Partner, Product Liability; Member and former Chair, Recruitment and Diversity Committees
Co-Chair, Pro Bono Committee, Kaye Scholer LLP
ON LEADERSHIP AND MOTIVATION
I sincerely enjoy leading teams, because it gives me the opportunity to motivate others. I do not hunger for the power to manipulate others for my own personal gain. Rather, I strive to be a leader by engaging and challenging team members to become the best that they can be and encouraging them to excel in their particular roles so that the whole may be stronger and more prosperous.
I have had the pleasure and good fortune to serve in many different leadership positions during my career as an attorney I have found that the best way to motivate people is simply to exhibit a sincere respect for them. Respect is only a seven letter word, but includes so much: listening to people, encouraging them when they are frustrated or down, offering constructive criticism, teaching others, appreciating their strengths and contributions, and refusing to allow personal biases to impact one’s treatment of others. Respect also encompasses recognizing that no one person is better than another. Each one of us has strengths and weaknesses; despite differences, all of us have something valuable to contribute to the whole. Hence, one who is a committed motivator respects the time and efforts of others and will roll up his/her own sleeves in order to demonstrate true commitment and willingness to give as much as, if not more than, that which they are motivating others to do. This is my leadership philosophy and I try to embody that model. As a “the glass is half full” kind of person, I have been blessed with and try to exhibit many of the most important intangible aspects of life―such as joy, peace and love―that are infectious and motivate others in profound ways to work hard, exude confidence, treat others with respect and give their best in the workplace.
I live by the Biblical creed, “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). This is a life principle that I learned from my parents, who have always inspired me. In addition to being thankful, I know that I must sincerely exhibit through my actions a willingness to give back to the universe. My father served as an officer in the US Army and is now the pastor of a church; my mother was a homemaker who was fully devoted to the nourishing of her two children and then to the parishioners of my father’s church. My parents have always been a “living sermon” for me with respect to the virtues of working hard and serving others. They are forever trying to help someone solve a problem; they give freely and perhaps even incessantly of their talents, time and resources including money, even though they are of modest means. My father, in particular, is one of the hardest working people I have ever known―toiling not only for the betterment of himself and his family but also for others. My parents have also always exhibited to me a passion for fairness and justice, and consequently they have molded me and inspired me through their actions. They created an insatiable appetite within me to serve and help others―especially those who are downtrodden in spirit, health and/or wealth.
Consequently, in my childhood I was the one who often stood up to the bullies in school who targeted the financially troubled classmate who came to school in less than trendy clothes, the male classmate who was not very skillful in gym class and, as a result, was bullied, and the unpopular but intelligent student who was considered to be a “nerd.” Having traveled around the world as a proverbial “army brat,” I have been exposed to and interacted with many different kinds of people, and I have found that deep down inside we mostly want the same things, especially respect.
My upbringing motivated me to have compassion for others, to champion those who are weak and to become an agent of change for the good. I try to positively enhance all of the environments I inhabit, both personally and professionally, for the betterment of all. This requires the discipline and exercise of listening to others, studying people and circumstances, learning from mistakes made by oneself as well as others, discerning what underlying messages are not being articulated, and having the chutzpah to act or speak out when merited. I honestly believe that an organization, a country or a people are only as strong as the weakest link. We must not be afraid of hard work, we ought to understand that united we stand and divided we fall, and we should accept the principle that we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.
My greatest strength is my ability to motivate and work well with others. The practice of law is a business, but it is a “service” business. To become a successful attorney one must provide top-notch legal services to clients by growing and utilizing one’s team-oriented skills while working well with others―from support staff to fellow attorneys. Similarly, to excel as a litigator, one must be able to interact well not only with clients, but also with judges, court personnel, witnesses, potential jurors and even opposing counsel. Moreover, to emerge as a leader in one’s legal community, one must work hard and actively participate in that community, whether it be via bar associations or other professional activities. It is through such activities that an attorney can develop further professionally, as s/he is exposed to and learns from environments and people outside of her/his own organization and comfort zone. Finally, it is important for an attorney to exhibit commitment to the furtherance and success of one’s own organization by building the brand while continuing to provide the best client-focused services possible. I have done my best to engage in all of the above. I have made it a way of life to practice law with passion, while motivating others to use their time, talent and energy in the most effective way possible in furtherance of personal, professional and client goals, for it is possible more often than not, to align all such goals.
How does this benefit the business of law? In addition to the obvious―keen legal acumen, hard work and long hours―there are certain intangible assets which make a working environment better. When employees feel respected and appreciated, they become loyal and hard-working. They take pride in and ownership of their work, resulting in quality products and service. This, in turn, creates a positive working atmosphere and translates into a profitable law firm. When all individuals in a law firm are affirmatively engaged, the firm becomes “a well-oiled machine” and flourishes as a profitable business. I attempt to create strong litigation teams by helping co-workers use their strengths in projects and encouraging them in a constructive manner to improve upon weaknesses. I strive to provide these intangible assets which help to make my firm a wonderful place to grow both personally and professionally.
BEST CAREER ADVICE
I am asked this question quite often. If I were to distill my advice into just a few pearls of wisdom, it would be: Know who you are. Be true to who you are. Be disciplined and learn your craft well. Have an impeccable work ethic, but take good care of your health―spiritually as well as physically. Develop a strong family/friend support network. Do not shy away from risks; take advantage of opportunities presented to you. And be sure to maintain your confidence and believe in yourself. These words may ring true for anyone just beginning his or her career in the field of law, but I think such advice is especially necessary and apropos for African-American attorneys who enter into the corporate sector of our profession.
COMMUNITY AND LEGACY
I am committed to fostering diversity throughout the legal community and am a firm believer in the importance of facilitating the full participation of all members of the profession. I try to help those from diverse backgrounds who are pursuing a legal career and other professional achievements by sharing my time, experience and advice. I act as Co-Chair of Kaye Scholer’s Pro Bono Committee and attempt to use my legal skills in numerous pro bono cases to assist indigent people; these clients are more often than not disproportionately African American and other people of color. Notably, although not a pro bono case, one of the proudest moments in my career involved serving as trial counsel in McReynolds v. Sodexho, Inc., a promotion discrimination class action brought on behalf of over 2,400 African-American mid-level manager plaintiffs. The litigation resolved favorably in a $80 million settlement with injunctive relief.
At Kaye Scholer, I serve as a member of the Recruiting Committee and attempt to be a consistent reminder of the importance of diversity. I also participate in diversity initiatives by visiting Howard University School of Law and various minority job fairs to interview students for the firm’s summer associate program. During my tenure as Chair of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee for eight consecutive years, the firm retained a diversity consultant and underwent an extensive diversity assessment. As a result of that assessment, the firm implemented a new diversity awareness training program; created a new diversity mission statement; established a new mentoring program for associates; revised its flexible work program policy; strengthened its affinity group support networks; and established a new ombuds program for which I act as one of the ombuds representatives. I also serve as the leader of the African-American Attorney Affinity Group, so that I can contribute to the retention as well as recruitment of diverse lawyers at my firm.
I have been active in diversity efforts outside of the firm as well. I have held many leadership roles in bar associations and am currently the Chair of the Enhance Diversity in the Profession Committee of The New York City Bar (City Bar). My other efforts in promoting diversity include being the Chair of the Committee on Recruitment and Retention of Lawyers, which administers City Bar’s Summer Diversity Fellowship Program. This special committee is charged with encouraging the hiring, retention and promotion of professionals from all walks of life in New York City law firms and corporate legal departments. In 2011, I was recognized by City Bar with its Diversity and Inclusion Champion Award. Serving as steering committee member of Defense Research Institute’s Drug and Medical Device Committee, I am in charge of the diversity luncheon, which has become one of the Committee’s signature event. I am also active in the diversity efforts of the Federal Bar Council (FBC). A former Vice President and Trustee of the FBC, I am currently the President-Elect and Membership Chair of the FBC Inn of Court. My selection was based in part upon my ability to promote and facilitate diversity within the organization.
I also organize workshops and seminars for female and diverse attorneys making the transition from law school to the workforce. At Kaye Scholer I organized a program for young female law students making that transition called “From Backpack to Briefcase: A Transitions Program for Law Students,” co-sponsored by the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) and the Committee on Recruitment and Retention of Lawyers of City Bar. Similarly, with Kaye Scholer as the venue, I helped to organize and participated in an all-day intensive professional development workshop, co-sponsored by the firm and Practicing Attorneys for Law Students (PALS), to help new attorneys of color excel during their first year of practice. More than 60 first-year associates in law firms from all over New York City participated in the program, which featured experienced attorneys speaking about how to thrive in a law firm environment. Since that event, I have become a regular speaker at the annual workshop.
As part of my efforts to broaden the diversity pipeline in the field of law, I served as an advisor and mentor to the Bronx High School for Law, Government & Justice Mock Trial Team for six years. As a result, I and other Kaye Scholer attorneys have developed a close relationship with the school and its students. In 2007, its first year competing in the state finals, the team won both the New York City and New York State Mock Trial Championships. In November of that same year, I spoke at the annual conference for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Leadership Institute and served as a panel member of a presentation titled, “Navigating the Legal Maze: The Politics of a Major Law Firm and Rules for Succeeding in the Game.” Minority college and law school students from all over the country attended this conference.
In an attempt to work on diversity initiatives which extend beyond the borders of the New York City legal community, I have traveled to Howard University School of Law in Washington, DC, as well as schools in Los Angeles, to serve as a panelist in the Corporate Counsel Women of Color’s minority law school student seminar titled “My Life As A Lawyer.” The distinguished panelists came from all over the country and provided advice about their career paths in the law and attempted to share real life views of their careers to better prepare the students.
Finally, I often actively volunteer as a motivational speaker and organizer of events for schools, churches and youth groups in the community, and am especially active in my beloved Harlem. I am a member of the predominantly African-American and historic Abyssinian Baptist Church where I serve as the Church Clerk, a member of the Hospitality Ministry and a Second Soprano in the choir. A former Chair of the Women’s Ministry, I was one of the organizers of a series of African-American Family forums in Harlem which took place from 2005 to 2007. The series was jointly sponsored by the Concerned Men of Harlem, the Abyssinian Baptist Church and the African-American Muslims for Interfaith Relationships. The purpose of the forum series was to facilitate a critical examination of issues affecting African-American families, and to identify possible solutions and strategies for strengthening family relationships. Some of the distinguished participants in the program series included Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, Pastor of The Abyssinian Baptist Church; Jeffery Canada, Director of the Harlem Children’s Zone; Nafeesah Aceelah Shaheed, M.S.W., Executive Director of New World Communities; Melvin B. Miller, Esq., publisher of the Bay State Banner newspaper in Boston; Angela Moses, Ph.D., former Executive Director of Uth Turn; and Leonard Pitts, author of Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood.
I have been blessed to receive recognition for my diversity efforts in the community. I was recognized as “Lawyer of the Year” by the Metropolitan Black Bar Association (MBBA) in 2007 for my contributions to the New York City legal community and the African-American community at large. As a lifetime member of the MBBA and an active participant, I have served as a mentor, interviewed judicial candidates, spoken on panels, and written and edited articles and amici curiae briefs for the organization. In 2008, I was one of the recipients of the “Forty Under 40” award given by The Network Journal, a minority professional business magazine, for my professional achievements and commitment to diversity initiatives. In 2009, I received the Columbia Law School BLSA Distinguished Alumni Award, and have participated in the school’s Minority Partner Panel discussions on topics including: minority partner representation; how to understand the business of the firm as a junior associate; making the transition from senior associate to partner; the partner’s role in generating law firm business; and how to work effectively with partners as a summer and first year associate. In May 2011, I received the aforementioned Diversity and Inclusion Champion Award from City Bar.