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August 6, 2020 In the News

How Lawyers Of Color Say They Climbed The Career Ladder

Law 360

Law firms have touted improvements in terms of diversity and inclusion, but when you move the magnifying glass to the top of the pyramid, minority lawyers continue to hold a small fraction of leadership positions. Those who have successfully climbed up the ladder said the journey hasn't been easy.

According to the most recent data from the Vault/Minority Corporate Counsel Association Law Firm Diversity Survey, which surveyed 238 law firms in the U.S., nearly 90% of law firm partners are white. Among those in the partnership class, close to 4% are Asian American, 3% are Hispanic and 2% are Black.

Lawyers of color said they faced many challenges such as implicit bias and exclusion when seeking to rise to the top. The strategies they have developed to confront those difficulties include finding sponsors and mentors that support their growth, going on "unconventional" career paths, and taking on additional responsibilities to demonstrate their leadership ability.

José Olivieri‚Äč, managing partner of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP'S Milwaukee office, said he was the first Hispanic lawyer in his firm when he started his legal career in the Midwest nearly 40 years ago.

"One of the challenges I faced was the fact that there were so few Hispanic attorneys in Milwaukee," Olivieri said. However, at the same time, it allowed him to work on more matters and to serve as a lawyer for Hispanic people in the community.

Through his involvement with the community, Olivieri said he demonstrated his leadership skills, therefore giving Michael Best the confidence to promote him to leadership roles.

"It does take quite a bit of time, but as you move up in your career, a lot of the work that you do is really in terms of managing relationships, what's involved for the firm?" Olivieri said. "And that ties into leadership roles like a managing partner of the office. Part of the role is to make sure that the firm's position in the community is a solid one."

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