In thinking about making Cincinnati’s legal community more diverse and inclusive, there are several questions with which we may begin. First, what is the synthetic relationship between achieving diversity among corporate clients, corporate in-house counsel and law firm partners? Second, is diversity in the legal profession possible if inclusion and diversity are not sought at the same time, in a synchronized manner, among these three commercial participants? Third, how do we encourage each of these participants to simultaneously seek diversity and inclusion while consummating their business transactions? Fourth, is the only guiding principle to encourage diversity the due deference to fair and equal competition with the meritocratic review of attorneys?
Commercial clients seek attorneys who have a known reputation for quality legal advice within the marketplace. They want an attorney who, as to opposing counsel, can “cut the best deal” or “make court precedent,” for future business profit. This produces competition among law students whose Professor has recently published a book, or whose Professor is well-respected by centuries-old American and foreign corporations. There is competition between law faculty and their former students, now Senior Partners in Major Firms in Major Cities. These Senior Partners wonder throughout their career: “A law professor, why not I?” This Faculty vs. Alumni competition promotes corporate business competition, and competition among Associates along the Partnership track. The quality in attorney work product Faculty vs. Alumni competition produces promotes competition among law students for positions as Summer Associates at top-tier law firms, who then compete for the offer of permanent employment.
To achieve diversity and inclusion within the legal profession, all law students must have access to and the opportunity to seek employment in the private sector, regardless of attributes of the diversity and inclusion debate, namely: nation-state, gender, religion, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. In America, the marketplace and academic institutions are supported and determined by competition. Our country is no longer aristocratic or oligarchical. One cannot buy achievement and success.
Positions with a Law Review, prestigious law firm, respected Judge, major government agency or large non-profit entity depend upon academic achievement. And, the positions are sought by virtue of the learning to be gleaned from the experience and not the income to be derived. Lawyers in America, even at the height of success in the private law firm, have traditionally earned far less than their corporate client executives, though the level of academic training required of attorneys is far greater and far more expensive.
Like government, legal practice should be governed by merit, though remaining a marketplace for the survival of the fittest. Permitting access to the private sector, while retaining necessary privileges of proprietary information and private property, poses difficult questions for drafting public standards for employment review. Perhaps, greater substantive participation of younger law firm associates in local, state and national bar association activities, such as the American Bar Association, as well as substantive participation in law school alumni activities, would more readily provide a comfortable sharing of ideas and views on the practice areas of interest to corporate clients. An academic sharing of learning and ability in an informal “study group” manner would allow governing partners and their clients to review the work product of attorneys of diversity in the context of current legal issues and pending matters.
While younger attorneys might not lead in specialized bar association sections, they may readily provide liaison to their recently attended law school and continue to share developments in the law gleaned from law faculty engaged in ongoing scholarship. Private sector attorneys of diverse attributes may then more readily acquire practice area knowledge and understanding expected by corporate clients to whom law firms putatively kowtow when making hiring and partnership decisions.
Client development by Senior Associates in behest of making Partner is not a matter of access to the wealthy corporate executives among us. Rather, it is determined by one’s ability to offer and demonstrate an understanding of current law. And, most importantly, it is determined by a truly in-depth capacity for creative legal thinking to revise current law so that it better meets the needs of the corporate client and provides a competitive advantage and niche in the for-profit marketplace.
Diverse attribute students and attorneys bear the same ethical and fiduciary duties and obligations as do the traditional attorneys of the majority stratum. These duties and obligations require all attorneys to reconcile the corporate client’s goals of prosperity with the prosperity and public good of the nation. Premier lawyers and law firms derive their earnings from the “institutional client” which has retained a given law firm for even possibly centuries with successive Senior Partners inheriting responsibility for the legal advice provided the client over the years. A lawyer of diverse attributes must share a learning of the law that is competitive in order to achieve success in the private sector.
Law students who study and think analytically, deductively reasoning from legal theory in order to understand statutes and case law, are the nouveau “Old Boys’ Network,” making Partner regardless of attributes of diversity. The son of the CEO, playing golf with lawyers once a week at various Country Clubs around the world, no longer imposes a monopolistic, barrier to entry impeding the success of the granddaughter of the Separate-but-Equal School Principal, whose father, as a Junior High School Principal, played golf in a School Teacher’s League once a week on a Public course. The time has come. We need to name names, for neither David Pepper nor I have made Partner in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Oh, what could the matter be? Perhaps Cincinnati is ruled by the alumni of the University of Cincinnati College of Law “sitting the bench,” State and Federal! David continues on as the Chair of the Democratic Party in Ohio. Though a daughter of a former Democratic Ward Chair and the President of the Democrat Club when a student at Hillary Clinton’s Wellesley College, I just sent dues to the GOP, membership I trust is “effective upon dispatch.” Diversity needed on many fronts, please!
Lori Gayle Nuckolls