named for the general counsel of DuPont who was a founder of MCCA. Throughout its existence, Tom has been my good friend and a mentor. We are proud and honored to have him on our board. In each of our five regions, we select a law firm to receive the Sager Award that has focused on diversity and inclusion and achieved success in its efforts.

Our Employer of Choice awards go to a corporate law department member in each region – South/Southwest, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Northeast and Western – that has focused on diversity and inclusion and achieved success in its efforts. We just recently finished selecting the winners for the Employer of Choice for each of the regions. I am thrilled with the organizations that have won the award.

I was involved in overseeing the process along with David Chu, our membership director, and I can tell you this year we’re pleased to say that the competition was very fierce. We had a large number of deserving organizations that submitted impressive applications, but the winners in each region this year are all excellent organizations that have done a fantastic job and are all very much deserving of the recognition.

The Employer of Choice Award will be conferred at the Gala, and the Sager Awards, whose winners have not been chosen as yet, at the regional events. The Employer of Choice winners that will be acknowledged at the Gala are the following: South/Southwest, Entergy Corporation; Mid-Atlantic, Comcast; Midwest, Target; Northeast, Aetna; and Western, Toyota.

Editor: Two other awards are also conferred by MCCA: The George B. Vashon Innovator Award and the Paula A. Ettelbrick Award. What allows an individual or organization to qualify for each of these awards?

West: These awards are significant first because of the individuals for whom they’re named. George B. Vashon was the first African-American licensed to practice law in the state of New York. (He was actually refused admission in the early 1800s despite having met all of the criteria to practice law by the state of Pennsylvania. He went on to become a very well-known and respected writer, abolitionist, poet and teacher, and eventually moved to New York, where the state bar finally licensed him as the first African-American to practice in that state).

We think that his tenacity and his willingness to continue working and struggling for equality despite the challenges that he faced and despite being denied what rightfully should have been accorded him is illustrative of the sort of struggle for equality and diversity and inclusion in our profession. Because he was the first person of color licensed to practice in the state of New York, we thought it made sense to confer that award at our Pathways Event and our Gala in New York on entities that have focused on innovative and creative ways to implement diversity and inclusion programs in their respective organizations.

The Ettelbrick Award is named for Paula Ettelbrick, an attorney who spent her life working in the LGBT space for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lawyers. Therefore, the award goes to an individual or an organization that focuses on diversity and inclusion from an LGBT standpoint and that assists lesbian, gay or transgender lawyers to achieve equality in the workplace and in society.

We created those awards last year for the purpose of acknowledging organizations that, in the Vashon case, work creatively and have new and innovative ideas that can serve as models in the marketplace, and in the Ettelbrick Award case to encourage organizations to focus as specifically as possible on LGBT issues and incorporate that into the general diversity dialogue.

Editor: Tell us about MCCA’s scholarship program.

West: Many law students graduate saddled with a tremendous debt burden. This is especially true for minority students, who may come from less affluent backgrounds. One of the things I’m most proud of is MCCA’s scholarship program. We have awarded almost $2.5 million to diverse law students in the last four or five years.

 

Please email the interviewee at josephwest@mcca.com with questions about this interview.