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LPT: Don’t Go Dissing “Spa Day” — Lessons learned from the NWLSO Leadership Academy

NWLSO Diversity Panel

Pictured left to right: Allison Turner, Micah Buchdahl, Josephine Lee, Monsurat Adebanjo, Carla Luna (moderator), Najee Thornton, Lisa Levey

When I was first contacted by Ms. JD, the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the success of aspiring and early career women lawyers, and invited to speak at the National Women Law Students’ Organization (NWLSO) Leadership Academy, my first thought was—do they know I’m a guy?

I perused the organization’s website, found the event at Harvard Law School, and scrolled through the all-female faculty and attendee lists. Later, I was joined for my panel session by Najee Thornton, an Associate in the Santa Monica, CA office of Fenwick & West—so for a short time, I had some company.  But I was assured that yes, they knew I was a male, and they’d love to have me participate. So I figured that it would be a great learning experience, and really, what could go wrong?

As you can read in my contribution to the Diversity & Inclusion slot in the December 2019 edition of Law Practice Today (LPT), Don’t Go Dissing “Spa Day”, there were plenty of lessons to be learned from the NWLSO Leadership Academy. Now maybe there is a little bit of “click bait” in the title. I could probably have put Peloton in the title too—but that would be a little too obvious. If you have to ask about the Peloton reference, go ahead and google “Peloton wife”—it makes spa day look like a walk in the park. The advertising agency that came up with the spinning bike commercial for the holidays probably had no idea what they were in for.

But in all seriousness—and this is a serious subject, our panel on “How Men and Women Can Work Together to Bring Diversity to the Legal Profession,” was a fascinating discussion of how both sexes can work together to improve/correct/advance/fix diversity issues in the profession, whether in a big law firm, small firm/boutique, corporate in-house, government or the myriad of other attorney opportunities that are out there. I was asked to participate because I’ve worked to advance diversity issues in the profession on a number of fronts.

Among the other panels, programs and subjects addressed during the NWLSO Leadership Academy, and described in the LPT piece, included pipeline issues in getting women attorneys from law school to leadership (as best discussed by Judge Patti B. Saris, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, during the opening keynote reception the evening before at Latham & Watkins’ Boston office); LOTS of time devoted to the art of networking; alternative career options for lawyers; and tips of the trade from Hazel-Ann Mayers, Executive Vice President and Chief Business Ethics and Compliance Officer at CBS.

As the article details, I have been at the forefront of a number of important diversity efforts through my volunteer leadership roles in the American Bar Association. And in more than 20 years of working hands-on with law firms on business development initiatives, I have often been involved with various programs and affinity groups tied to improving the culture, success, hiring and retention of diverse attorneys. Sometimes those efforts are internal for the law firm as a whole. Other times, I’m working with diverse lawyers to market themselves to clients and corporate counsel who also wish to be part of the solution and not the problem.

In recent years, I’ve had the opportunity to attend important conferences and events with key organizations that are improving diversity & inclusion, including the MCCA, NAMWOLF, NAPABA, and the Barristers’ Association. I’ve also learned that D&I is “big business,” with plenty of entrepreneurial folks figuring out there is money to be made in this space by concocting new diversity “formulas” and “awards” that do more to circumvent progress than really move the ball forward. That can dilute the pool and muddy the waters a bit for the aforementioned organizations that are trying to do well. But that is an article or a blog post for another day.

This is about an outstanding organization that is not only about improving diversity in the profession, but cultivating the future leaders that will make an impact. It’s really not about going to spas, but if that got you to pay attention or read the article, than I’ve delivered the message.

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