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  • November 10, 2020

    The Metaphorical Unicorn: Diversity and Inclusion in Litigation Practice

    Talked about but never seen, like the metaphorical unicorn: Is that how it is for diverse litigators in Wisconsin? Eric Andrews says it is time for the metaphor to change.

    Eric L. Andrews

    unicorn statue

    While attending a 2017 Claims Litigation Management (CLM) Diversity and Inclusion Institute Conference in Chicago, Illinois, I attended a session titled “Diversity in Demand: What Buyers Want.” The session explored what insurance buyers, in this case Fortune 100/500 companies, are seeking from their industry service providers.

    Specifically, this session primarily focused on these companies’ demand for diversity and inclusion in the insurance industry based upon research showing that, when insurers have members who represent the target customers, the team was much more likely to understand customers’ needs, facilitating more effective engagement.

    During the session, I raised my hand and commented about an additional layer to this cause-and-effect relationship that could potentially have a positive effect on diversity and inclusion in the practice of law. I explained to the panel that these companies have significant power in their insurance relationship, and that as an African American litigation attorney, it would be great if these companies also mandated that the insurance companies handling their claims required a certain percentage of their claim work be handled by diverse attorneys.

    One of the panel members responded, “You are like a unicorn.”

    Unsure of what she meant by her use of the term unicorn, I approached the panelist after the session and she explained to me that she called me a unicorn because, in her experience, African American litigators were always heard about, but never seen!

    The Importance of Reflecting Our Communities

    As society continues to transform, it is unquestionably important for the legal profession to be diverse and inclusive, to adequately represent and serve the many communities that form our society. Despite this, increasing diversity in the legal profession, especially in the upper ranks, has progressed slowly.

    Eric Andrews Eric Andrews, Marquette 2012, is a senior associate with MHW Law Group, LLP, in Milwaukee, where he practices in the defense of claims relating to civil rights, premises liability, personal injury, and municipal law.

    Nowhere is this need more important than in the litigation sphere. Diverse lawyers are woefully underrepresented in plaintiff personal injury law firms and insurance defense law firms.

    It is crucial for law firms and their management to ensure that their organizations are diverse and reflect the communities they serve – and are inclusive, providing opportunities for advancement and mentorship.

    It is equally important for firms to work with other firms and organizations in the legal industry, to achieve real sustained progress in the advancement of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. In working together, we can achieve more and at a greater scale. There is nothing more powerful than leaders and organizations working collectively toward the same goal to change the status quo.

    Making Strategic Plans

    Currently, I serve as the chair of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Strategic Planning Committee (SPC). The SPC is charged with, among other things, creating goals for the State Bar of Wisconsin as an organization, identifying and apportioning resources to accomplish those goals, and measuring the organization’s success as it moves toward the envisioned future.

    One of those goals is improvement of diversity and inclusion in the Wisconsin legal profession. To move the ball forward, the State Bar created a number of initiatives aimed at improving diversity and inclusion within the practice of law in Wisconsin. Some of those initiatives include the Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee, the Diversity Clerkship Program and the recently created Racial Justice Task Force.

    In addition to the State Bar’s initiatives, the SPC is considering a template created by an organization named the Greater Cincinnati Minority Counsel Program (GCMCP). GCMCP’s purpose is to increase the volume, value, and significance of corporate legal work managed, billed, and performed by minority attorneys by implementing a partnership among corporations, majority-owned law firms, minority-owned law firms, public sector, and charitable and educational organizations.

    The SPC is currently considering implementing a similar program through the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Committee. For more information about the program, please see the attached link: visit the GCMCP website.

    Run to the Roar

    In 2018, I had the privilege of introducing former State Bar of Missouri President Dana Tippin Cutler as a guest speaker at the State Bar of Wisconsin’s 2018 Annual Meeting and Conference at the Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva.

    Cutler started her speech by revisiting the idea of facing one’s fears repeatedly. She used an old African proverb in her speech to exemplify why the legal profession cannot run from the unknown or whatever else they may fear.

    The proverb comes from the savannah, where lions wait in tall grasses while herds move across the plain. While on the hunt, a pride will often send its weakest male member away from the others. In this case, his roar is bigger than his bite. At the sound of the single lion’s roar, the herd rushes right into the waiting lionesses. If the herd had run toward the roar, they would have escaped their ill fate.

    The proverb says you should “run to the roar” – that is, where you fear to go – and there you will find safety and a way through the danger.

    The moral of the proverb is that attorneys need to ground themselves in the changing legal landscape by running toward their fears – whether that be to innovation, to a changing and diverse workplace, or to supporting clients in new ways.

    I encourage Wisconsin lawyers to run to the roar.

    This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Litigation Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Litigation Section web pages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.

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    Litigation Section Blog is published by the State Bar of Wisconsin; blog posts are written by section members. To contribute to this blog, contact Matthew Lein and Heather L. Nelson and review Author Submission Guidelines. Learn more about the Litigation Section or become a member.

    Disclaimer: Views presented in blog posts are those of the blog post authors, not necessarily those of the Section or the State Bar of Wisconsin. Due to the rapidly changing nature of law and our reliance on information provided by outside sources, the State Bar of Wisconsin makes no warranty or guarantee concerning the accuracy or completeness of this content.

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