Articles Posted in Diversity

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As a lawyer and communications professional words are one the tools we use to persuade, convince and resolve. We rely on court opinions and written statutory law enacted by legislative process. We rely on words from prior court cases and prior generations that might use words we find offensive or off-putting now. We reference our time and shape our vision of the world with words and phrases. We learn from the words of the past about how things were then and how they are different now. In my tradition, some of those words were written thousands of years ago.

I have hesitated to publish or submit to the MLK archives the speech my father gave after he returned from the Selma march in 1964 because his words, like those of Dr. King at the time, are different than words we use now. He was asked to give a speech to the wider community about his experiences. But I have concluded that his speech belongs in the MLK archives so that his perspective is preserved for future generations. Without context, we cannot fully understand the effort and its progression, even if the words used then are dissonant now.

I thought this week about what Dr. King must have thought as my parents brought me and older brother into that small room in San Francisco to meet Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy. I can imagine the respect he had for my father to bring his children along in this historic fight, and take us to the Cow Palace (photo attached) later that night to sit with thousands of civil rights activists and supporters as the battle lines for equality were being drawn. As I sat in the audience with my family while my dad was on the podium with Dr. King, I didn’t notice at all that we were a super minority that night.

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A while back, I read a great piece by Christine Riordin in the HBR on what she says we inaccurately call work-life balance. Apparently, researchers have found that when we are on the job believing that we don’t have enough family or personal time, that itself drains and distracts us.

Some folks, including tech executives with really demanding jobs seem to have it all and do it all. As a young practicing lawyer, who happened also to be a female in a male dominated profession, I gave up trying to have it all because I could not come up with the right formula.

After many years of earnest effort, I ended up going on the ambivalence-creating “mommy track.” I do not intend to make this about male v. female in my profession, but realistically there is a big difference on the demands we experience and the support we need and receive. I tell the young women I mentor in the law that they need to ask for support and guidance when they are feeling overwhelmed or drained. I have suggested they join law firms that have an open commitment to work life issues.

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The National Law Journal reports that an alarming number of law firms have drastically cut recruiting and professional development staff over the past two years. The NLJ quotes an Altman Weil consultant saying that this is one of the first areas of cost cutting.

It’s an interesting development and not surprising. It seems doubtful that hard-pressed bottom-line-driven senior associates and partners will pick up the slack on professional development.

The survey found that firms with 250 or more attorneys suffered the biggest losses in this area and placed more duties on existing staff. Unfortunately, these departments also work on other important efforts with professional staff, including mentoring and diversity, work-life balance and pro bono initiatives. Many of the most critical areas that our profession must address.

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