The top lawyers at Jacobs Engineering Group, Southwest Airlines and El Rancho Supermercado spent Tuesday’s lunch hour speaking about multiple aspects of diversity within the legal profession — what diversity means for them and their organizations, why it’s important in both the in-house and outside counsel context and how it could be improved.
The panel discussion was organized by the Dallas Regional Chamber and hosted at UNT Dallas College of Law. Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr and Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal sponsored the panel discussion, which was attended by roughly 60 in-house and outside lawyers. The panel included Southwest Chief Legal Officer and Executive Vice President Mark Shaw, Jacobs Chief Legal and Administrator and EVP Joanne Caruso and El Rancho General Counsel Youssef Said.
Below is a transcript of the Q&A. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.
William Toles: What are some of the values, in your opinion, of having a more diverse workspace and legal team?
Joanne Caruso: The way I think about diversity is — it’s all diversity. It’s racial diversity, it’s gender identity, sexual orientation, veteran status. Think about the different perspectives that people bring from all of those. If you had somebody who came from the military or [even] just economic diversity or they grew up in a different part of the country or just have different economic backgrounds. Those things bring so much of a different perspective that the discussions that you’re having, when you’re figuring out problems and trying to come up with solutions, leads to much richer conversations and actually better outcomes.
Youssef Said: Each of us here has gone through certain experiences that you’ve had to overcome some sort of adversity. My adversities are certainly different from each of yours, and it’s those adversities, those diverse experiences that bring something a little bit extra to the table beyond just what law schools teach you. How many of us are used to public speaking? How many of us have dealt with large families and had to mediate between siblings? How many of us had to come from the bottom? How many of us painted cars before they were lawyers? This is the importance of diversity. You really open yourself up to a pool of talent that has been untapped. And if I could speak candidly, talent has been a little dry out there, so it’s good to look in all areas. That’s why it’s important for my team.
Mark Shaw: I think it’s really important to get different perspectives in the airline industry. We call the airline industry the ultimate team sport. Because of the competition, we feel like we need diverse perspectives. We need different skills, people of different backgrounds, people with different ideas. We’ve always valued that as we’ve tried to compete in the airline industry. It’s really embedded in our values at Southwest.
Hilda Galvan: Would you share some of the conversations that you have with others in the legal community about how you go about increasing diversity in the legal profession?
Mark Shaw: I’ll start with I wish there were more. I actually don’t get involved in a lot of those discussions in the legal community. Maybe it’s my fault for not seeking them out. But I would value more of that sort of discussion in the legal community. For Southwest specifically, the last several years have been very challenging — the grounding of our Boeing 737 Max aircraft followed by the pandemic, but that’s been a huge issue for everyone. It’s been hard to really build into some of the current issues. We’ve talked about issues [like the George Floyd killing] within Southwest, but I would welcome more discussion within the community about diversity, equity and inclusion.
Joanne Caruso: Fifteen or 20 years ago when I was in a law firm, a group of general counsel and the managing partners went to Arizona, including Brad Smith, who is now the president of Microsoft and Tom Mars (a former Walmart general counsel) and a lot of names you’ve probably heard of were talking about diversity in law firms and diversity in the legal profession. It was this wonderful discussion and everybody was committed. And so here we are roughly 15, 20 years later, and the numbers probably haven’t moved very much. The conversations are so critical, but it’s really action and holding people accountable that are going to actually change things.
Hilda Galvan: You mentioned accountability — you actually do that within Jacobs. You hold folks accountable in terms of their evaluations. Is that correct?
Joanne Caruso: We do so both in the business and with all of the functions, including the legal function. We do quarterly reviews of lot of different things, but certainly in terms of inclusion and diversity so we have all of the data. We look at that and we’re asked about it, and we probably spend anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour talking about it. And it’s something the board talks about as well. The board is accountable to itself in terms of board diversity as well. We are always talking about it, always looking at the numbers and always saying, “We need to do better.”
William Toles: What are you doing internally to increase the diversity of your team and how does that potentially shape the diversity of your outside counsel?
Youssef Said: Prior to hiring my litigation associate, Betsy Repplinger, it was just myself. I am working for a company that serves a largely Hispanic community, and I had to do something about the fact that I had little experience with Mexican culture and that I don’t speak the language. So I pulled up some interviews and one, Betsy Repplinger, caught my eye. She had graduated from law school in Mexico City, came to Arizona and got her LLM, took the bar exam in Texas and passed, and practiced criminal law for a couple of years. I tried her out in the civil area, and I’ve never been happier.
Mark Shaw: At Southwest we’re following along with what the whole company is doing. Over the last couple of years, we’ve put in place some fairly direct goals relating to diversity. We are committed to doubling racial diversity and increasing gender diversity in our leadership ranks by 2025. We have historically been a company that tries to promote from within. The problem we have is that we have not historically had those pipelines and the diversity at different levels of the company that would allow us to continue to promote from within and increase diversity. So when we’re hiring, especially externally, we require that there be a diverse slate of candidates in the process. We also have hiring panels and we require all of those people to have diversity on them. We are requiring diversity training for all of our hiring managers. We have hundreds of community partners throughout the country, and we’re really working with them to create, network and be aware of opportunities for those groups at Southwest. Our legal department is becoming increasingly diverse and has been over the last number of years.
Joanne Caruso: One of the things that’s really important is not only getting people in the door so you have more diversity, but making sure they’re getting the opportunities for advancement, getting the professional development and getting whatever they need to be successful. Whether it’s in the law firm, where the power usually comes from getting cases or business, or the company, where you’re getting them exposed to people and opportunities. Because then they’ll get the opportunities to work with the CEO, the board, the important client, whatever it might be.
Question from the audience (read by Toles): As a large corporation, we monitor the diversity of our top 20 outside counsel and set annual evaluations. Is this a practice at Southwest (with outside counsel): “If there’s failure to improve results then no new work?”
Mark Shaw: We don’t have a formal program like that with our outside law firms at Southwest, maybe we should. We hire outside counsel for two reasons, really. We either don’t have the resources internally to do the work or we don’t have the internal expertise to do the work. Those are our top two priorities. We love the fact that we work with firms who have diverse lawyers. But we look for lawyers, not law firms. It really is a matter of finding the best lawyer or lawyers for the matter. But again, there’s no reason not to also consider things like that (diversity in outside firms) and monitor those sorts of things.
Question from the audience (read by Galvan): When we talk about diversity, we often talk about people of color and LGBTQIA+. We talk about these general groups and not about the individual groups. Should we be talking about the individual groups and how they’re being included and retained in our profession or in the broader group? Secondly, how do we make it so that we’re looking at all diverse groups — military, LGBTQIA+, Latinas, Black men? How do we do that? Is there a way or is it somewhat divisive?
Youssef Said: We refer to these groups as generalities. But take Latinas, for instance. There is a very wide array of what is a Latina. There’s Cuban, there’s Mexican, there’s El Salvadorian. While they all tend to speak Spanish from these places, they are different in culture. Within our company, we have different experiences from just the Latino/Latina subset. That enables us to market in a way where you go into a Supermercado and you can see meats from Cuba hanging just like back home. You can see Salvadorian style cooking. I think it’s important to break it down. What does it mean to be a Black man when you have Americans born and raised here for generations and also those from Ethiopia, Kenya, Jamaica? I do think speaking about it in broad general terms really limits you. You need to really break it down and understand that even within these diverse groups, it gets even more diverse.
Joanne Caruso: Yeah, I think it’s really critical. If we’re going to talk about diversity, you really need to understand and that’s where the data comes in as well. Within LGBTQIA+, the lesbian people say, ‘I can’t really talk about the trans experience. You’re grouping us all together.’ We need to really be mindful of that. Sometimes, people don’t want to self-identify, whatever group it is. There’s a lot of things you have to think about and sensitivities. But I think it’s really critical because removing them altogether is doing a disservice to it, in my opinion.
Mark Shaw: I do think diversity is diversity, so you have to look at the whole spectrum of groups. One of the groups included in that is military. We are one of the top employers of military veterans and also people with disabilities. The biggest mistake is to look at a few groups and focus on them. You really need to look at the whole spectrum out there, all the different groups, all the different gender and racial diversity.