Fordham Law School’s Alumni Attorneys of Color affinity group held its inaugural formal launch event on May 4 that celebrated the achievements of the Law School’s alumni of color and challenged those in attendance to promote greater diversity in today’s legal world.
The event marked the largest gathering of alumni attorneys of color in the Law School’s history, Dean Matthew Diller said in his opening remarks. Diller highlighted Fordham Law’s history of providing access to the legal profession for groups who had been traditionally excluded and extolled the legacies of Fordham attorneys of color such as Ruth Whitehead Whaley ’24, Eunice Carter ’32, Franklin Williams ’45, and Felipe Torres ’26.
“Diversity is key to our School and to the educational program we provide every day,” Diller said. “You simply can’t come to terms with difficult issues in American society and American life in a homogeneous environment.”
In recent years, Fordham Law School has enhanced its diversity initiatives with numerous measures focused on promoting justice and the full encouragement of its entire student body. Among them are the appointment of Nitza Milagros Escalera as the inaugural dean of diversity initiatives, the emphasis of diversity in the Law School’s five-year strategic plan, the support of a minority mentorship program, and the establishment of the Center on Race, Law and Justice.
“Clearly the creation of the Alumni Attorneys of Color affinity group was an idea whose time had come,” said Brenda L. Gill ’95, a partner at Burgher Gray Jaffe LLP and founding chair of the AAC. Since its soft launch in March 2016, the AAC has grown in membership and started various AAC committees, such as the event, solo/small law firm, mentoring, and in-house committees, Gill noted.
“We attorneys of color have a lot to offer, and the world is a better place when we’re engaged in it,” Gill added.
The event featured a keynote conversation on “Diversifying the Leadership Pipeline” between Ricardo A. Anzaldua, executive vice president and general counsel for MetLife, Inc., and Richard Lui, a journalist and anchor for MSNBC and NBC News.
Anzaldua has changed the talent acquisition paradigm for MetLife legal affairs from one of subject matter expertise that favored the individual with the most experience to one that appreciates individuals with subject matter expertise that might not be as deep but who demonstrate leadership potential. It’s only natural that in an environment where the majority of the top talent in the junior ranks are women and minorities, women and minorities would also constitute a majority of the top available talent, the veteran attorney said.
“Unconscious bias indicates that people tend to promote others who fit deeply held, unconscious predispositions regarding similar culture, social, racial, and gender traits,” Anzaldua explained. “Implementing talent development initiatives that incorporate features to defeat unconscious bias will accelerate efforts to diversify the leadership pipeline throughout the legal profession.”
Most law schools are responsive to the imperative of diversifying the legal profession, and most law firms are doing a good job diversifying their incoming classes, Anzaldua shared. The problem for law firms, he continued, is they think that their job ends once they bring in new talent, and that somehow diversity in the senior ranks will automatically follow. That’s not the case, he said, because bias inherently exists in how people are sponsored—a bias Anzaldua has challenged by implementing a sponsorship program in MetLife legal affairs that holds leaders more accountable for the development of diverse talent.
The mission of the AAC is to build an active and engaged community of Black, Hispanic/Latino, and South/East Asian Fordham Law alumni and enhance their connection with one another and the Law School community at large. Alumni interested in joining the group should contact the Alumni Office and join the Fordham Law Alumni Attorneys of Color Affinity Group on LinkedIn