Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Field with Francisco Ramos, Partner at Clarke Silverglate
In this episode of On Record PR, Jennifer Simpson Carr goes on record with Francisco “Frank” Ramos, Partner at Clarke Silverglate and author of Confessions of a Latino Lawyer, about how to achieve diversity in the legal field.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: Frank, welcome to the show today. Many diverse groups are still very underrepresented in the legal profession, and you wrote a beautiful book, which we’re going to talk a lot about today, about your experience and how law firms can approach not only attracting diverse talent, but really the opportunity to retain them and create a real sense of belonging within their culture.
Can you tell our listeners a little bit about your background and your start in the practice of law?
I actually grew up in Chicago. I talk about that in the book. My family moved down to Miami in the mid-80s. I went to high school, college, and law school down here, and I’ve been practicing in Miami ever since. I graduated in ‘97 from the University of Miami, started at a large defense firm, actually out of Chicago, but with a Miami office. Then I transitioned to the firm I’m at now. I’ve been here for almost 24 years. So it’s been a long journey. I’ve done commercial employment, and prior to liability, all litigation at a boutique litigation firm. I have really enjoyed the practice and had enjoyed the privilege of paying it forward to other young lawyers.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: That’s great. And I know that you’re a mentor to many today. So I want to read an excerpt from your book, which I think beautifully summarizes why representation matters. And what you say is, “This book is different from my other books. I don’t typically write about my life, my experiences and my stories, but I realize they define me. They direct my decisions and because of them, I am who I am. And this is true for each of us, for all of us. And my experience as a Latino is different from the experience of Anglos, are different from the experiences of African Americans, are different from the experiences of women, and are different from the experiences of those in the LGBT community. And what makes me different, what makes my vantage point and perspective different, is what makes me want to stay or makes me want to leave, makes me want to have a relationship with a person or a firm or not have one.”
And as I said, I think that beautifully summarizes why representation matters and why belonging and inclusion are so important.
Can you talk a little bit about how diversity in the legal profession has changed from your time joining the legal profession to today?
When I started in ’97, there was discussion about diversity then, but little action, and I’ve seen that change and undulate over the last two and a half decades or so. And since the issues in the last couple years and social movements that have come to the forefront, there is more discussion of diversity. And I’m seeing firms and companies making more of an effort to not only hire diverse lawyers and women lawyers, but also to keep them in the fold and ensure that they don’t go elsewhere or leave the profession altogether. Can more be done? Sure. Has enough been done? No, but certainly we’re moving in the right direction. That certainly is heartening.
What are some examples of the best practices that you’re seeing at firms who are successful at not only attracting diverse attorneys, but retaining them?
, and it’s really separate and apart from what school you went to or grades you got or anything like that, or having to do with your pedigree.
It’s just people who have had tough times and tough situations and have made it to the other end and made it through the rain, they are much better equipped to do this job than those who have not. Especially if you’re in litigation or a trial lawyer, which is very antagonistic. It’s very adversarial. And being able to have that reservoir of experiences to feed off of and knowing that you’ve been through tough situations before and you can get through that now is certainly important. So I think law firms and law practice groups are going beyond the traditional schools and looking at other places. They’re also developing relationships with affinity groups and voluntary bar associations that cater and help and assist more diverse lawyers, working more in conjunction and collaboration with them. And once they actually hire diverse lawyers, they’re understanding that they have their own stories.
And the reason I wrote that book Confessions of a Latino Lawyer was to sort of share my story. Does my story define who I am? And that law firms need to understand that each of us have our own story. And some of that is driven by our backgrounds. Some of it’s driven by our nationality. Some of it’s driven by our family and our ethnicity or a geographic region or our social economic class. It’s so many different factors, but each story is unique. Each one is different. Each one really kind of defines who we are and defines the paths we’ve taken, decisions we make.
And in order to keep people, you really have to know and understand them, know what they’re passionate about, what their talents are, where they want to be, what they want to do, what their dreams are, and embrace that wholeheartedly. And empower them to achieve their goals. Even if those goals ultimately diverge from your own firms or from your own companies. Because those are the sort of efforts and relationships that lead to long-term individuals at your firm. If you want someone to stay at your firm, 10, 20, 30 years, they’re going to stay if you’ve invested in them and they’ll invest in you. I think most people are willing to leave a firm, but much less willing to leave a relationship.
What is the biggest disconnect between law firms and first-generation diverse attorneys?
Well, I think for most first-generation lawyers, we don’t really know how this all plays out. When I started, I had no idea what it was to be a lawyer. I had no idea about business development, being an entrepreneur, none of that made any sense to me. And also if you’re a first-generation lawyer, typically there are other people in your family that are depending on you beyond your immediate family. There’s sort of a joke among Latino communities and African American communities called the Latino tax or the African American tax, where we’re the first or one of the first people to be successful in our families and everybody who has the financial need calls us up. And suddenly we’re helping somebody pay tuition or meet a car payment or whatever it might be. And we’re happy to do that, but it’s hard to advance financially, economically, if you are helping so many beyond your immediate family, which is not something that second- or third-generation people have to do.
You’re trying to establish yourself, you’re trying to create some space for yourself and trying to advance yourself. And you find yourself constantly struggling financially because there are so many other relationships and obligations that you may have that others don’t. And that’s probably also true for Anglos who are first-generation as well. Just from social economic class, it’s hard to be that first person. It’s a double-edged sword though, because by getting there, you do have a certain drive that other attorneys don’t.
A lot of attorneys I know that are second, third-generation lawyers, some of them are great, but some of them have a cushion. They have a net to fall under, and it’s hard to be that hungry if you know, there’s food actually at the table. There’s a difference between a lion in the zoo and a lion in the safari. A lion in the zoo knows that there’s going to be a steak waiting for him when he goes back and he’s not the same lion. He just doesn’t have that capacity anymore. And so there’s something to be said about being a first-generation, just knowing that every morning you have to get up and you have to do the job and there are people counting on you, relying on you, and it’s all on you. There’s no one coming to save you.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: That’s a great point. There are so many different considerations with people’s backgrounds and perspectives. And I really appreciate what you said earlier about understanding the individual and who they are and their background and their perspective, because it does give you so much more information that you can work with in terms of helping that person be successful and opportunities to open doors or reach out to others in your organization and help progress everyone together. It also kind of touches on something else that you mentioned in your book, which is, we all certainly have a dichotomy of who we are at work versus our personal lives, our home lives.
You talk about the vast differences for diverse attorneys in how they have to show up at work versus their home life. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
I think the way we deal with life, the way we deal with our family and our other obligations is different a little bit. I think my experience is different than the experience of an Anglo attorney, especially somebody who comes from a wealthier family who has different individuals who have advanced degrees. There’s a whole host of issues there that my reality just isn’t theirs in terms of where I grew up, the house I lived in, the vehicle I drove around, the activities I did. I mean I never played golf. I didn’t know what golf was. I didn’t play tennis. I didn’t do any of those things. I played street ball. I grew up in a very rough neighborhood, a lot of street fights.
And it’s a different experience. There was no safety there. It was very much a life where you kind of had to take care of yourself and the idea that you can just go ahead and have this leisure life is really kind of unusual, but then so much of what we do as lawyers and so much of our success is based on the relationships we have, and people who have those relationships kind of handed to them or have an ability to sort of walk into those relationships, certainly have an advantage.
And so I don’t have a network naturally. I’ve developed one, but didn’t have one naturally. I didn’t go around and ask for business, ask for work. I didn’t have a network where I could call together mentors and people who would help me through the process. I didn’t have a network of people to explain to me and tell me what I was supposed to do. And a lot of that you had to learn on your own. And so that does put you at a disadvantage. I mean, you learn it. You get pretty good at it. And there’s something to be said about going through the process yourself, as opposed to having someone walk you through it. But having said all that, that’s a huge advantage to have those relationships, to have those resources that a lot of first generations, especially first-generation diverse lawyers, don’t have.
What advice would you give for colleagues, regardless of who they are, to help one another feel a sense of inclusion and belonging within a law firm?
I think most firms could do a better job having a more planned mentoring program. I think each firm should assign a mentor, both a mentor that is above the person, and maybe somebody who is at the same level as the person, to walk alongside him or her and try to find somebody that has something in common. Doesn’t have to be this person’s the same gender, the same diversity, but maybe they have similar interests. Maybe they like to work out together, maybe they’re passionate about triathlons. But try to maybe do a survey on your lawyers, ask them very open general questions, and then almost have like a matchmaking system where you partner a more senior lawyer with a more junior lawyer. Then you find somebody slightly above that junior lawyer and have both of them sort of walk alongside him or her and help them develop.
So much of what we learn about somebody is through more casual, open-ended conversations. If you have a weekly meeting with everybody and you ask everybody what’s on their mind, no one’s going to really tell you what’s on their mind, it’s a big room of people. But if you have sort of a one-on-one relationship with that individual and you show that you’re really invested in their development, it almost becomes like an apprenticeship model. That person’s going to be much more willing to be open with you, tell you their concerns, their fears, their issues, how best you can help them, and you’ll walk alongside of them. And that person’s much more likely to stay in the organization or the firm or the company and become part of it and become invested in its future as well as his or her own future.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: I love that example. It’s a great idea. And I do think that there’s something to be said for having mentors at different stages in their career, because there are different conversations and different relationships you can build, and it allows you to really get a sense of who your colleagues are and connect with people on similar interests. That’s a great idea for our listenership, which ranges from solo and small firms to some of the big firms with in-house marketing departments. And that’s a very scalable solution, a mentorship program.
We did a fantastic interview with an attorney at one of our firms who talks about how their pro bono program actually offers those very similar opportunities, to work with attorneys across the firm who you otherwise would not have the opportunity to get to know and work with.
Beyond numbers, what can law firms strive to do to continue to bring people of all diverse backgrounds into the fold and give them opportunities to advance and grow within the organization?
I think if law firms spend more time developing soft skills for their lawyers throughout all the ranks, in terms of helping them develop their communication skills, their confidence, which I’d consider a skill – it’s not just an attribute. I think it’s very much a skill that could be taught in terms of their writing skills, in terms of their business development and marketing skills. I think the soft skills are the most important. They’re the ones you do not learn in law school. Those are the ones that will have the biggest impact on clients and the future of the firm. And you really invest in your people and maybe that involves bringing in consultants. Maybe it means sending people out to classes. Maybe it means hiring executive coaches for executive training. Maybe it means sitting down, coming up with their own internal program. There are a hundred ways of doing this.
And they don’t all entail spending a lot of money, but being conscientious and conscious and thoughtful on how to help your lawyers speed through that initial gap, and the research, the writing, the arguing motions, depositions, obviously those are things you’re going to have to teach any lawyer. But I think where a lot of firms fail is that they don’t really develop leaders. They don’t develop individuals who have a good emotional intelligence. They don’t develop individuals who know how to speak with clients for the court or clients for juries. And again, these aren’t issues you read in a book, these aren’t things that are being generally taught, and there are ways of teaching them. They are skillsets that should be taught to everyone. When firms make that investment, the individuals who go and work with those firms realize that they’re learning a special skillset they may not learn at most places. They’re much more likely to remain at that firm and become part of that firm’s long-term future.
What advice do you have for graduating law students or junior associates who are within their first few years of practicing, when they’re trying to figure out whether a law firm is the right fit?
I would suggest that they take out to lunch or for coffee, somebody at the same firm, that’s say, three to five years above them. And just really gauge from that person or persons, how happy they are and how satisfied they are, because that is them three to five years from now. And I wouldn’t do it with just one person because sometimes that’s not a really good sampling size, but depending on the size of the firm, take out two or three young lawyers, not as young as you or not as inexperienced as you, but somebody who is sort of on your flight path and see where they’re at. Where they’re at professionally, what they’ve done, what they’ve accomplished, and how generally satisfied they are. And if all of them are looking for the door, that probably says a lot. If all of them are looking to stay to become partners, that says a lot. If all of them are generally happy, that says lot. If most of them are dissatisfied, that says a lot.
I think there’s no better understanding of a firm than the people who already there and the experiences they’re having. If you’re a diverse lawyer, reach out to another diverse lawyer at the firm, if you’re a female lawyer, reach out to another female lawyer at the firm, but get a sense without interrogating them or putting them through a deposition, but best as you can, gauge from them where they’re at. And that’s probably going to be a pretty good sign of where you’re going to be at. And you’re going to have to determine if that’s where you want to be or not.
Do you have any final thoughts for our listeners?
I think the most important thing as lawyers that we can do is develop our soft skills, and confidence is key. A lot of diverse lawyers, a lot of female lawyers, suffer from imposter syndrome, and that’s sort of imposed upon them by more senior lawyers trying to keep them in their place. And it’s a real issue. And I think the biggest thing you can do is develop a body of work that you can always reflect upon. Whether it’s wins in trial, whether it’s wins in dispositive motions or articles you’ve read in your presentations you’ve given. Keep a list somewhere. Maybe keep it in your wallet or keep it in your drawer. And whenever you’re having those self-doubts and those concerns, look at it and remind yourself that you do deserve a place at the table.
Jennifer Simpson Carr: That’s also great advice. I’ve had colleagues that call them their “brag folder” or their “brag box,” and they’ll just save positive accomplishments and positive feedback. And it is a nice reflection on who you are. And so that one instance or one piece of feedback isn’t a reflection of who you are as a person and the great work that you’ve done over the length of your career. So I love that idea. Frank, thank you so much for joining me today and thank you for being a mentor in the legal community.
About Francisco “Frank” Ramos
Frank is a Partner of Clarke Silverglate, where he practices in the areas of commercial litigation, drug and medical device, products liability and catastrophic personal injury. He is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell and is listed in Best Lawyers in America for his defense work in product liability matters. Frank has been with Clarke Silverglate for virtually his entire career. He has tried to verdict personal injury, medical malpractice, product liability, and inverse condemnation cases. As a certified mediator, Frank has resolved numerous matters through alternative dispute resolution.
Frank is an ambassador for the Firm’s mission of leadership and service. He has been President of the Florida Defense Lawyers Association and the 11th Judicial Historical Society and has served on the boards of the Federation of Defense & Corporate Counsel, Defense Research Institute, Florida International University’s Alumni Association, Florida International University’s Honors College, Parent to Parent of Miami, Miami-Dade Defense Bar Association, Legal Services of Greater Miami, and Florida Christian School. He serves as a mentor to countless young lawyers and law students through his publications, social media posts, presentations, webinars, and his “coffee chats.” Frank has written 20 books for lawyers, edited five books for lawyers, and has written over 400 articles for lawyers and business professionals.
Frank’s dedication to young lawyers is exemplified through his development of a Deposition Boot Camp and Art of Marketing Program for the Federation of Defense & Corporate Counsel, an invitation-only defense organization that handpicked Frank for membership just eight years into his practice. Frank’s daily practice pointers and business tips on LinkedIn have over 55,000 followers and 5,000 friends on Facebook.
In his spare time, Frank enjoys writing, reading science fiction, and listening to his two sons, David and Michael, perform classical and jazz music.
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