Nixon Peabody Diversity Update

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					Nixon Peabody Diversity Update
August 2005
In this issue: Forming a solid base: Diversity training promotes inclusion Colleagues, technology help family during stressful time Building a legacy:
The William McKnight Moot Court Competition and Scholarship Fund

Forming a solid base: Diversity training promotes inclusion
If you haven’t yet encountered Mauricio Velásquez, you most likely will within the next three months—and by all accounts your encounter will be enlightening, perhaps even a little entertaining. Mauricio is president of The Diversity Training Group, a Herndon, Virginia, firm that specializes in the planning, design and implementation of diversity initiatives. “Having a diversity issue is not necessarily a bad thing. Doing nothing about it is where firms go wrong.… For any law firm, diversity issues are an opportunity when addressed and a mounting problem when ignored,” according to Mauricio’s overview article titled “Jump-Starting Your Law Firm’s Diversity Program.” “The value of a training program, which is just one part of the larger diversity initiative, is to agree on the definition of diversity. It helps make sure all of the offices are on the same page,” Mauricio explains. The Rochester office was the first to complete the training program, which begins with an assessment involving one-on-one talks with a cross-section of lawyers and staff and culminates in 2-1/2 hour diversity training sessions. In Rochester, the office held six sessions over the course of three days. “The feedback from Mauricio’s training has been off the charts successful. He’s receiving excellent evaluations and the write-in comments were terrific, too,” says Elizabeth Moore, a partner in the New York City office. “Fantastic… best training program in 25 years at the firm … now I have a better understanding…. It helped us appreciate each other” are just some of the comments Mauricio’s training elicited from Rochester participants, according to Bill Simpson, the firm’s director of human resources. Mauricio has also completed assessments in Nixon Peabody’s Boston, New York City and Washington D.C. offices and will begin training classes in



Max crowd attends diversity reception in Las Vegas Somos el futuro:
Nixon Peabody sponsors free CLE program at annual conference



those locations soon. He expects to complete firm-wide training by November 1. He is even talking to former Nixon Peabody attorneys. “Interviewing a cross-section of attorneys and support staff currently with the firm, as well as people who have left the firm, helps us take a pulse, so we can establish a baseline. To its credit, Nixon Peabody is very forthright and interested in learning more about why some good people left the firm. A lot of law firms do not allow you to speak to former colleagues,” he says. “NP has a national strategy and plan and we are going to execute that plan to the fullest of our ability. The actual diversity training is a small part of the diversity strategy and plan. Stay tuned, more diversity-related efforts and endeavors are coming!” Mauricio explains. “The purpose of the training is to help the firm meet our diversity goals, which are more than increasing minority representation throughout the firm. We want to ensure that we have a firm that is free of harassment and discrimination and offers a welcoming environment. Mauricio’s training is designed to help ensure that the firm is operating at a higher awareness level,” Elizabeth says. The diversity issue is a growing one for law firms, as well as other organizations. In the legal field, particularly, there are a variety of associations and organizations that help formalize and focus on this issue. Additionally, clients are increasingly focused on the issue because minorities and women are increasingly reaching the general counsel level in corporations and, as law firm clients, they want to work with firms that are diverse, Mauricio explains. “Our clients are asking about the composition of our workforce; and we’re interested in issues such as recruitment, retention and mentoring, which are all related to establishing a diverse workplace. Studies show that a diverse workforce increases creativity, innovation and productivity,” Elizabeth says. “We’re focused on diversity because it’s morally the right thing to do and because it’s important from a business perspective. Our goal is to leverage the expertise of every single person in the firm. A training program helps us build a base of understanding so that everyone starts at the same basic level of diversity understanding,” Bill explains. “A diversity strategy is about creating a better firm for all attorneys and staff, not just minorities and women. The diversity journey is a long one, with a destination that may at times seem elusive. But the rewards are well worth it: productive, passionate attorneys and staff; a strong, growing bottom line; and recognition and admiration by clients and competitors,” according to Mauricio.

Mauricio Velásquez


Colleagues, technology help family during stressful time
Robert Christmas, a partner in the Nixon Peabody’s New York City office, became a dad, for the second time, several months ago when he added twins to his family, which already included his partner, John Buscaglia, and daughter, Amanda. The twins, Spencer and Elizabeth, are doing great—already sleeping through the night. However, their birth was not so easy on Robert and John. The twins, Robert’s biological children conceived through in vitro fertilization, were born in California five weeks prematurely and had some complications. That meant Robert, John and Amanda spent those weeks living across the country from their New York Cityarea home. With daily hospital trips and thousands of miles separating him from his office, Robert relied heavily on technology and, occasionally, on his colleagues to keep his practice on track during his lengthy stay in California. “I’m fortunate that I was able to take the time and not have to be too concerned about work. It was stressful enough going Robert with his family: Elizabeth, Spencer, John, and Amanda. to the hospital daily,” he says. While technology made it possible for Robert to stay on track while in California, Nixon Peabody colleagues helped make his work situation flow as seamlessly as possible. And it was not the first time technology and his colleagues had played a role in helping Robert handle a unique family situation. Just seven months before the twins’ births, Robert was also out of New York City for several weeks while he and John adopted Amanda. Because of the legal requirements surrounding adoption, Robert and John were not allowed to leave the state of Maryland, where Amanda was born, until they received approval, a four-week process. Again, technology and his colleagues helped him maintain his full work schedule. In addition to helping support his client service needs while out of the office taking care of his new family, Nixon Peabody colleagues have been hugely supportive of his personal decision to build a family with his same-sex partner. “We’ve just been showered with gifts and an outpouring of support. In some instances, I’ve received more acknowledgement and support from my colleagues than from members of my own family,” Robert says. Just before the twins were born, the entire family moved from New York City to northern New Jersey, expanding Robert’s commute but providing more space for growing children. John, Robert’s partner, then closed his psychotherapy practice to be home with their children full time, and thus does not work outside the home, so Nixon Peabody’s policy regarding insurance coverage has been enormously helpful. John is covered, along with the entire family, under Robert’s insurance policy, which includes coverage for same-sex partners. 3

Building a legacy
The William McKnight Moot Court Competition and Scholarship Fund
Nixon Peabody’s first African-American partner, Bill McKnight, joined Nixon, Hargrave, Devans & Doyle, NP’s predecessor firm, in 1973 and became a partner in the firm’s labor department in 1981. In his short career and life, Bill McKnight demonstrated his commitment to building his community. Before his untimely death in 1985, Bill was a community leader who served on numerous boards for local Rochester companies and civic organizations. “This year is the 20th anniversary of his death, but the scholarship program and moot court competition in his honor help keep Bill’s memory very much alive,” says John Witmeyer, a friend and a partner in NP’s Rochester office. In addition to these two honors, Bill McKnight is also remembered by the Volunteer Legal Services Project, which coordinates pro bono services in Rochester, through their annual William E. McKnight Volunteer Service Award for outstanding pro bono work on behalf of low-income clients. “A number of Nixon Peabody attorneys have been recipients of this award over the years,” John says.

William McKnight

Moot court competition honors William McKnight’s memory
In Bill’s memory, Nixon Peabody also sponsors a moot court competition at Cornell Law School. “The moot court competition is unusual in that it is for undergraduate students. Most moot court competitions are for law students. In this competition, law students make up the fact patterns and serve as judges in the preliminary rounds, but the participants are undergraduates. Over the years, a number of attorneys from Nixon Peabody have served as judges for the final round arguments,” Witmeyer says. The competition is organized in conjunction with the Cornell chapter of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA). The competition is a tribute to Bill McKnight’s memory, and it serves to introduce minority students to the law in the hope that they will follow in Bill’s footsteps. The competition helps teach undergraduate students the techniques of oral argument, as well as the keys to writing effective legal briefs.

Celebrating accomplishments by helping others succeed
“Because of the stature Bill achieved in the community, the firm created a scholarship in his name, which goes hand-in-hand with Nixon Peabody’s long-term commitment to diversity,” says Kendal Tyre, a partner in NP’s Washington D.C. office. The William McKnight Scholarship Fund was established in 1986. The fund awards an AfricanAmerican student an annual scholarship, which is presented at the Urban League’s Salute to Black 4

Scholars dinner. The 2005 recipient is R. Lamar Crawford, who graduated from Webster Thomas High School in Monroe County. Also in attendance at the dinner was the 2004 recipient, Tracy Thomas, who sat at Nixon Peabody’s table as the firm’s guest. She was a student at the Wilson Magnet High School in Rochester, graduating in June 2004. She was accepted into Rochester Institute of Technology, where she made the Dean’s List, earning a 3.67 GPA her freshman year. Lamar will be attending Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Bill, himself, attended Cornell, graduating from the university’s law school, after completing his undergraduate studies at Merrimack College. In Lamar’s gracious written acknowledgement and thank you for his scholarship, he noted the friendships that Bill McKnight inspired. “Mr. Witmeyer, I know Mr. McKnight was a close friend of yours. Even these past 20 years you have helped keep his memory alive. That’s true friendship!” Lamar wrote. “We are delighted that this year’s scholarship recipient is Lamar. His $2,000 scholarship is renewable each of his four years of college,” John commented. Over the years, the endowed fund, which is administered by the firm through the Rochester Area Community Foundation and the Urban League, has grown tremendously through investment and individual attorney contributions.

John Witmeyer and Tracy Thomas

The scholarships, given annually since 1987, help perpetuate Bill’s passion for developing and training young lawyers. Recipients must be graduating high school seniors from Monroe County or a neighboring county, accepted to an accredited four-year college, with economic needs, and exhibiting traits that were characteristic of Bill McKnight.

Max crowd attends diversity reception in Las Vegas
Nixon Peabody helps sponsor annual diversity reception at ICSC Convention
Over 300 people attended the Diversity Reception at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas during the annual International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) convention in May. “This is the second year that the firm threw a formal reception celebrating diversity in the shopping center/retail industry and attendance was excellent!” says Gina Love, a partner in the New York City office. The seeds for this year’s event were sown in 2004 when Gina, along with others from Wilmorite Properties, Inc. and General Growth Properties, Inc., decided to formalize gatherings that were already taking place among minority groups at ICSC. As a result, Nixon Peabody became one of the first sponsors for the 2004 Diversity Reception at the ICSC convention. At that reception, the


sponsors expected about forty guests to attend. In fact, 150 people came, including the president and past and present chairmen of ICSC. Following the 2004 event, ICSC expressed interest in becoming one of the sponsors for the 2005 Diversity Reception and, along with Nixon Peabody and the other sponsors, committed to holding a larger and more successful event in 2005. “ICSC is very supportive of this effort. I think that ICSC and its member companies are beginning to realize that supporting diversity is not only the right thing to do, but it is essential to creating a dynamic work environment and contributes to increasing the bottom line,” Gina says. Speakers at this year’s event included Michael Kercheval, president and CEO of ICSC, Jean Schlemmer, executive vice president of General Growth Properties; Richmond McCoy, president of UrbanAmerica, LP; and Rev. Oscar King, formerly with The Taubman Company.
From left to right: Jeff Monge, Urban America; Lyneir Richardson, General Growth Properties; Richmond McCoy, Urban America; Gina S. Love, Nixon Peabody; Harriett Edwards, Forest City Enterprises; and Ivan Boone, Concordis Real Estate.

While everyone enjoyed the reception, the goal was more serious. The event offered an opportunity for minorities in the shopping center and retail industry to network with representatives from some of the nation’s most prominent retailers and real estate companies in order to develop business opportunities and partnerships. “One of the sponsor companies was so impressed with the event and with the expertise of the people in attendance that they are actively trying to develop partnerships for their projects with some of the attendees; and Simon Property Group, the country’s largest developer, was also very impressed by the event, expressing an interest in sponsoring next year,” says Gina. Event sponsors, in addition to Nixon Peabody, included General Growth Properties, Forest City Enterprises, UrbanAmerica, Concordis Real Estate, and ICSC.

Somos el futuro (We are the future)
Nixon Peabody sponsors free CLE program at annual conference
Nixon Peabody sponsored a free, three-credit CLE program at this year’s annual New York State Assembly, Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force conference. The conference, which is attended by thousands, has never hosted a free CLE program, according to John Higgins, counsel in Nixon Peabody’s Albany office, president of the Capital District Black and Hispanic Bar Association (CDBHBA) and co-chair of the NYSBA Committee on Minorities in the Profession. 6

The New York State Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force Annual Legislative Conference, known as the Somos El Futuro (we are the future) conference, was established in 1987 and is the largest gathering of Puerto Rican/Hispanic civic and political leaders in New York. “With more than 3 million Hispanics in New York, the conference has become the most significant public policy vehicle that allow for important policy and legislative issues to be discussed and addressed at the state level…. The Somos El Futuro Legislative Conference brings together nearly 7,000 New Yorkers who represent a cross section of the state’s Hispanic community, including federal, state, and local elected officials as well as community, labor and business leaders,” according to the organization’s Web site. “The program was a great opportunity because many members of this group are in public sector practice and do not have ready access to CLE credits because of the cost,” John says. With Nixon Peabody’s sponsorship, John was able to facilitate and moderate an excellent program that featured a panel of experts, including Elizabeth Moore, a partner in NP’s New York City office, and Mauricio Velásquez, president of The Diversity Training Group, a diversity consulting firm that specializes in the planning, design and implementation of diversity initiatives. “The program attracted a large, diverse audience and was exceptionally well received. We have some really great evaluations. Everybody involved donated an extraordinary amount of time, some traveling significant distances, voluntarily,” John says. In fact, the program was so well received that the chairman of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force Annual Legislative Conference, Somos El Futuro, invited the organizers and panel participants to Puerto Rico in November for the next event. “It was a high-energy event and a great opportunity for attorneys who do not often have access to that type of event. I truly loved doing it and it was highly successful,” says John, who thought of the idea and was Nixon Peabody’s main organizer of the free CLE.


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