By Chastity Q. Thompson, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law
Intentionality in seeking career opportunities helps propel progress. The legal profession is no exception. We strive to have a legal workforce that is representative of the clients and communities that we serve. In this current climate, now more than ever, we need lawyers to be leaders in the courtroom, the legislature, in business and family matters and in our community. This endeavor starts with having a representative workforce – committed, diligent and prepared to be advocates on behalf of their causes and clients.
For many, diversity is a melting pot of people representing differences based on race, age, socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, exceptionalities, religion and/or culture. When assembling a team, there is great value in building a cadre of diverse perspective and experience to solve the problems with which lawyers are presented. Each of us has a unique gift that we can contribute to the task, if given the opportunity, and we accomplish more and overall better serve our clients.
In our profession, the American Bar Association, the National Bar Association and a host of state and local bar associations continue the conversation about the “case for diversity” in all facets of our legal landscape. The conversation is more impactful when it manifests into actionable implementation.
Locally, champions of diversity have fought for decades to have more diverse representation on the bench and within the practicing bar. Our pioneers of diversity have paved a way for change, but their efforts must not end because of some progress. As the legal profession is a relationship-driven culture, the value of diverse experiences and perspectives contribute to cultural competence, an appreciation for differences and potential access to new and emerging business opportunities. Affording the opportunity for new and diverse talent has the potential to broaden access to and for a new client base while continuing to provide high-level service to existing clients.
Over the years, I have seen our law school, and others, work hard to prepare many students from varied backgrounds for careers in traditional legal practice areas and alternative career opportunities. This legal training helps students develop with critical thinking, leadership, problem-solving and other essential skills to be successful as lawyers and as leaders. Many are poised and ready to contribute to the profession positively; employer access and engagement are essential.
Seeing a need to connect a potential pool of candidates from diverse backgrounds with the Indianapolis legal community, the Indianapolis Bar Association launched the Diversity Job Fair as one initiative to help all students meet potential employers, and to learn more about the legal profession and the Indianapolis legal market, in particular. Many talented law students, many with Indiana connections currently attending law school have shared experiences of limited opportunity to connect with employers through traditional on-campus interview options, and thus many of these candidates are not those an employer would see in their general OCI activities. In addition to building connections with legal employers, this job fair helps students discover the advantages that a professional experience in Indianapolis can offer. Students are encouraged to participate in a pre-fair workshop, unique to our fair, which includes interview skills training and networking opportunities, as well.
Employers will have an opportunity to connect prior to the Job Fair with an employer workshop, to be held this spring. The discussion at the workshop will focus on retention. Details and registration will be available soon at www.indybar.org. This program is open to all who are interested, including managing partners, hiring committee members and diversity points of contact within the local market. Even if your organization is not able to participate in the job fair this year, we want you included in this interactive dialogue.
While we cannot dispel notions that have resulted from historic lack of diversity and the influence of unconscious bias, we can work to be more intentional about having a workforce that is more representative of the citizenry that it supports and to which it provides legal assistance. The IndyBar Diversity Job Fair is a great place to start. Many past participants, and other law clerks and lawyers from historically underrepresented backgrounds, have contributed greatly to our legal community through producing quality, competent work product, building client relations for business, and by becoming bar leaders.
Interested? Registration for interviewing employers is currently open. You’ll meet talented, hardworking and enthusiastic students from varied backgrounds at the Fair. The 2016 IndyBar Job Fair will be Aug. 1-2, 2016 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Indianapolis. To register as an interviewing employer and/or sponsor for the event, please visit www.ibadiversityjobfair.org or contact Caren Chopp at email@example.com.•
Thompson is the Assistant Dean for the Office of Professional Development at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. She clerked for former Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard of the Indiana Supreme Court. Currently, Thompson serves on the IndyBar Diversity Job Fair Committee.