Inside Track: Legal humorist Sean Carter headlines event on diversity in the legal profession:

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    Legal humorist Sean Carter headlines event on diversity in the legal profession

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    Promoting diversity isn't just an altruistic endeavor. Law firms and corporations can benefit from legal perspectives that reflect diverse populations. Learn what diversity professionals are currently doing to promote diversity, and how the investment can pay off.
    Sean Carter

    Sean Carter, Lawpsided Seminars.

    Some of Carter’s video excerpts are available here.

    Aug. 3, 2011 – Eliminating racial, gender, religious and other biases in general is about as realistic as the Bucks pulling off another winning season next year, says legal humorist Sean Carter (kidding). But that doesn’t mean legal professionals shouldn’t keep trying to promote diversity inclusion in the legal profession.

    “I think the most fruitful way to go about achieving greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace is to recognize our biases and to compensate for them,” said Carter, a Harvard Law School graduate and former corporate securities lawyer.

    Carter is one of several speakers scheduled for the State Bar of Wisconsin’s upcoming 2011 Diversity Counsel Program, entitled “Today’s Diversity: Perception and Reality,” which will take place Sept. 30 at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee.

    Other speakers will discuss how majority-owned (owned primarily by white men) law firms are implementing and maintaining diversity strategies today, and how corporations are using minority and women-owned law firms to help diversify the legal profession.

    Humor me

    Carter, founder of Lawpsided Seminars, says his presentation, “Fail Better: Continuing Efforts to Eliminate Bias” is entertaining and full of practical advice for legal professionals promoting diversity in the workplace.

    In this video, Sean Carter uses humor to discuss diversity issues at a past State Bar Diversity Counsel program.

    Interested in becoming a 2011 Diversity Counsel Program Sponsor? Review the sponsorship materials to learn about the benefits of sponsorship.

    “In fact, I make the following guarantee,” Carter said, “by implementing the practices in this seminar, you can completely eliminate discrimination and bias in your company within 90 days, with one caveat; that your company closes its doors within 90 days.”

    Carter, author of If It Does Not Fit, Must You Acquit?: Your Humorous Guide to the Law, will use humor to bridge gaps on a topic that is often difficult to discuss. He says humor can help law professionals understand that “we are all guilty of prejudice” on some level, but we can work together “to create more inclusive workplaces, educational institutions, and communities.”

    “Humor allows me to get past the walls that people often erect regarding diversity and bias,” said Carter, who practiced law for almost 10 years before becoming a self-styled “Humorist at Law.” He speaks regularly on various topics at programs and events across the country. Some of Carter’s video excerpts are available at his Lawpsided Seminars website.

    Investing in diversity

    Maureen McGinnity

    Maureen McGinnity, Foley & Lardner

    While Carter humors legal professionals to break the ice on issues of diversity and bias, others speakers will explain how majority-owned firms are currently investing in diversity initiatives and how corporate clients are using diversity to diversify their problem-solving teams.

    Maureen McGinnity, chief diversity partner in the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner, oversees the firm’s diversity initiatives in offices nationwide.

    In 2007, Foley was named one of the top law firms for women by Working Mother magazine, and has also been recognized as a top law firm for disabled and gay/lesbian attorneys. McGinnity says Foley strives to diversify through focused efforts on recruitment, retention, and leadership development.

    But one of the biggest challenges is recognizing that the “free market system” common in law firms – which assumes the best lawyers will compete, become visible, and eventually rise to leadership roles – can adversely impact diverse attorneys who don’t make connections with partners early enough.

    “If, for whatever reason, an associate doesn’t get the early opportunities, then other associates who do are going to advance more quickly,” said McGinnity, who has helped implement what she terms “conscious inclusion” within the firm.

    For instance, McGinnity has helped implement an assignment management system for new associates. This process provides management oversight to assure that all new attorneys receive opportunities to work with partners and make the early connections to showcase their talents through various projects and assignments.

    While pipeline programs to attract diverse students to law schools are important, “there are already many diverse law students and lawyers in the system,” McGinnity said.

    “The issue is attracting them to law firms and retaining them once there. So it’s important to focus inwardly, from a firm-perspective, and help diverse individuals succeed.”

    Corporate demand

    Diversity initiatives like the one at Foley can help law firms retain talented individuals to reflect a diverse population and promote diversity in the workplace. In addition, retaining and grooming diverse lawyers for leadership roles will help meet the demands of clients.

    McGinnity says many Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies are encouraging outside counsel to diversify their legal teams to reflect the diverse markets and populations they serve.

    “Companies often market their goods and services to diverse populations across the globe, and find that diversity among vendors, including lawyers, is very beneficial,” McGinnity said. “This reflects the idea that a company will get better solutions with more perspectives represented.”

    In fact, 17 major multinational corporations this year committed to collectively spend $70 million to invest in diverse law firms when it comes to their legal needs. Among those are Google, DuPont, General Mills, American Airlines, Accenture, and Shell Oil Company.

    This “Inclusion Initiative” is focused on “maximizing opportunities for diverse law firms to grow while meeting the legal needs and cost concerns of major corporate clients.”

    Minority and women-owned law firms

    Emile Banks Jr.

    Emile Banks Jr., Emile & Associates LLC

    While majority-owned firms strive to promote diversity inclusion, women and minority attorneys continue to diversify the legal profession by starting their own law firms.

    Emile Banks Jr., an African-American trial attorney in Milwaukee, founded Emile & Associates LLC in 1999.

    Emile and Associates is one of two firms in Wisconsin (the other is Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan LLP, Milwaukee) that are members of the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF), based in Milwaukee.

    To be a member of NAMWOLF, the firm must have a significant corporate law practice, favorable references from Fortune 500 companies, and be properly certified as minority or women-owned (51 percent or more). While NAMWOLF promotes diversity, Banks says the organization just highlights excellent law firms that happen to be women or minority-owned.

    “I can definitely say with confidence that 97 percent of our clients hire us, not because we are minority-owned, but because we have proven we can handle some of the largest cases filed in Wisconsin,” said Banks, whose firm has not relied on NAMWOLF to procure clients.

    But Banks says diversity initiatives like NAMWOLF open up a talent pool of law firms that might otherwise go unnoticed when it comes to handling large, complex cases.

    “Twenty years ago, the opportunity to handle a case for a major national corporation was nearly nonexistent for the smaller minority-owned firms,” he said. “The diversity initiatives that exist today give these firms the opportunity to handle these cases.”

    In addition, Banks said increased revenue helps his firm give back to the underserved communities, largely minority communities in the Milwaukee area, through educational and scholarship opportunities.

    Still, Banks says the economic downturn has had an adverse impact on diversity initiatives as corporations are using more in-house attorneys to cut costs. He hopes initiatives will continue because a diverse legal profession “truly reflects our diverse society.”

    Jason Brown

    NAMWOLF Executive Director Jason Brown

    At the State Bar’s Diversity Counsel Program, NAMWOLF Executive Director Jason Brown will discuss the tactics his organization uses to make connections with corporations, especially with minority and women-owned business enterprises.

    “Our member firms are traditionally a hotbed of exceptionally talented diverse attorneys,” Brown said. “Our work ensures that minority and women attorneys have an opportunity to showcase their talents and skills.”

    Brown noted that although many majority-owned law firms are making “valiant” efforts to promote diversity, there still remains a gross underrepresentation of minorities and women in leadership positions in both law firms and corporations.

    To aid the promotion of diversity and inclusion, Brown will discuss the internal diversity programs, affinity bar associations, and other initiatives that can assist in achieving diversity results for both corporations and law firms.

    Registration and cost

    The cost of attendance is $35 for State Bar members, $25 for Ultimate Pass holders, $15 for students, and $50 for nonmembers. Visit the 2011 Diversity Counsel Program webpage to learn more about the program topics and presenters, and to register.