Group looks for ways for minority lawyers to boost their ranks in Pittsburgh
Rosa Copeland Miller is among the first minority female partners at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis in downtown Pittsburgh. This month she will be moderating a panel discussion on how minority attorneys can break barriers and find success in Pittsburgh.
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Nicola Henry-Taylor, an attorney who has lived and worked in Pittsburgh for more than a decade, became involved with the Allegheny County Bar Association's Women in the Law division last year when she was looking to jump from a government job to a position in the private sector.
One of the first things she noticed was a lack of minorities among the lawyers she met at legal events.
"I saw some minority attorneys at luncheons but knew there were more," said Ms. Henry-Taylor, who is 35, African-American and, since January, a conflicts coordinator at Downtown firm K&L Gates.
Determined to pull more minority lawyers together, she set out to develop a forum where they could work on ways to boost their ranks in Pittsburgh. The result is the bar association's Minority Collaborative Program Committee, which will present its first initiative this week, a panel discussion on "Minorities in the Law: How to Break through Barriers and Find Success."
The free event will be in the 9th Floor Auditorium of the City-County Building, Downtown, and will feature five attorneys of various racial backgrounds including Asian, Hispanic and African-American. The moderator will be Rosa Copeland Miller, one of the few minority female partners at a Pittsburgh law firm.
"They are a diverse group of different ages and ethnic backgrounds," Ms. Henry-Taylor said of the panel. "We would love for them to tell people their experiences in their journeys to success, some pitfalls they faced and how they overcame them."
The panel members are Bjorn Dakin, Allegheny County assistant district attorney; Alma DeLeon, administrative law judge for the Social Security Administration; Korry Greene, partner with Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott; Shweta Gupta, associate with Reed Smith; and Chaton Turner, assistant counsel at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
"I would say because Allegheny County is an area that's not really growing in terms of diversity, it can be difficult to attract minority professionals," said Ms. Copeland Miller, 40. She is an African-American who grew up in Virginia and came to Pittsburgh for law school at the University of Pittsburgh.
She didn't plan to stay here, but she met her husband in law school and both were offered jobs in Pittsburgh. She worked for Meyer Darragh Buckler Bebenek & Eck and Reed Smith before becoming a partner at Schnader this past summer.
"[My husband and I] saw many of our friends leave for other opportunities. We stayed and tried to reach out to the community."
Ms. Henry-Taylor, a native of New York City, also decided to stay in Pittsburgh after graduating from Duquesne University School of Law in 1996. Her career has been a mix of jobs for law firms, judges and the Allegheny County district attorney's office.
Both women agreed solid mentoring of minorities is one of the steps that has to become more prevalent to build a more diverse legal community.
Nationwide, minorities account for 5 percent of partners and 17 percent of associates at law firms, according to the National Association of Law Placement. In Pittsburgh, those numbers drop to only 1.5 percent of partners and 8.7 percent of associates at firms, according to statistics from Pitt's law school.
A program launched at Pitt last week will attempt to increase mentoring opportunities for minorities by pairing members of the Black Law Students Association with local volunteer attorneys.
The Footprints Minority Mentorship Program was founded by Mary Akhimien, a second-year law student at Pitt who said 19 students already have signed on and requested professional mentors.
Ms. Akhimien, 23, was inspired to launch the mentoring program by her own experiences as an African-American woman working at various jobs while attending the University of Delaware as an undergraduate. She has also served as a mentor for high school and college students.
Through the Footprints program, students will participate in a volunteer activity with an attorney mentor, such as delivering Meals on Wheels. The professional development of the program "enables students to see what an attorney does on a daily basis," said Ms. Akhimien. "It shows us how to interact with a client, here's what a billable hour looks like."
First Published October 8, 2007 12:00 am