Summit examines how to better implement diversity and inclusion within legal community

December 05, 2017

Keynote speaker James Merklinger, president of the Association of Corporate Counsel, addresses the Connecticut Bar Association Diversity Summit at our School of Law.

The Quinnipiac University School of Law examined effective ways of implementing best practices for diversity and inclusion within the entire Connecticut legal community as part of the Connecticut Bar Association’s second annual summit.

The October 25 summit brought area judges, lawyers and corporate representatives together in support of the Connecticut Legal Community’s Diversity and Inclusion Plan, a 5-year commitment to implement best practices for diversity and inclusion.

While the focus of year-one was the plan’s launch, year two examined effective ways to translate that commitment to diversity into action.

In her opening remarks, Dean Jennifer Brown expressed the law school’s continued support of the plan, as well as its own ongoing commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.

“Today, I look forward to learning myself about ways to increase diversity and inclusiveness at Quinnipiac,” she said.

The afternoon consisted of a series of innovative workshops and panel discussions led by prominent keynote speakers. Each speaker recounted their personal experiences overcoming prejudices and biases, as well as the work they’ve done promoting inclusion strategies within their own organizations.

“The bottom line is that no matter where you are, diversity leads to greater levels of success,” said James Merklinger, vice president and chief legal officer with the Association of Corporate Counsel, in Washington, D.C.

Merklinger himself is proof that inclusive hiring practices benefit organizations all over the world, particularly in the legal sector: in addition to leading the world’s largest credentialing body for corporate legal counsel, he does so while coping with the effects of Tourette’s Syndrome.

“This is not a product defect on anything I can return,” Merklinger said. “This is my life.”

Merklinger has had to work incredibly hard throughout his career to master both his disability and his profession. It is precisely this work ethic and tenacity that he believes makes professionals with disabilities such an asset. He reiterated the importance of providing training materials, accommodations and other resources necessary for them to perform at their highest levels.

“These people are incredibly ambitious. You just have to arm them for success.”

Attorney and sociologist Dr. Arin Reeves shifted the conversation from diversity itself to the importance of promoting a workplace culture that actively combats bias, and promotes equity among all genders, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations and combats

“We often measure talent and outcomes, but not the environment,” said Reeves, who is a leading researcher, author and advisor in the fields of leadership and inclusion.

“You can’t be afraid to examine your workplace and ask yourself why certain people are developing and thriving, while others are not,” she said.

Reeves closed on the important role lawyers play in continuing the conversation around diversity and inclusion, setting the tone for a highly productive and dynamic year-three.

“We as lawyers have a responsibility to our profession to reframe the discussion about diversity and inclusion, not just in the workplace, but in the country as a whole,” she said.

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