Nuturing Diverse Legal Talent

Through care, nurturing and a concerted effort, a future with diverse lawyers is certain.

Like many people, my dad has had a lifelong passion for gardening--in particular, vegetable gardening. For as long as I can remember, there has always been a small plot in my parents' backyard in Houston dedicated to growing peppers, cucumbers, okra, peas, tomatoes, beans and a host of other edible root and vine plants. In the past couple of years, his crop variety has expanded to include fruit trees. On my last visit home, he proudly walked me into the backyard to show me his newly planted sapling trees. We inspected small trees that, if all goes according to plan, will one day bear oranges, figs, pecans, plums and peaches.

For some of the trees in his "orchard," maturity is several years away. Once mature, there will be a bounty for years to come. But in the meantime, he tends and nurtures his young trees. He protects them from extreme weather and pests. He invests time, resources and his own "sweat equity." His trees require attention virtually every day. He knows that without his care and attention, otherwise healthy young trees may never bear fruit.

The diverse young lawyers in our midst are, in many ways, like my dad's fruit trees--full of promise and poised to bear fruit. But without the proper care, development and nurturing over the long haul, these young lawyers may never reach the full measure of their potential. Fortunately, leaders across our profession are committing their time, resources and "sweat equity" to drive long-term diversity progress. Meet the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD).

Brad Smith, senior VP and general counsel of Microsoft, recently introduced InsideCounsel readers to the LCLD (see "Pipeline Challenge," January 2011), an organization formed in 2009 whose membership so far consists of the managing partners of more than 160 of the largest U.S.-based law firms as well as the chief legal officers of more than 50 Fortune 500 companies. LCLD's mission is simply stated and ambitious--"to advance diversity in our profession." To accomplish this, LCLD resolved at its first meeting in fall 2010 to pursue a number of initiatives. One of these is the design, sponsorship and implementation of a talent-development initiative.

This spring, LCLD will formally launch its inaugural Fellows Program. In the words of LCLD Executive Director (and former ABA President) Robert Grey, the goal of the Fellows Program is "to connect high-potential attorneys from LCLD member law firms and law departments with an experience that will influence the Fellows' career for years to come."

The Fellows, most in their sixth to 12th year of practice, are nominated by their member firm or company annually. The curriculum of the Fellows year will be a robust combination of exposure to the leaders of firms and companies, relationship building with one another and shoulder-to-shoulder contact with the lawyers at the top of the profession. As Fellows "graduate" from the yearlong program, they return to their respective roles informed, inspired, connected and energized. They will be expected to engage with future Fellows. They will stay connected to one another. And who knows, maybe in years or perhaps decades, they will bear fruit--as managing partners, rainmakers and chief legal officers, judges, law school deans, elected officials and regulators. But wherever they land, the hope is that they will be impact players in the profession.

In this way, the Fellows program, if successful, will grow high-potential saplings into strong, tall trees that bear fruit into perpetuity. And, frankly, if this group can't do it, I wonder who can.

Here's what you can do. Visit LCLD's Join LCLD. Send Fellows from your law department or firm. Join the movement to transform our profession not just for a year or two, but for good. Together, with investments, nurturing and "sweat equity," we can make a diverse legal profession a reality.

John Lewis Jr.

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