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This is the Moment

“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.”

Mahatma Gandhi

About 30 years ago or so, I was in the pre-op room for another in a long series of foot and leg operations – inconvenient and painful, but never life threatening. I was in there with several other patients, including one elderly man, waiting for our operating rooms. Gently strapped to one side, facing him and a cinderblock wall painted one of those bulk discount colors that schools and hospitals are famous for, it occurred to me that for any number of patients facing more serious operations, including possibly my new pre-operating room neighbor, this would be the last thing they see – pale yellow acrylic latex paint. Death be not proud. Suddenly, I understood what T.S. Elliot meant when he wrote that the way the world ends is “Not with a bang but a whimper.”

Life is long but it is also painfully short. A blink. I came of age with the Rocky movies, seeing the first one in the theater in 1976 and still today choking up at the end of the best ones. Is it because of the movies which, camp though they may be, so brilliantly tug at every heartstring? Or is it because nearly half a century has gone by and I’ve watched Sylvester Stallone age from a 20-something to a 75 year old in what seems like the length of a feature film? Whose reflection is it I see when I look in the mirror?

We seldom see the ends of things coming because we act so often as if we have all the time in the world. What would happen if we lived with the awareness that precisely because life is so short, we should be our best selves all the time? No second chances, no do-overs. If we lived as a community rather than a zero sum game?

As we get older, life looks so much different in the rearview mirror than the windshield. Life’s most recollected moments come down to those instances when we could do the right thing or the easy one. When it comes to diversity, for all of us, this is one of those moments.

This week on In House Warrior, the daily podcast I host for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal, I spoke with two legal diversity experts who are paving the way to create real change in the legal community.

Aviva Will, Burford Capital’s Co-Chief Operating Officer, discussed the company’s launch of the second phase of The Equity Project, a $100 million commitment designed to increase diversity in the business of law, particularly in leadership and partner positions. The project’s goal is to create opportunity in law where there was none before and build connective tissue between lawyers and their clients where there might otherwise be a breakdown over financial issues. Ms. Will shared how the expansion of The Equity Project was motivated by the “vanishingly few” commercial disputes led by female and racially diverse lawyers. Burford contributes a portion of its profits made from resolved Equity Project-funded matters to organizations that promote lawyer development for female and racially diverse lawyers.

I also interviewed my old friend Lloyd Johnson, CEO and founder of Chief Legal Executive, who previously launched the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) and numerous legal publications, to discuss diversity in the legal community. For more than 30 years, Lloyd has counseled senior executives at Fortune 500 companies, playing a pivotal role in the legal community through career development initiatives that engage and mentor female attorneys and attorneys of color.

Our conversations reminded me of our collective need to challenge the standard for diversity. We must recognize the similarities of our victimhood and the abundance of opportunities. We should be stepping together, not stepping on each other. How much progress have we truly made in diversifying legal departments? How much more is on the horizon?

The biggest changes are ahead of us.

“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Enjoy the listens.

Richard Levick

Listen to From Birmingham to Central Park Karen, The Long Road for General Counsel Diversity

Listen to The Brilliance of Burford’s Equity Project

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