25 Years of Creating Opportunities for Minorities and Women

CMCP’s marquee event, the annual Business Conference, was held in San Francisco from October 20th to the 21st and included two full days of panel discussions, speeches and awards ceremonies. This year’s event was particularly noteworthy in that it marked 25 years of efforts to make the legal profession  more diverse and reflective of society. The event lived up to its theme   “Celebrating the past and looking to the future…” as participants were able to get  a sense of CMCP’s beginnings and history as recounted by CMCP’s founders  and those active in the organization from its inception.

The event kicked off with the Founders’ Panel, which included personal insights from CMCP founders Dennis Archer, Drucilla Stender Ramey and Guy Rounsaville, Jr. about why they decided that an organization like CMCP was  sorely needed in the legal profession. Mr. Archer, former Associate Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court and former Mayor of Detroit, recounted his early  difficulties trying find a job in Detroit, where he found that none of the large law  firms employed any attorneys of color. Mr. Rounsaville, former General Counsel  of Wells Fargo, shared a story about going to Tulane to play a football game  while playing for Stanford in the Sixties, and not being allowed to stay in any hotels in New Orleans because Stanford had an African-American player. This  sparked Mr. Rounsaville’s passion for inclusion and he remarked that “fairness  to people is critical” and that even though progress was made, the profession was  still “woefully lacking.” The fact that a lot of work was still left to be done
was confirmed by Ms. Ramey’s observation that three out of the five biggest law firms in San Francisco had no minority equity partners.

The second day began with Corporate Connections, a unique mainstay of the  event. Developed to facilitate introductions between in-house counsel and  minority attorneys in private practice, a series of 15 minute interview sessions provided attorneys and prospective clients with valuable meet-and-greet and information-gathering opportunities. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., the  Oakland City Attorney’s Office, and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. were just a few of over 30 companies and public agencies from a wide range of industries that participated this year. Between sessions, both veteran participants and  newcomers could be heard exchanging advice, encouragement, and contacts; a notable byproduct of the introductions and opportunities for interaction provided through Corporate Connections.

CMCP unveiled its new Diversity Leader Hall of Fame at the 25th Anniversary Recognition Lunch. Created to honor the visionaries who saw the need and paved the way for such an organization and its mission in 1989, as well as those  strongly-committed to advancing it thereafter, thirty-two individuals were  inducted into the CMCP Diversity Leader Hall of Fame. CMCP will continue to recognize individuals for their contributions to the organization and its mission with future inductions.

Sharon Barner, Vice President and General Counsel for Fortune 500 company  Cummins, Inc., whose breadth of experience includes serving as the Deputy  Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, Deputy Director of the  U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, and leader of Foley & Lardner’s Intellectual  Property Department, delivered the event’s keynote address. By describing some  of the challenges that she faced as a young, female attorney of color working in a  large law firm, to those as a major corporation’s general counsel instituting diversity initiatives for outside counsel, Ms. Barner created an overview of the  state of diversity in the legal profession over the years. And with it came a clear  directive to companies and law firms alike: increasing diversity requires targeted  actions for continuous engagement, leadership, education, oversight, and rewards.

The 25th Anniversary Business Conference was a time for celebrating the  achievements of CMCP members over the years. CMCP has been critical to the careers of many attorneys who may not be where they are today were it not for  the organization’s commitment and efforts to create a more diverse profession. But while CMCP has done a tremendous job in creating opportunities for women and minorities serving business clients, the message was clear—this was just the  beginning and the legal profession is not even close to where it needs to be.

by Michael Chung and Mala Sahai

Michael Chung is of counsel at Willenken Wilson Loh & Delgado LLP.
He can be reached at michaelchung@willenken.com or 213.694.3697.

Mala Sahai is a registered patent attorney with an intellectual property law practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. She focuses on patent and trademark  prosecution, technology transactions, strategic counseling, and due diligence. Mala can be reached at (415) 854-0074 or msahai@alchemyip.com.


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