California Minority Counsel Program: 25 Years of
Promoting Diversity for Business Lawyers
Originally posted on Huff Post
By Jimmy Nguyen
When I was eight years old, I played
Linus in my elementary school's musical production of "You're A Good Man,
Charlie Brown." At eight years old,
there was anything odd to me about an Asian boy (let alone, a gay Asian boy)
playing the role of Linus. Nor was it
odd that my equally Asian sister filled the role of Lucy. In my young mind, it also would have been
perfectly normal to have, hypothetically, a Hispanic Charlie Brown or an
African American Sally.
My adult life puts me on different
stage: as a partner of a national law
firm, I represent Fortune 500 and other businesses in corporate America. In this legal world, racial minorities face
many challenges to becoming a star. That's
why I am glad that the California Minority Counsel Program is around - and this year celebrates its 25th anniversary -
to give minority business attorneys a better career stage on which they can
In 1989, CMCP was founded by Dennis
Archer (then a Michigan Supreme Court justice), Drucilla Stender
Ramey (then executive director of the Bar Association of San Francisco), and
Guy Rounsaville (Well Fargo Bank's general counsel at
the time). Since its inception, its
mission has been "promoting diversity in the legal profession by providing
attorneys of color with access and opportunity for business and professional
This month, hundreds of lawyers -
coming from America's largest law firms, minority-owned law firms, and in-house
law departments of major corporations and public agencies - will gather in San
Francisco for CMCP's annual business conference and its silver anniversary. That's because diversity is a hot topic in
today's business world - including for the lawyers who serve corporate America.
And while there are many legal diversity
organizations, CMCP has a particular focus on this world of business lawyers. In fact, the founding members were the legal
departments of five major companies - Wells Fargo Bank, First Interstate Bank,
Bank of America, Chevron and Pacific Telesis Group. Today, the organization's current Executive
Director, Marci Rubin, brings in-depth corporate perspective - having served as
Deputy General Counsel as part of a 30-year career at Wells Fargo.
With its focus on business lawyers,
CMCP provides opportunities for minority attorneys at law firms to obtain
access to relationships with potential clients - especially the in-house
counsel at corporations and public agencies. For in-house law departments, it
provides professional development and support to achieve internal diversity
goals. n 1995, then-chair of CMCP's
Steering Committee Lloyd M. Johnson summed it up well: "Prior to the creation of the CMCP,
Corporate Counsel who wanted to retain minority counsel, and minority counsel
who wanted to represent corporations, were like ships passing in the night. The CMCP continues to serve as a unique and
dynamic port of opportunity."
I'm one of the countless lawyers
whose careers have benefitted from the ports of opportunity created by CMCP. I can attest to client relationships, business
revenue, and professional exposure that came my way because I've been involved
But for all that CMCP has
accomplished in its 25 years and for everything that other law diversity
organizations have done, the legal industry still has far to go. In California, racial minorities make up only
20.7% of lawyers - according to the results of a December 2011 survey commissioned by the State Bar of California's Board of
Governors. That survey revealed
especially troubling numbers for Latino and African-American attorneys: only 4.2% of California lawyers are Latino,
compared to approximately 38% of the state population (from 2010 census data).
African-Americans comprise 6.6% of Californians, but only 2.7% of the state's attorneys.
The picture is also bleak at the
"BigLaw" firms who serve corporate America,
and especially at their partner ranks. Among
the major firms who report to the National Association of Law Placement, in 2013, racial minorities from all groups made up only
7.1% of all partners (and only 4.8% of equity partners). Compare this to a nationwide population of
over 36% racial minorities.
And that's just looking at racial
groups. Women, LGBT and other categories
of diverse lawyers face their own challenges as well.
As CMCP celebrates its silver
anniversary, it's a good time to think about the future. What more can the legal industry do to improve
the stage for diverse business lawyers - in California and nationwide?
First, let money talk. Not
just a profession, law is a business and can take advantage of business tools. From the client perspective, that can include
offering financial incentives to law firms that meet
diversity goals or evaluating diversity when selecting relationship partners at
law firms (steps which some major companies are already doing). This in turn helps diverse attorneys in law
firms generate more business and increase their stature, which in turn empower
them to effectuate internal change within their firms. But law firms can't just wait for clients or
their own minority lawyers to drive the train; they can be more proactive -
such as considering diversity goals in their compensation system for partners. The reality is that merely talking about
diversity as a moral imperative is not enough. Finding mechanisms to financially incentivize
diversity performance will be needed.
Second, remember the in-house
so much dialogue focusing on helping diverse lawyers in law firms, in-house
lawyers at corporations and public agencies often get less attention. They too need professional development support
to advance their careers, and even become (if they want) a General Counsel or
high-ranking business executive. If more
minority lawyers move up the executive ladder, the face of corporate America -
and not just the legal industry - will change for the better.
Third, include straight white men in
diversity efforts. Rather
than have straight white male colleagues - whether in corporations or law firms
- be skeptical of diversity and inclusion initiatives, we can do a better job
of explaining how they too benefit. We
can also help straight white men realize that everyone - including them - has
some tie to race, gender, sexual orientation and other diversity in their
lives. As I say, "Everyone
has a DiverseStory. What's yours?". Thus, there's no reason why straight white men can't be
included on diversity committees, tasked with action items or even become
diversity leaders. CMCP provides a great
example of this, with several straight white men serving as its Board chair or
co-chair the past decade. By nurturing
more allies, diversity initiatives have a much stronger chance of success.
To support these and other action
steps, organizations such as the California Minority Counsel Program will
remain critical and their work may never finish. But for now, let's take a moment to
congratulate CMCP on its quarter century of helping to create legal stars.
Stars abounded on my childhood stage
of Peanuts characters. In that realm of
young innocence, everyone - irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual
orientation - could shine. For the legal
profession, I wish all diverse talent can star on an equally welcoming stage.
more information on the California Minority Counsel Program, The California
Business Attorney's Diversity Partner, visit www.cmcp.org.
Jimmy Nguyen is a partner in the
national law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. He serves on the Board of
Directors of the California Minority Counsel Program, and was the
organization's co-chair in 2010. The opinions in this article are, however, his
Jimmy writes for his own JimmyWin.com blog, and you can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.