State Bar diversity conference 2016 header

Today, a great conference opens in Phoenix that offers a wide variety of content regarding law practice as well as diversity and inclusion in the profession. It is the State Bar’s “Spring Training for Lawyers” (formerly called the Minority Bar Conference).

On the second day of the conference (Friday), I have the privilege to moderate a panel of general counsel on the issue of diversity in law practice.

Leading off the Friday sessions will be our plenary session titled “Knocking It Out of the Ballpark: How Corporate Legal Counsel Are Leading the Way to a Diverse Legal Profession.” Here is a list of the stellar panel:

  • David Falck, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Pinnacle West Capital Corporation
  • Lori Chumbler, Senior Associate General Counsel, Walmart
  • Isabella Fu, Associate General Counsel, Microsoft Corporation
  • Dawn Valdivia, Assistant General Counsel, Honeywell International

As organizers describe our session:

“Join us for this interactive discussion featuring corporate legal counsel to discuss how having a diverse team of lawyers helps their companies achieve their business goals. They’ll share their best practices, lessons learned and how their legal departments are leading the way to a more diverse and inclusive legal profession.”

And leading off that panel discussion will be my own six-minute (or so) intro to where we are in the profession regarding diversity and inclusion. 6 minutes. Hmm. As I prepared for that task, I wondered how we can discuss diversity in 2016 without mentioning … the Oscars.

Seriously, I’m wondering. Because if there is a way to do it, I’ve failed. My presentation will allude to the uncomfortable relationship between the law and the Academy. Here are examples of images from my PowerPoint, which suggests the hashtag #LawSoWhite (and #male and #able-bodied and #cis, because let’s be real):

Oscars so white gif animated

Here’s hoping panelists—and the attendees—have a sense of humor.

Rihanna nope animated gif

For fairness’ sake, I point you to a recent article by friend and journalist Bill Wyman. His analysis of the history of the Academy awards appears in the Columbia Journalism Review and suggests the diversity picture at the Oscars is not nearly as bleak as many have made it. As Bill writes:

“An intelligent discussion of the issue was made much more difficult by a curious exclusion from just about all of the media coverage[:] The Academy Awards have actually greatly improved their recognition of minority actors. In fact, in recent years, their representation, while not exemplary, has climbed into the realm of the respectable. … The lesson here is that Hollywood is sometimes more complicated than its public portrayal.”

Read his whole article and decide for yourself.

All the detail about the State Bar conference is here. I hope you can attend.

The agenda for Spring Training for Lawyers 2016

The agenda for Spring Training for Lawyers 2016

The sponsors for Spring Training for Lawyers 2016

The sponsors for Spring Training for Lawyers 2016

Bob McWhirter's Bill of Rights book featured at the State Bar 2015 Convention #azbarcon

Bob McWhirter’s Bill of Rights book featured at the State Bar 2015 Convention #azbarcon

When Bob McWhirter writes an article or book, I’m inclined to want to read it (or to be the editor who gets to publish it!).

His latest work—an illustrated history of the Bill of Rights—has captivated readers and even won a design award.

(Go here for the paperback version, or here for the hard-cover version.)

But reading his work only offers a glimmer of the joy Bob takes in excavating history. For that, you have to see him be interviewed. A recent PBS Horizon program offers that chance.

Here is Bob being interviewed by Horizon host Ted Simons. Ted was clearly charmed by Bob and his book; he even chuckled when Bob inadvertently used the word “pissed” on the otherwise-buttoned-down program.

Screen-grab of Bob McWhirter on AZ PBS's Horizon.

Screen-grab of Bob McWhirter on AZ PBS’s Horizon.

And after you watch that, you can read an op-ed Bob penned for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In it, he explores (as he does in his book and in previous articles for Arizona Attorney Magazine), the close connection between guns and race in American history and current events.

Screen-grab of Bob McWhirter and interviewer Ted Simons on AZ PBS's Horizon.

Screen-grab of Bob McWhirter and interviewer Ted Simons on AZ PBS’s Horizon.

Hon. Don Kessler receives the 2015 Sarah Herring Sorin Award from Barbara Burke, center, and 2015 AWLA President Lisa Bossard Funk, June 26, 2015, Arizona Biltmore, Phoenix.

Hon. Don Kessler receives the 2015 Sarah Herring Sorin Award from Barbara Burke, center, and 2015 AWLA President Lisa Bossard Funk, June 26, 2015, Arizona Biltmore, Phoenix.

An hour after the Supreme Court released its historic opinion legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states, the AWLA made historic news of their own, honoring a man for the first time with its Sarah Herring Sorin Award.

On Friday, June 26, the highest award of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association went to Judge Donn Kessler of the Arizona Court of Appeals.

The Biltmore Resort room was packed with a capacity crowd of members and others. Attorney Barbara Burke introduced the honoree, known for his support (and employment) of largely female clerks. He also has chaired or co-chaired the AWLA’s monthly luncheon for years, and has been tireless in mentoring judicial candidates.

Well respected as a mentor, Judge Kessler is “one who lifts up women and men attorneys,” said Burke.

Barbara conveyed kind words about Donn expressed by others: “When Donn is in your life, you are so lucky.” And “He is awesome, a leader and mentor.”

Judge Kessler sounded a theme of mindfulness in his acceptance remarks. A longtime advocate of meditation and balance in life and law practice, he said, “Mindfulness has made me grateful for things.”

For example, to loud applause, he said, “I am grateful for the United States Supreme Court this morning.”

But more needs to be done for marginalized individuals, he urged.

“A half century after 50 percent of law school classes were composed of women, now only 17 percent of law firm equity partners are women.”

Generous to a fault, Judge Kessler praised his many clerks, past and present, who have drafted the first versions of his opinions. While other appellate judges shifted uncomfortably in their seats, Kessler said that many drafts he’s received have been essentially ready for publication the moment they were written by the clerks.

“So I always try to add ‘the Kessler paragraph or sentence,’” he said. That way, when he later engages in dialogue with his fellow panel judges, they can focus on that portion. “‘We can take that out,’ they say,” likely unaware that it’s the judge-drafted portion. The self-effacing Kessler told his story to warm laughs—and some uneasy grimaces.

Judge Kessler said he will probably retire in two years, and hopes young lawyers and clerks always understand that he is a supporter and a sounding board. Urging a successful life and practice, he said, “I want you to run with it.”

Finally, he reminded the audience that appellate judge is the second-best job he’s ever had. For the best position, he recalled his work as a deputy attorney general in Hawaii, where he learned important lessons.

The Hawaiian-shirted Kessler described making his oral argument before a judge. As he went “toe to toe” on an important issue, “the judge was just not buying my argument.” Finally, a colleague tugged on his jacket and muttered, “Move on to your next argument!”

He did, and the judge exclaimed, “You win on that one!”

Your next argument, or your next chapter—and helping others with theirs—may be a recipe for a mindful life, Judge Kessler suggested.

Can I get an "ouch"? Lawyer hourly fees may cause client discomfort.

Can I get an “ouch”? Lawyer hourly fees may cause client discomfort.

This morning, an #azbarcon panel addresses the landscape for alternative fee agreements. Amidst a legal profession largely still wedded to hourly billing, the notion of a fixed fee may still get a tough reception among lawyers.

As attorney Mark Lassiter addressed a standing-room-only crowd, he opened by playing a hilarious video from a U.K. law firm. Riverview has made it part of their mission to blow up the hourly model.

I hope to share more on alternative agreements in the future. In the meantime, enjoy the video:

George Bisharat is Big Harp George, and he's a presenter at the 2015 #azbarcon

George Bisharat is Big Harp George, and he’s a presenter at the 2015 #azbarcon

Last week, I wrote about an #azbarcon panel discussion on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. I’ll be there when it starts at 2:00 today.

But in the meantime, you should take a moment to hear from one of the panelists, Professor George Bisharat. (I disclosed before that he was my law school crim-law professor.) Today, he’ll be giving insight on the Palestinian side of the dialogue. But more pertinent for your lunchtime listening? He is Big Harp George, an accomplished harmonica player.

He’s released a CD (maybe more), but here is one of his songs.

Here is news that he was nominated for Best New Artist Album at the Blues Music Awards.

And here is his website and Facebook page.

Here’s hoping you have some chromatic blues in your day!

Swaggy P by Chris Edser via

Swaggy P by Chris Edser via

Here is my annual slideshow of select swag (OK, promotional items) provided by exhibitors at the Bar Convention, this year at the Arizona Biltmore.

A caveat: This is not all there is. What is shown here is an extremely subjective, personal selection made by me. I tend to only occasionally pick up pens (they’re nice, but meh).

Thanks again to the exhibitors for helping make the Convention more affordable. Let’s get swaggy. (Click an image to view them in a slideshow.)

The Arizona Attorney Convention booth

The Arizona Attorney Convention booth

Keep up with what’s happening at the State Bar Annual Convention by following the editor on Twitter! Get short, timely messages (including photos, speaker presentations and more) from Arizona Attorney Magazine’s staff. If you, your firm or employer are active on Twitter, just insert the hashtag #azbarcon into all of your Convention tweets to allow them to be read and searched by fellow attendees and the entire legal community.

The Twitter links will take you to updates in our Convention Daily—news items and photos that will appear on the magazine blog, Facebook and Tumblr pages, and in our News Center:

And feel free to stop by the Arizona Attorney booth in the Frank Lloyd Wright building, or contact the editor, who is wandering about the Biltmore attending sessions.

He’s at 602-908-6991 and

The Arizona Attorney booth is circled in red (Booth # 10!).

Remember, the Arizona Attorney booth is circled in red (Booth # 10!).

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