California Minority Counsel Program: 25 Years of Promoting Diversity for Business Lawyers
Originally posted on Huff Post10/15/2014
By Jimmy Nguyen
When I was eight years old, I playedLinus 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 itodd that my equally Asian sister filled the role of Lucy. In my young mind, it also would have beenperfectly normal to have, hypothetically, a Hispanic Charlie Brown or anAfrican American Sally.
My adult life puts me on differentstage: as a partner of a national lawfirm, I represent Fortune 500 and other businesses in corporate America. In this legal world, racial minorities facemany challenges to becoming a star. That'swhy 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 canshine.
In 1989, CMCP was founded by DennisArcher (then a Michigan Supreme Court justice), Drucilla StenderRamey (then executive director of the Bar Association of San Francisco), andGuy Rounsaville (Well Fargo Bank's general counsel atthe time). Since its inception, itsmission has been "promoting diversity in the legal profession by providingattorneys of color with access and opportunity for business and professionaldevelopment."
This month, hundreds of lawyers -coming from America's largest law firms, minority-owned law firms, and in-houselaw departments of major corporations and public agencies - will gather in SanFrancisco for CMCP's annual business conference and its silver anniversary. That's because diversity is a hot topic intoday's business world - including for the lawyers who serve corporate America.And while there are many legal diversityorganizations, CMCP has a particular focus on this world of business lawyers. In fact, the founding members were the legaldepartments of five major companies - Wells Fargo Bank, First Interstate Bank,Bank of America, Chevron and Pacific Telesis Group. Today, the organization's current ExecutiveDirector, Marci Rubin, brings in-depth corporate perspective - having served asDeputy 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 obtainaccess to relationships with potential clients - especially the in-housecounsel at corporations and public agencies. For in-house law departments, itprovides professional development and support to achieve internal diversitygoals. n 1995, then-chair of CMCP'sSteering 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 counselwho wanted to represent corporations, were like ships passing in the night. The CMCP continues to serve as a unique anddynamic port of opportunity."
I'm one of the countless lawyerswhose careers have benefitted from the ports of opportunity created by CMCP. I can attest to client relationships, businessrevenue, and professional exposure that came my way because I've been involvedwith CMCP.
But for all that CMCP hasaccomplished in its 25 years and for everything that other law diversityorganizations have done, the legal industry still has far to go. In California, racial minorities make up only20.7% of lawyers - according to the results of a December 2011 survey commissioned by the State Bar of California's Board ofGovernors. That survey revealedespecially 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. Amongthe major firms who report to the National Association of Law Placement , in 2013, racial minorities from all groups made up only7.1% of all partners (and only 4.8% of equity partners). Compare this to a nationwide population ofover 36% racial minorities.
And that's just looking at racialgroups. Women, LGBT and other categoriesof diverse lawyers face their own challenges as well.
As CMCP celebrates its silveranniversary, it's a good time to think about the future. What more can the legal industry do to improvethe stage for diverse business lawyers - in California and nationwide?
First, let money talk.Notjust a profession, law is a business and can take advantage of business tools. From the client perspective, that can includeoffering financial incentives to law firms that meetdiversity goals or evaluating diversity when selecting relationship partners atlaw firms (steps which some major companies are already doing). This in turn helps diverse attorneys in lawfirms generate more business and increase their stature, which in turn empowerthem to effectuate internal change within their firms. But law firms can't just wait for clients ortheir 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 aboutdiversity as a moral imperative is not enough. Finding mechanisms to financially incentivizediversity performance will be needed.
Second, remember the in-housecounsel.Withso much dialogue focusing on helping diverse lawyers in law firms, in-houselawyers at corporations and public agencies often get less attention. They too need professional development supportto advance their careers, and even become (if they want) a General Counsel orhigh-ranking business executive. If moreminority 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 indiversity efforts. Ratherthan have straight white male colleagues - whether in corporations or law firms- be skeptical of diversity and inclusion initiatives, we can do a better jobof explaining how they too benefit. Wecan also help straight white men realize that everyone - including them - hassome tie to race, gender, sexual orientation and other diversity in theirlives. As I say, "Everyonehas a DiverseStory. What's yours?". Thus, there's no reason why straight white men can't beincluded on diversity committees, tasked with action items or even becomediversity leaders. CMCP provides a greatexample of this, with several straight white men serving as its Board chair orco-chair the past decade.By nurturingmore allies, diversity initiatives have a much stronger chance of success.
To support these and other actionsteps, organizations such as the California Minority Counsel Program willremain critical and their work may never finish. But for now, let's take a moment tocongratulate CMCP on its quarter century of helping to create legal stars.
Stars abounded on my childhood stageof Peanuts characters. In that realm ofyoung innocence, everyone - irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, sexualorientation - could shine. For the legalprofession, I wish all diverse talent can star on an equally welcoming stage.
Formore information on the California Minority Counsel Program, The CaliforniaBusiness Attorney's Diversity Partner, visit www.cmcp.org.
Jimmy Nguyen is a partner in thenational law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. He serves on the Board ofDirectors of the California Minority Counsel Program, and was theorganization's co-chair in 2010. The opinions in this article are, however, hisown.Jimmy writes for his own JimmyWin.comblog, and you can follow him on Facebook andTwitter.