When crisis strikes an organization, it is not uncommon for diversity and inclusion to take a back seat. History has taught us, however, that the last thing we need is for minorities and underrepresented groups to be seated in the back seat. That is where the Texas Minority Counsel Program from the State Bar of Texas comes into play. As C.E. Rhodes, executive vice president and general counsel at Frost Bank remarked at the conference: “Inclusion is inviting diverse lawyers to the party. Belonging is making sure that the host greets those lawyers and says ‘I’m happy you’re here.’ We need to make sure that in the diversity, equity and inclusion discussions, that we also prioritize belonging.”
Emerging like a phoenix from its pandemic-induced hiatus last year, the TMCP two-day event hosted in Dallas, came back with a bang to celebrate its 30th anniversary year in November. The TMCP’s mission is to increase opportunities for diverse attorneys who provide legal services to corporate and governmental clients, and to expose organizations to the legal talent of diverse attorneys in Texas and bolster the amount and significance of legal work obtained by minority, women, LGBTQ+ and other underrepresented attorneys.
TMCP is unique in that it kicks off with service component in addition to the traditional golf tournament and spa retreat. In the Networking Through Service program, diverse attorneys visit a local school in the host city and work in teams to present a curriculum to educate and encourage elementary students to pursue careers in the legal profession. “It serves as a reminder of how powerful our stories can be when we choose to share them,” said Philip Nickerson, litigation associate at the Austin office of Scott Douglass & McConnico.
This year’s TMCP did not disappoint, with record levels of participation by corporate and governmental entities in the Counsel Connections program, which allows representatives from those entities to have an opportunity to meet and connect with a diverse pool of outside counsel candidates. The lead keynote speaker Laura Coates, CNN host and senior legal analyst, inspired, challenged and captivated the audience the first day of the conference.
TMCP also featured Dr. Eric Cervini as its keynote on its second day. Cervini, an award-winning author, producer and historian of LGBTQ+ politics, discussed the early struggles of the gay rights movements in the United States, particularly the story of Frank Kameny, a rising astronomer for the U.S. Department of Defense who was summarily dismissed from his job for his status as a gay man.
Law students were also provided an opportunity to gain valuable insight from attorneys who attended TMCP through a panel discussion and reception. This year, the TMCP steering committee will grow its mission to increase opportunities for legal talent by partnering with Baker Botts and Chevron to pilot a 2023 1L summer associate program aimed at diversifying the legal profession.
Also on the agenda for this year’s TMCP was presenting its four awards: Corporate Counsel of the Year Award, Trailblazer Award, Rising Star Award and Lifetime Achievement Award.
Finalists for this year’s Corporate Counsel of the Year Award included Olesja Cormney, managing counsel of Toyota Motor North America, and Eunice Nakamura with Susan G. Komen. The winner was Travis Torrence, lead of the Global Litigation Bankruptcy & Credit Team at Shell USA.
Finalists for the Rising Star Award – TMCP’s newest award category – included Nadeen Abou-Hossa with Gonzalez, Chiscano, Angulo & Kasson in San Antonio and Jessica Rodriguez-Wahlquist with Sorrels Law in Houston. The winner of the award was KoiEles Lomas, senior counsel at McKesson.
Finalists for this year’s Trailblazer of the Year Award included the Hon. Ada Brown, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and Christa Brown-Sanford with Baker Botts in Dallas. The winner of the award was Jamila Mensah with Norton Rose Fulbright in Houston.
Finalists for this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award were Chris Mugica of Jackson Walker in Austin and Michelle Peak with Sun Belt Rentals in Dallas. The winner of the award was Kim Askew, partner at DLA Piper in Dallas. Askew remarked that “the work of the Texas Minority Counsel Program is tremendous. I am especially proud of the State Bar of Texas and the many lawyers and supporters who have help to make TCMP such a successful program. TMCP has truly become the premier program for lawyers of color that successfully combines client development, CLE and networking opportunities. I know that it has made a difference in the career trajectories for many lawyers over the years.”
Program co-chair Courteney Harris, assistant dean for career and professional development with UNT Dallas College of Law, said “the steering committee worked very hard to ensure that the program provided an opportunity for organizations to show their commitment to diversifying the legal profession. Many aspects of this year’s event provided a toolkit to navigate the profession in an effective, forward-thinking manner”.
Mark your calendars for the 31st Annual TMCP. It will be held in Houston at The Westin Memorial City, Oct. 25-27, 2023.
Shannon Quadros is a commercial trial lawyer and name shareholder at Quadros, Migl & Crosby.