August 10, 2007
Looking at the road ahead and traveled for minority attorneys
A group of experienced lawyers recently shared their unique insights and perspectives about diversity in the legal profession for the benefit of minority law students. This inaugural event created through a collaboration between the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Central Ohio and the John Mercer Langston Bar Association, was hosted by Chester Willcox & Saxbe, a leading central Ohio law firm and participant in the Columbus Bar Managing Partners Diversity Initiative.
The panel consisted of Ivan Fong, Chief Legal Officer & Secretary, Cardinal Health, Inc.; Carl Smallwood, Partner, Vorys Sater, Seymour and Pease; Ben Espy, Executive Assistant Attorney General; John Bentine, Managing Partner, CWS; and, Aneezal Mohamed, Vice President & Associate General Counsel, Cardinal Health, Inc., who facilitated the conversation. These lawyers, representing approximately 145 years of experience, engaged in a question driven, thought-provoking discussion on topics such as overcoming challenges faced by minority attorneys; retention and promotion, career path options and mentorship.
Ivan Fong observed, “We’ve faced survival as pioneers and now we are engaged in creating critical mass through recruitment at law schools and firms. The next challenge is retention and promotion - how do we retain the minority attorneys we have?”
Carl Smallwood, one of the architects of the Managing Partners Diversity Initiative, challenged firms to recruit more broadly and create opportunities. “The challenge for minority associates is to take advantage of these opportunities. Whether it is one summer, one year or a career, take advantage of these experiences.”
“When I started, there were 28 attorneys of color in Columbus; today there are 400,” said Ben Espy. “You are the trailblazers – the first generation to be hired by majority firms.” He encouraged the attending students to learn the internal politics of a majority firm, prove their individual competencies everyday, and find good mentors.
When considering career paths, John Bentine recommended that summer associates consider medium- and smaller-sized law firms. “The depth of experience you gain at a small firm goes beyond just client work. You have an opportunity to work on a variety of meaningful pro bono and community service projects.”
"We were proud to sponsor this event,” says Bentine. “It is our firm’s goal to continually recommit ourselves to create opportunities for all lawyers not only in recruitment but also in retention and promotion to partner.”
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On July 9, 2007, the Columbus City Council presented a Resolution of Expression to recognize Thurgood Marshall's appointment to the Supreme Court in 1967. Councilman Hearcel F. Craig introduced the Resolution and presented it to the John Mercer Langston Bar Association (JMLBA). Jennifer Adair, Treasurer, accepted the resolution on behalf of JMLBA and outlined the accomplishments and continued commitment to civil rights throughout Thurgood Marshall's career. In addition, she spoke of the similarities between Justice Marshall and JMLBA name-sake, John Mercer Langston. Ms. Adair thanked Columbus City Council for recognizing the accomplishments of a man who worked for all people to provide a foundation of Constitutional protection and equality. In the words of Thurgood Marshall, "In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute."