In 2004, Rick Palmore, then-chief legal officer at Sara Lee, wrote and dispersed “A Call to Action: Diversity in the Legal Profession.” In it he called for a commitment to diversity among the profession, encouraging his fellow general counsel to do the same, both in their respective legal departments and to require it from the outside firms with which they did business. Such movement birthed many positive changes and initiatives still felt today. For instance, many law firms have established diversity committees and have modified their recruitment efforts to focus on diversity. Accordingly, we pay tribute to such with the title of this article, in the hope of a similar impact for good.
“Diversity” and “inclusion” have been buzzwords for quite some time. We’ve been inundated with the statistics that show the benefits of “diverse” and “inclusive” environments in education and the workplace. But what do these words really mean? And how can we make them more than just ideas or words within the legal profession?
While there is no universally accepted definition, diversity itself is very broad. Not only can it encompass physical and/or biological qualities such as race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability, it can also encompass nonphysical qualities such as background, perspective and experiences. Inclusion, however, requires action from the leadership down. It’s more than numbers showing that “diversity” has been achieved. It requires access to and equal opportunities within an organization for all people. This is the chief means by which to increase and sustain diversity.
While statistics have shown some progress and modest increases in the numbers of minorities and women within the legal profession as a whole, Indiana has seemed to lag behind. Accordingly, the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana has taken the initiative to help change that within this state. DTCI recently established a Diversity Committee, chaired by Norris Cunningham of Katz Korin Cunningham, to coordinate and lead DTCI’s diversity program. Encouraged by many of the diversity initiatives implemented by the national DRI, DTCI’s Mission Statement on Diversity and Inclusion is as follows:
“The Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana is committed to diversity and inclusion. As a core value of DTCI, diversity provides our organization with the differing approaches, varied backgrounds and diverse perspectives that enrich the experiences of all DTCI members and its leadership. DTCI is committed to partnering and collaborating with other defense organizations, law firms, education institutions, community groups and individuals who share our goal of a more diverse and inclusive defense bar and legal community within the state of Indiana.”
DTCI’s diversity initiative can serve as a model for the defense bar and law firms in the state. Our focus is on putting “action” into the “call” for diversity and inclusion. For example, the committee will be planning and sponsoring continuing legal education events focused on diversity and inclusion. Such CLEs will aim to satisfy the recent resolution by the Indiana State Bar Association House of Delegates, which, if implemented by the Indiana Supreme Court, would require one hour of diversity and inclusion training every three years as part of attorneys’ 36 total hours of mandatory continuing legal education. Indiana would become the fifth state to adopt a standalone diversity and inclusion CLE requirement, and DTCI looks forward to developing and sponsoring content designed to aid lawyers in meeting the new requirement, if it is approved. The committee will collaborate with other organizations that share our commitment to diversity and inclusion, with the goal of hosting and sponsoring networking events geared toward minority recruitment, retention and inclusion. It will also emphasize the inclusion of diverse speakers at DTCI programs and events. DTCI believes its participation in such initiatives broadens the scope of its reach and significantly furthers the overall mission of DTCI to provide a forum for our members to associate and exchange ideas in service to their clients, the legal profession and the community at large.•
• Christina Essex and Tricia Freije are associate attorneys at Katz Korin Cunningham P.C. in Indianapolis and are members of DTCI. Opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors.