Now, when we have a conference, we invite young people. In the
past two years, we have had about 300 to 440 young people attend.
AZAT: Is there anything else new in the alliance?
OTU: For the first time ever, we decided that there would be a legal
forum. We had a very good turnout in 2008—maybe 20 or more attorneys, and even more in 2009.
AZAT: What were the topics?
OTU: Employment and hiring, retention, mentoring, advancement.
And the best practices of those organizations who have brought in and
retained minority attorneys.
AZAT: Among those employers doing the best at this: Is it just because
they think differently, or are there strategies they employ?
OTU: I think both. For example, some firms recognize that women
have the same talents as men, but are in a peculiar position in terms of
families and having children. So some law firms make allowances,
accommodations, during pregnancy.
Other law firms make a conscious decision to hire lawyers with dis-abilities. And others have formal mentorship programs.
AZAT: The ABA Report on diversity in the legal profession just came
out (see sidebar on p. 18). It included some disappointing trends.
Despite a lot of effort, recruitment of minority lawyers is up, but retention is still a problem. Law schools still “chase the top part of the diverse
applicant pool rather than increase the size of the pool.” And efforts of
bars and others still tend to focus on large employers, even though the
majority of all lawyers are smalls and solos.
Does that resonate with your experience?
OTU: It does, especially in the downturn. It has affected minority attorneys disproportionately, I would say. I know many attorneys, even at
large firms, who left the firms or were laid off.
That’s why the pipeline is so important. If we can get people
through the pipeline into law schools, we will then have that pool that
law firms are always saying [is empty].
It’s a long-term project. We are not going to see results overnight.
But we believe we will make an impact.
AZAT: One thing the ABA report says is that people suffer from “
diversity fatigue”; they think they’ve heard enough. Have you heard that?
OTU: Yes, but again, I go back to what I would describe as a narrow
view of diversity, that mindset. If we can get away from that and tap into
all the talent, we’ll be better off.
When we talk about diversity itself, you are looking at human diversity, you are looking at cultural diversity, you are looking at system
diversity. When you combine all of this, and bring in the inclusion to
make sure that nobody is consciously excluded, then diversity becomes
more than just a concept that people will describe as being fatigued
about. It becomes a real practice.
AZAT: So it’s a conversation about value, rather than check-boxes?
AZAT: One of the original programs launched by your department a
few years ago was the Bar Leadership Institute. How would you
OTU: It is a nine-month program that brings together attorneys from
different backgrounds. The main objective is to groom these attorneys
for leadership positions in the Bar and in the community. We especially
look at the underrepresented populations and try to encourage these
attorneys to join the BLI. Every year, we’ve had a tremendous amount