Editor: Please tell us about your legal experience before coming to
Pauling: I went to UCLA Law School in Westwood, California, finishing
in 1992. During law school I was involved in a number of activities. I was
Business Managing Editor of the National Black Law Journal, which was the
leading journal of its kind. I also participated in moot court, was one of the
competition winners, and served on the Moot Court Board. In addition to my law
school education, my legal experience includes a judicial externship for the
Hon. Terry J. Hatter, who sits on the United States District Court for the
Central District of California. I also was a summer law clerk for the City of
Chicago Corporation Counsel's office.
Editor: Why did you choose to practice in the areas of labor and
Pauling: I chose employment law because the issues that come up in
discrimination cases are of particular interest to me - they tend to hit close
to home, so I really get into the cases which goes a long way toward making the
work interesting to me. Plus, some very cutting edge issues come up in
employment cases, which makes them mentally challenging. I enjoy traditional
labor work every bit as much, but it really is a whole other world. It's a
smaller community of practitioners, because relatively few lawyers know the area
well. This fosters unique and gratifying relationships with lawyers on the other
side, and, sometimes, opportunities to work collaboratively with them, instead
of always against them. Traditional labor is a bit of an art form, and being a
labor lawyer puts me in the role of being a counselor and strategic advisor to
clients, which I enjoy. If a client has a goal in the traditional labor arena, I
can help the client devise a plan that will achieve it with a lot greater
certainty than I can in a typical employment litigation case.
Editor: What special dimension do you bring to a labor law practice as an
African American in counseling employers, human resource personnel, and managers
Pauling: I think it's a matter of perspective. My life experiences
allow me to bring a perspective to case evaluation, preparation, and
presentation that a person who is not African American, or who has not
experienced discrimination, is not likely to be able to bring. I think that
having my perspective and input benefits clients as they sort through issues
that come up in the workplace.
We have a workforce now made up largely of people of color. In many work
settings, people of color aren't in the minority anymore - they make up a
majority. What that means is, not only are more rank and file employees people
of color, but their supervisors, managers and executives are people of color as
well. And while in a discrimination case those supervisors, managers and
executive are on the defense team, they sometimes become the first group of
folks you need to establish credibility with in presenting the company's
position - you need to be able to explain to them in a logical, credible fashion
what transpired and why it was appropriate. My personal experience is that
people of color are slower to rule out discrimination as a possible motivation
for an action that has negatively affected another person of color. My being
African-American allows me to "connect" better with folks on the defense team,
and establish credibility with the important team members in a particular case.
Editor: What changes have you seen at the firm and in the legal community
since you first began your practice at the firm?
Pauling: Regarding my firm in particular, I see more strategic focus
on diversity and what diversity means to the firm - diversity holds status as a
business priority, not just a nice thing to do. I also see greater
sophistication in our internal discussions about issues of diversity, and
greater sophistication in our planning around diversity. We've given diversity
the same level of importance as other key business initiatives, and there are a
lot of things that go along with that - everything from administrative and
budgetary support for diversity initiatives, to having a team that utilizes
different skill sets and different experiences in order to achieve the goals
that are set out, to having accountability at a high level in the firm for
achievement of our goals. Our profession is more educated about issues of
diversity and how they play out in the law firm context, and so within law
firms, I think we're able to have better discussions around what we need to
focus on and what will be successful, what's realistic and what's not, than we
were able to have when I was a young lawyer.
Externally, in the legal community generally, there's clearly a lot more
discussion about issues of diversity, perhaps more than ever before. We're
getting to the point now where not much new is being written or said, which I
think demonstrates that there has been a lot of good discussion and a lot of
good literature focused on diversity. Another huge change is that there's a lot
more specific pressure on law firms from the client community. There are several
good aspects to that, but also some risky aspects.
Editor: What are the risks that you see?
Pauling: Focusing exclusively on numbers. Certainly, some focus by
clients on numbers (for example, the number of minority attorneys working on
important clients' files, or the percentage of billing credit that minority
partners are receiving for work done for clients) is useful and necessary. But
the client community also should focus on asking what their firms are doing in
the way of building the foundation that will make sustainable diversity
achievable. Numbers come and go, so there has to be some discussion about what
firms are doing to better develop minority lawyers (and other diverse lawyers),
what they're doing to make the firm environment one where diverse lawyers feel
welcome and have opportunities to succeed, and what specific strategies the firm
is implementing in the areas of recruiting, retention and promotion, and
diversity programming. These things are every bit as important as numbers, but
they don't seem to get the same focus that numbers get. Some companies are
focusing on these things, but more should. I think it's problematic to focus on
numbers to the exclusion of other areas of focus.
Editor: Do you have a diversity program?
Pauling: We have a "Diversity Steering Committee," which is made up of
our nine office managing partners across the firm, all of whom are members of
our firm's Leadership Team. We also have a working group called the "Diversity
Action Team," made up of lawyers and administrators, including hiring partners,
professional development staff, associates, and lawyer development
representatives from across the firm. The Diversity Action Team goes out into
the market place and determines what best practices are in the area of
diversity, pulls together the concrete actions that need to be taken for the
firm to achieve the type of success we want to achieve in terms of diversity
programming, and diversity in recruiting, retention and promotion. We do the
research, we devise the plan and we come up with the concrete actions. We
deliver those to the Diversity Steering Committee, which is then responsible for
vetting and implementing the plan. Those office managing partners then become
accountable to the Executive Committee for results in carrying out the diversity
mission and initiatives of the law firm.
Editor: What would you say are the successful elements of a diversity
Pauling: There are several. You have to have minority and non-minority
leadership for the initiative, and it is critically important for that
leadership to include white males. The fact of the matter is that white males
still run most major firms, so their input is a must. Plus, diversity has to be
an organizational issue that includes everyone, not a minority issue. At the
same time, you've got to have people of color who are involved in the initiative
- they cannot be sitting on the sidelines being cynical or uninvolved. As much
as any other organizational stakeholder, people of color stand to benefit
greatly from a successful diversity initiative. Also of critical importance is
the strategic type of approach we discussed earlier. There must be a mission
statement, a plan with goals - not only overarching abstract goals, but also
specific concrete action items and the resources to implement those action
items. There also must be a system for ensuring accountability to the
organization for results by folks who are in leadership positions and who can
make things happen. And then you must have follow-up. Your diversity plan has to
be an "evergreen document," something you come back to on a regular basis - you
look at it and ask, "Does what made sense for us yesterday still make sense
today?" or, "We've made progress and we need to set a higher bar for ourselves,"
or "We were too aggressive in our thinking and we need to establish a more
attainable goal." If leadership doesn't treat diversity like a critical business
initiative, the rest of the organization won't - those are the diversity
initiatives that don't succeed.
Editor: What forms of mentoring do you find to be most effective?
Pauling: I believe that whenever informal mentoring opportunities can
occur, they wind up being the most lasting. In my own experience, the mentoring
relationships that were informal have been the most gratifying because they had
a lot to do with someone who was different from me reaching out to me and taking
interest in my success. That helped my development as a lawyer, and created a
certain loyalty to the law firm. Formal mentoring is important too, though. It
ensures an aspect of individual focus on what diverse lawyers need in order to
develop and be successful in their particular law firm environment, and doesn't
leave those things to chance. That way, lawyers of color, who might not have
fallen into informal mentoring relationships or might be less likely to find
them, still get mentoring. In our firm, I see and am involved in both formal and
informal mentoring relationships.
Editor: And your definition of the categories covered by the term,
Pauling: . My definition and my firm's definition of diversity is
inclusive. So, besides people of color we include women, gays and lesbians.
Editor: How can in-house counsel influence the diversity in law firms?
Pauling: In addition to seeking specific reporting from their firms on
diversity statistics and initiatives, clients could influence diversity by
looking for opportunities to partner with us on diversity initiatives and
programming. For example, Seyfarth Shaw is an Allstate Premier Law Firm. As part
of the Premier Law Firm program, we participate in a diversity roundtable in
which Allstate and the member firms work together on diversity programming. This
has shown me that when clients and their outside firms get together on
diversity, the benefits abound. The company benefits because the partnering
helps them execute on their corporate diversity initiatives. There's the same
benefit to the law firms. And the profession as a whole benefits because of the
synergy that is created when companies and the firms that represent them work
Editor: You mean by working together, networking, sharing experiences?
Pauling: Absolutely. Sharing what has worked and what has not.
Actually doing outreach to law schools or even to pre-law school students. To
have greater diversity in the legal profession in the future, we must encourage
youth to pursue careers in law. Unless the profession reaches out to youth and
encourages them, our ability to effect lasting change - sustainable diversity -
will be compromised.
Published March 1, 2006.