Law Firms

Anger, Frank Talk Help Promote Diversity

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Working to diversify the legal profession–which lags significantly behind corporate counterparts–requires, as a first step, talking clearly about the issue. And sometimes anger helps.

Or so Stanley Stallworth found about six years ago, as he was on the verge of making a diversity presentation to the executive committee of the newly merged firms of Sidley & Austin and Brown & Wood, he recounted today in a “Talking About Race” program at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Stallworth, an African-American in the Chicago office of the firm, which is now known as Sidley Austin, had prepared a somewhat blistering presentation but then toned it down. As he was putting materials on executive committee members’ chairs during a break, a fellow partner from London had a question. Could Stallworth help him with a building maintenance issue?

Stallworth was puzzled, and the man became increasingly insistent. Finally, a third partner rushed over and explained that Stallworth, too, was a partner–not, as the London partner had assumed, a janitor at the firm, according to an ABA Journal account of today’s program, which was sponsored by the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession.

No apology was offered for the mistake, Stallworth said, and, fired up, he gave the somewhat blistering version of his presentation to the executive committee after all. Today he is co-chair of the firm’s Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity.

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