Minority Issues

At the Creating Pathways to Diversity Conference, sponsored by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA), there was a great lunchtime discussion called “Her Stories: The Evolving Role of Women in Business and Law.” It featured a panel of heavy hitters: two women currently serving as general counsel to Fortune 500 companies, and a third who previously served as GC to no fewer than four Fortune 500 companies over her career.

What does their rise say about the changing role of women in the corporate legal world? How did they get to their lofty perches? And what advice would they offer to lawyers aspiring to such successful careers?

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Yesterday I participated in a panel at the Creating Pathways to Diversity Conference, sponsored by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA), entitled “Attitudes & Opinions: Generation Y Speaks about their Workplace in 10 Years.” The spirited discussion covered a wide range of topics relating to Gen Y’s workplace attitudes.

I also attended a number of other interesting events. In the afternoon, I checked out “Special Considerations: The In-House Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Lawyer Experience.”

If you’re interested in LGBT issues or in-house diversity issues, keep reading to find out what the panelists had to say….

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Kyle Bristow

Last year, we wrote about Kyle Bristow, a student at the University of Toledo College of Law. Bristow had been the chairman of the Young Americans for Freedom student chapter at Michigan State University when he was in college. The MSU-YAF was designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Hey, we’re living in a world where convicted murders get to go to law school. We can’t be surprised when the chairman of a so-called “hate group” gets in too.

But admitting a student with Bristow’s… colorful past, and holding him out as a representative of the law school, are two very different things. Toledo now seems strangely comfortable promoting Bristow and his views.

It’s an interesting choice. One that Toledo is certainly free to make. One that students who want to go to law school in an environment welcoming to minorities might want to notice….

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Daniel Watkins: cleared of all charges.

Back in May, around the time of the Johnathan Perkins craziness at UVA Law School, we wrote about stalking and assault charges leveled against another UVA law student (and friend of Perkins), Daniel Paul Watkins. An ex-girlfriend and female classmate claimed that Daniel Watkins assaulted and threatened her.

At the time, we quoted a friend of Watkins who counseled caution in reacting to the charges. This source stated that “there is another side to the story, which has yet to surface,” and that observers should “keep an open mind” and “not pass judgment too quickly.”

As it turns out, these words were prescient. A judge just dismissed all of the charges against Daniel P. Watkins….

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LeRoy Pernell

When the statistics tell you that virtually every black college will be in noncompliance, it’s a matter of grave concern.

LeRoy Pernell, dean of Florida A&M University College of Law, commenting on the possibility of a more stringent ABA bar passage requirement for law schools.

(At present, to remain in good standing with the ABA, at least 75 percent of a law school’s graduates taking the bar in the school’s state must pass for at least three of the past five years. The new ABA proposal calls for an 80 percent bar passage rate or a rate no more than 10 percentage points lower than other law schools in the state.)

Eminem is the Jackie Robinson of rap, not some white guy trying to 'steal' black culture.

During my youth, most of the black people I knew called me an “Oreo.” Not because I liked the cookies. Apparently, I was black on the outside (obviously), but “white on the inside.” It took me a while to figure out why, since politically I don’t think I’ve ever shared a majoritarian view of things. But it turns out that simply by “speaking well,” getting good grades, and insisting on keeping my pants high enough to fully cover my ass, I was “acting white” to certain black kids. The fact that I dance for s**t, can’t hit a jump shot to save my life, and have two parents who spent more time in college than prison surely didn’t help my “street cred.”

Of course, age has taught me that I grew up around a lot of low-expectation-having black kids. Black people with self respect wouldn’t consider childhood-Elie an Oreo. A big freaking dork who should never be invited to a party, perhaps, but not an Oreo.

Now, most black people have had similar upbringings to my own (though, sadly, I’m still the most rhythmically challenged black person I know). Nowadays, my black friends say things like, “Elie, you are the only black person I know who could write a post about the Wire and see yourself as the only white guy on the show.” See, that’s not racist. That’s just funny. That black friend (oh, F-U [Redacted], by the way) wasn’t suggesting that I was an Oreo because of how I acted; he was suggesting it because of who I identified with. That’s fair game.

I bring all of this up because that crucial distinction was totally lost on a Minnesota high school. The school allowed “Wigger Day” to happen on campus, and now it is getting sued.

Yeah, apparently turning a blind eye while your students make fun of an entire culture is something that can get you sued….

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Ebony and ivory, billing together in perfect harmony.

We’ve talked a lot in these pages about the value of diversity. It’s important to clients, it’s important to law firms, and it’s important to the legal profession as a whole.

Given the significance of diversity, it’s not surprising that several organizations and news outlets focus on it, especially with respect to large law firms. In the past few weeks, we’ve discussed diversity data from Building A Better Legal Profession and from the American Lawyer, for example.

Today brings news of more diversity rankings, this time from the ranking gurus over at Vault. They’ve compiled a list of 25 best law firms for diversity.

Which firms made the cut? Is your firm on the list?

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This should be a feel good story. Kymberly Wimberly, a young, teenage mother, overcomes adversity (and a horrendously spelled name) to become valedictorian of her high school near Little Rock, Arkansas. She is congratulated and set out as an example to other students, before continuing on her successful journey.

And if Kymberly Wimberly were white, maybe that would be the story coming to a Lifetime special near you. But Wimberly is black, and this is the internet. According to a lawsuit filed by Wimberly’s mother, Molly Bratton, the principal of McGehee Secondary School wanted to avoid the “big mess” that would have ensued if Wimberly had been named sole valedictorian, to be applauded at graduation by McGehee’s majority-white parents. Bratton claims that this is just the latest in a pattern of discrimination against black students at the majority-white school.

Thanks to the internet, I think Principal Darrell Thompson is about to learn a whole new definition for “big mess”….

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Ralph Richard Banks

Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories about black women. Things can be tough. African-American women get all of the sexism white women have to deal with, and all of the racism black men have to deal with. Successful black men tend to fulfill their own self-loathing destiny by running away from black women (not me, I’m married to one). Cultural representations of them are used to sell syrup or chicken, or involve a black dude dressed up in a fat suit (if William Tecumseh Sherman were still alive, he’d be waging war against Martin Lawrence and Tyler Perry). And law professors at prestigious universities try to profiteer off of their difficulties.

That last one is somewhat recent. But I don’t know how else to describe the new book by a Stanford Law professor, Ralph Richard Banks. His upcoming book is entitled Is Marriage for White People? (affiliate link).

Now, if I were a blogger looking to make a quick buck, that’s exactly the kind of book I’d write. In fact, look for my upcoming book, “Why White People Can Afford To Piss Away Time & Money in Law School, But Blacks Can’t.”

But Ralph Banks isn’t a blogger, he’s a Stanford Law professor. Shouldn’t we expect less sensationalized bullcrap from him?

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An old white male and his younger diverse peeps.

Law firm diversity matters. It matters to corporate clients, many of them public companies that want to demonstrate their commitment to diversity through their selection of vendors and service providers — which is what law firms are, at the end of the day. It matters to the law students and lawyers that firms are trying to recruit — which is the premise behind the data collection conducted by Building A Better Legal Profession.

So there should be keen interest in the latest edition of the American Lawyer’s Diversity Scorecard 2011, which the magazine just released. As Am Law explains, the Scorecard constitutes its annual ranking of large law firms by their percentage of minority attorneys and minority partners.

Let’s take a look at the top firms for diversity. Did your firm make the list?

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