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Front Page - Friday, September 11, 2020

Anthony relishes role with Diversity Task Force

Husch Blackwell’s Ariel Anthony is the only Chattanooga representative on the task force. - Photograph provided

When the Tennessee Bar Association announced the names of the attorneys that would serve on its newly established Diversity Task Force, one lawyer from Chattanooga was among the 19 jurists from across the state: Husch Blackwell’s Ariel Anthony.

Anthony first noticed the racial disparity in the legal profession as a student at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, where she was one of only 11 minority students in a class of 115 aspiring lawyers.

Anthony’s introduction to Husch Blackwell came through her 1L internship. While working with the in-house counsel at International Paper in Memphis, she sat in on a Husch Blackwell pitch for the company’s legal business. She was impressed and applied to do an internship with the firm the following summer.

Husch Blackwell not only picked Anthony for the internship, the firm eventually offered her a job as well.

Anthony, who’s based in the firm’s Chattanooga office and focuses on commercial litigation and private wealth, joins a group of attorneys and judges from across Tennessee who will “take on diversity challenges within the legal profession, looking specifically at recruitment, retention, investment and advancement,” the TBA states.

Here, Anthony discusses her role with the TBA’s Diversity Task Force and the challenges law firms face in their endeavor to become more diverse.

How did you become involved with the TBA’s diversity efforts?

"During my last year in law school, I was selected for the Diversity Leadership Institute program. The TBA Young Lawyers Division created the program. DLI is designed to help students develop skills to succeed as a law student and attorney, empower students to contribute more to the legal community, match students to mentors in a variety of practice areas and build relationships among students of diverse backgrounds.

"Through DLI, I was able to meet TBA and TBA YLD board members and develop a better understanding of what the TBA does. After moving to Chattanooga to work at Husch Blackwell, I continued to be involved with the TBA YLD as a member of the diversity committee. After serving on the committee for one year, I moved up to co-chair and leader of the DLI program."

What are the goals of the TBA’s Diversity Task Force?

"The TBA created the Diversity Task Force to address diversity, inclusion and equity in Tennessee’s legal community. Under the leadership of Nashville lawyer and TBA Chief Diversity Officer Mary Beard, the task force will review current and future diversity initiatives within the bar association, opportunities for statewide collaboration and the creation of strategic objectives.

"The specific goals of the task force are to develop and support the implementation of relevant TBA policies and procedures under four overarching pillars: Recruitment, retention, investment and advancement of the diverse individuals in the bar association and the various communities it serves. The task force will establish four committees for each pillar, and the members of the task force will be assigned to no more than two committees."

What will your participation involve?

"I’ll be helping to evaluate the current legal climate and the TBA’s policies and practices related to diversity and inclusion, providing feedback on the diversity initiatives of affiliated entities, institutions and government agencies, and making recommendations to the TBA board of governors of immediate and long-term strategies, programming and collaborative efforts to increase diversity within the state bar as well as the legal community at large."

When you embarked on your law career, did you face any challenges with being hired?

"There were challenges, especially with the competitiveness of the hiring process. Often, there were more people applying in summer with firms than there were jobs. As a law student, you often aren’t aware of your “challenges,” you were just told yes or no and given little feedback. A lot of the hiring process is connections. Whether that is knowing someone at the employer or simply having something in common with the person interviewing you.

"For minorities, it’s often hard to make that connection within a 20-minute interview. During the hiring process, people often wonder if the person would be a “good fit.” If there’s commonality, people will think the fit would be better. It’s human nature to like people who are similar to you, which is why you see firms where everyone is similar. Everyone was a “good fit.'"

Have any of your colleagues of friends faced challenges with being hired?

"I have heard stories about the hiring process from many friends. There have been comments about hair, dress or nail color. The definition of what’s “professional” often does not line up with certain cultures. In the Black community, natural hairstyles like afros and dreadlocks have been seen as unprofessional. This could be a hinderance during the hiring process, even though the hair is worn in its natural state.

"I also think the “good fit” approach could hinder the hiring process. Having a different perspective or outlook might not come across as a “good fit” during a 20-minute interview, but over the long run, if you give that person a chance, you might find they are a “good fit” and have value to add.

To your understanding, are most law firms open to diversity and hiring minorities?

"I believe most law firms are open to diversity, but because there isn’t a law school in Chattanooga, there isn’t a direct pipeline of attorneys to Chattanooga."

To what degree does the legal profession still lack diversity?

"A 2019 study of over 1,000 offices of major law firms in the U.S. found that, in 2018, women comprised 35.41% of the attorneys at those firms. That same survey found that 16.1% of attorneys at those firms were racially or ethnically diverse, 8.08% were racially or ethnically diverse women, 2.86% were LGBTQ attorneys and 0.53% were attorneys with disabilities.

"The survey also found that in 2018, 23.36% of firm partners were women, 9.13% were racially or ethnically diverse and 3.19% were racially or ethnically diverse women."

Hiring a Black person or minority is not the end of a law firm’s search for diversity. After an attorney is hired, what else needs to occur?

"Retention is a huge issue. Diversity and inclusion seem to have become buzz words. But real inclusion is when someone feels they have a voice and are heard. Diversity seems to focus solely on the number of diverse people, not whether they are thriving in the environment.

"Retention is an issue because firms can become super focused on the number of diverse attorneys and not on creating an environment in which minorities can thrive, so they leave.

"If minorities are not plugged in with mentors and sponsors, they’ll often not have the support they need to last due to a lack of seeing a path forward at the firm. Also, if the leadership of a firm is not diverse, diverse attorneys will often not see a path for them to obtain a leadership position.

"What challenges do you believe law firms and the legal professional at large face in becoming more diverse? For example, one Chattanooga firm recently mentioned having difficulty even finding a Black attorney to recruit.

"Chattanooga is different in that there’s no law school in the city. We’re competing with Knoxville, Nashville and Atlanta for talent. Often, people go to cities where they live or know people. As we increase the diversity attorney population in Chattanooga, it will draw more diverse attorneys in the area."

Besides waiting for the local population to become more diverse, how can Chattanooga law firms overcome these challenges?

"The Chattanooga Legal Diversity Consortium, a consortium of law firms, companies and local government agencies, is working to improve diversity in the city’s legal community. The CLDC created the CLDC Minority Clerkship Program, a competitive summer program for rising second-year law students intended to help increase racial and ethnic diversity in the Chattanooga legal community.

"The MCP will allow participating students to experience working in the Chattanooga legal community for up to 12 weeks (six weeks with a local law firm and six weeks with a local government agency or in-house legal department). The MCP will also allow participating students to engage in various professional and social activities during the summer to illustrate the great aspects of living and working in Chattanooga.

"The MCP began in 2018 with five clerks from various law schools around the country. All five obtained offers to come back to Chattanooga and clerk during their second summer. Subsequently, all five 2018 MCP interns obtained offers for employment in Chattanooga.

"The 2019 class had five clerks, and two clerks obtained offers to come back and clerk in Chattanooga during their 2L summer. The 2020 class started this summer during COVID-19 and worked either virtually or in-person.

"The MCP has increased the pipeline to Chattanooga tremendously, and as we continue with the program, we hope to include more law firms and companies."

How can the legal community and broader community help the legal profession to overcome these challenges?

"Pipeline programs such as the Chattanooga Leadership and Law Academy help to increase the awareness of the legal profession and also show that Chattanooga does have diverse attorneys. If we can show students at a young age the different aspects of a legal career, they could become interested and return home to start their legal career.

"The legal community in Chattanooga is very welcoming. It you want to get involved, there are plenty of opportunities. Showing that to students before they go to college help shifts their view of the city and might encourage them to come back to practice law in Chattanooga. Retaining home grown talent is essential."