Western Alliance Bank Settlement Services was proud to host this on-demand, CLE-eligible webinar alongside Postlethwaite & Netterville (P&N) which focused on the critical topic of diversity in complex litigation. Access this webinar below.
The conversation featured an esteemed panel of diverse attorneys who shared their direct experiences, the current state of diversity in the legal field and complex litigation, and their nuanced outlook on how the legal industry can continue to improve.
The webinar was moderated by Brooke Hodge, Director of Business Development of Class Action and Mass Tort Services at P&N and included powerful insights from the following panelists:
• Navan Ward, principal at Beasley Allen Law Firm and president of the American Association for Justice (AAJ)
• Senator Marlon Kimpson, South Carolina Senate District 42 and member at Motley Rice
• Majed Nachawati, co-founding partner of Fears | Nachawati Law Firm
• Khaldoun Baghdadi, shareholder Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger
Viewers of this webinar will hear firsthand accounts of the challenges diverse attorneys face, the progress the legal industry is making in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts and opportunities to continue improving diversity in the legal field.
Read some of the key takeaways from the panel below:
Incremental Progress Is Being Made, But There’s More to Be Done
The panelists agreed that progress is being made in the legal community with regards to DE&I efforts, but there is more the industry can do—and it must be done by focusing on common goals.
"We need to shine a light on diversity, bringing more attention to how we can improve the quality of legal education for diverse populations, including gender, geography and race," said Nachawati.
According to Baghdadi, there is still more work to be done. "I applaud the self-awareness of trial lawyers in identifying the state of diversity in the litigation landscape," he said. "However, attorneys of color are underrepresented in MDL leadership, especially in top posts."
That's not to say that there aren't positive changes being made.
The culture of complex litigation committees and the focus of their members have increasingly led to a system in which the best ideas carry the most weight, regardless of which committee member produces them. This allows diverse attorneys on committees to shine based on their talents, where their insights might have been ignored in the past.
The Judiciary is Driving Diversity Forward
Senator Kimpson sees a trend in which federal judges incorporate diversity into their leadership orders more frequently—a sentiment echoed by the other panelists. However, this momentum needs to expand beyond the bar.
"We need to think about going beyond increasing diverse attorneys in leadership roles. Diversity orders should include the consultants and vendors involved in litigation," said Senator Kimpson.
The panelists agreed that the judiciary is also increasing emphasis on ensuring committees—and trial lawyers in general—represent the demographics of the plaintiffs. This is an essential aspect of accountability. Along the same lines, the panelists agreed that the diversity of the legal field needs to align with that of clients in order to represent them effectively—and the percentage of minority lawyers does not match that of minorities in the United States.
Pledge to Act with AAJ
"Recruitment, retention and promotion are the keys to increasing diversity in the legal field," said Ward.
Those catalysts toward a more diverse industry reflect the goals of the AAJ Member Firm Pledge to Act, an initiative of the organization's Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
The pledge includes three main aspects:
• "Implement initiatives to support diversity at their firms."
• "Address issues that have adversely impacted their recruitment, retention, and promotion of minority attorneys."
• "Make efforts through recruiting, hiring, and promoting to include and increase minority attorneys in their firms."
"A strong trial lawyer community is a diverse trial lawyer community," said Ward.
Investment in Future Talent
A direct way to grow and retain diverse talent in the legal industry is for diverse attorneys to mentor and nurture young talent—many of whom faced similar challenges in the initial stages of their career.
"Attorneys of color and other diverse groups need to take calls from fellow attorneys of color interested in complex litigation and mass torts leadership positions," said Ward. "We also need to be seeking them out and guiding them."