Joseph K. West’s Thoughts On Diversity And Inclusion In The Legal Profession

Source: Above The Law  by Renwei Chung

Joseph K. West

Joseph K. West

“Revolution means change, don’t look at me strange / So I can’t repeat what other rappers be saying / You don’t stand for something, you fall for anything / Harder than you think, it’s a beautiful thing.” – Chuck D, Public Enemy

Last week, the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) announced that it has launched a search for its next President and CEO. The MCCA was founded in 1997 to advocate for the expanded hiring, retention, and promotion of minority attorneys in corporate law departments and the law firms that serve them.

MCCA furthers its mission through the collection and dissemination of information about diversity in the legal profession. MCCA takes an inclusive approach to the definition of “diversity.” Therefore, its research addresses issues of race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, and generational differences which impact the legal profession’s workforce.

I had the opportunity to catch up with current President and CEO Joseph K. West, who will be transitioning out of his role as head of the organization at the end of the year. He joined the MCCA after serving as associate general counsel at Walmart Stores, Inc., where he distinguished himself as an innovator in the legal services arena and a prominent voice for diversity.

West has led MCCA since September 2011. Under his watch, the organization vastly expanded its membership and launched new business and skills development programs, as well as training initiatives designed to hone the talent of diverse lawyers. Here are the key excerpts from our discussion:

1. Why the change in leadership for the MCAA?

 I’ve been fortunate to have an amazing board and staff to work with at MCCA over the last four years. I have also been offered a number of fantastic opportunities over that time period. I’ve decided to accept one such opportunity and have set my start date at the beginning of January so as to give us ample time to locate a quality successor.

2. In terms of diversity and inclusion, where have we made the most headway since 1997? Since 2011?

 Since 1997, there has been clear progress in two different but related areas: first, the annual GC reports that MCCA produces have shown marked progress in both the numbers and percentages of diverse Fortune 1000 general counsels. Second, as a result of advocacy work of organizations such as ours and others, we have tracked increasing levels of expectations that clients have of their outside counsel.

Since 2011, through research we have published and underwritten, we have been instrumental in bringing the concepts of inclusion as a critical adjunct to diversity to public consciousness and through our Academy for Leadership and Inclusion, we have trained organizations in unconscious bias and have equipped them with tools by which to eradicate those barriers.

3. What can lawyers and law firms do right now to increase diversity and inclusion in our profession, especially in the partnership ranks?

 Two things:

First, firms should model client behavior: in corporate law departments there’s a premium placed on collaboration, on retention, on talent development and on succession planning. A greater focus in these areas should help with retention of diverse and, in fact, all talent.

Second, since we know all humans have biases and that all firms are run by humans, we should determine where these biases are having unintended (or even intended) impact on diverse lawyers.

West was recently awarded the 2014 Beacon of Diversity Award from the Black Entertainment Sports Lawyers Association. The Delaware Barristers Association also recently recognized him with the 2014 Louis L. Redding Lifetime Achievement Award. West was the recipient of the Washington Business Journal’s 2014 Minority Business Leader Award as well.

On behalf of everyone here at Above the Law, I would like to thank Joseph K. West for all his contributions to diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and wish him the best in all his future endeavors.

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