I’m a Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Skadden. I’ve always been involved with diversity and inclusion (D&I), but after graduating from law school, I litigated for 7 1/2 years. I worked at both a boutique and a mid-size firm where I focused on premises and product liability work. I also had the opportunity to serve as Assistant General Counsel to Governor Bruce Rauner, where I oversaw all legal issues pertaining to child welfare, public safety and education, as well as his clemency process. I also currently sit on the state’s Executive Ethics Commission.
How has your practice evolved in the last few years? What’s in store for the next few years?
It’s interesting. There have been diversity and inclusion professionals in the legal field for over 20 years. It seems like for the past 20 years we’ve been getting people comfortable with the idea of diversity and inclusion and understanding its importance in the legal industry. Firms have been genuinely doing this work with talented people leading the efforts across various offices. We’ve looked at how to recruit and promote diverse talent and spent time helping people understand the difference between diversity and inclusion, while responding to various iterations of in-house-counsel-led demands to diversify the profession.
Now that reports are indicating that we still have yet to recover the level of diversity that we had in the practice before the market crashed in 2008, and in the wake of the third iteration of client-led demands, I think organizations are even more motivated and willing to double down on creating paths for, and figuring out how we can better develop, retain and promote, diverse attorneys so that the higher ranks of law firms, corporate legal departments and government agencies better mimic the clients we serve and the citizens of the U.S. Most importantly, these diverse attorneys have to be included and valued, and that’s the real work.
If you could offer one piece of advice to young lawyers, what would it be?
My advice for young lawyers would be to try everything and be open. Be sure that you don’t say no to opportunities because (although you think you are) you’re not quite yet sure what you really want to do. You should take some time to understand if you’re really sure of your interests, but also take the opportunity to do some things you have no real interest in just to make sure.
Additionally, and this is a big one, get a mentor. The legal industry is really hard to navigate and even though all of us have been told that we’re smart and worked hard in our careers, you need more than that to be a successful attorney.
I would also tell young attorneys to get comfortable with other people; people who don’t share your same beliefs, don’t share your same background. The future of the legal profession, in addition to the population of the U.S., is more diverse, and we need to make sure that we’re a profession that’s welcoming to all.
And one last thing, I hope that young attorneys will also figure out how to make a path for others. The profession is still one that opportunities are too often given to someone who looks like you, is your neighbor, someone who reminds you of yourself or your kids and people you know from your general circle. But I think that if we’re going to be the best profession that we can possibly be, it’s going to take all of us reaching outside of our comfort zones to embrace, train and develop folks who may not share similarities with us.
What about the future of the legal profession makes you most hopeful?
I’m most hopeful for the young people that are coming through. I think that the millennial generation and folks who are in law school now really do approach issues and conversations differently than some of the folks who’ve traditionally practiced. I think that having these fresh perspectives, these new ideas, this new energy and really different demands for what practicing law should look like is going to cause a shift in the profession. We’re still going to have a profession of intelligent people who work hard, but they also are interested in maximizing their lives outside of work, so we may possibly see more balance and wellness for attorneys in the future.
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
Civility has made all of the difference in the practice of law. My parents told me when I was little that people don’t always remember what you do but they remember how you made them feel. And so each day I try to approach folks that I work with (inside and outside the firm), opposing counsel in matters when I practiced, law students and other lawyers I meet with civility and to do what I can to help them in any way.
Although the nature of the practice is adversarial, I don’t believe that we have to be cruel or mean to each other. When I think about examples of civility, I think about the easy things. When I was practicing and we wanted to extend a status date or we wanted to extend a response time to a motion, there were countless opposing counsel who were willing to work with us to extend a deadline seven or so days when necessary and if it wasn’t detrimental to the case. In turn, any time that we could avoid being difficult for other attorneys in that way, we did it too. My first boss and mentor, Jim Balog, was adamant about attorneys that practiced for him being civil to opposing counsel. It’s a lesson I’ve carried with me throughout my career.
What do you do for fun?
I do a lot of things for fun. (That’s not really true.) I like to work out and to do Shred415 or high intensity boot camps. There’s something about just getting the blood rushing early in the day that really empowers me to take on the different challenges of my job. But I also like to spend time with friends and family and folks who really help shape who I am. I’ve also been known to love the Chicago brunch scene, which is one of my favorite things about the city, as well as running on the lake.
But most of the time when I’m not working, I’m helping to shape the next cadre of talented woman of color attorneys through the nonprofit Tiffany Harper and I co-founded, the Diverse Attorney Pipeline Program (DAPP). It’s an intensive, academic and job-readiness program meant to prepare first-year women of color law students for their legal careers. It’s a labor of love, but also a lot of fun.
Chasity Boyce is a Diversity and Inclusion Manager for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and co-founder of the Diverse Attorney Pipeline Program. Chasity received a J.D. from the Howard University School of Law.