As a shareholder at a small firm, I understand the unique concerns of small businesses. My goal each day is to find balance between tending to current client needs, supervising young attorneys, and making sure the firm’s administrative engines are running on all cylinders. My biggest priority, however, is maintaining a steady flow of new business and a stable of happy people to do the work. That’s where DRI comes in.

Small firms have limited resources, both in terms of (wo)manpower and finances, to devote to building a referral network and professional development. We need to make sure that every dollar and hour spent counts because there is not room for “fluff” in a small firm budget. Simply being a member in a national organization with more than 21,000 participants will not give you much bang for your buck. Here are 5 easy tips that can help your small firm maximize its DRI membership:

  1.  Sponsor In-House Counsel’s Membership. DRI offers membership to in-house counsel for only $285/year. In-house counsel who join DRI’s Corporate Counsel Committee (which is free) can also attend any DRI seminar free of charge, and will receive substantial discounts for attending the annual meeting. There are currently more than 900 members in DRI’s Corporate Counsel Committee and introducing your in-house lawyers to this DRI network would be a great way to show that you are all about their specific needs. By sponsoring a DRI membership, you not only cover their CLE needs for the entire year through the free educational programming available to in-house members, you also lay the groundwork to connect with them in person at DRI seminars. That’s a win-win.
  2.  Invest In Your Young Lawyers. All firms feel the impact when an associate leaves to pursue other opportunities, but small firms feel that loss tenfold. The best way to retain talented young lawyers is to invest in their development and let them know that you care. The membership for a young lawyer (admitted 5 years or less) is only $165/year. Included with that membership is a certificate to attend any DRI seminar for free. One of our associates joined DRI during his first year at our firm, attended the Young Lawyers’ Seminar with the free certificate, and made connections that turned into a leadership role almost immediately. He has not even been in practice for three years, but he has already been published in The Whisper and serves as the Young Lawyer Vice Liaison for the Insurance Law Committee. That kind of involvement in a national organization is not only great for him, it’s good for us.
  3.  Join a Substantive Law Committee. Small firms don’t have the same access to multiple practice groups as large firms. Our firm’s practice focuses on insurance coverage and bad faith litigation; if a case involves an IP question, it is not as though we can walk to another floor and get the answer. One of the benefits of DRI is that they have 29 active Substantive Law Committees – which means that you have access to newsletters, compendiums, and leading practitioners in each of those 29 areas. Have a question about Trucking Law? Pick up the phone and call the Committee Chair. Want to know about current trends in Data Management and Security? Download the most recent newsletters. Need to find an expert in a unique area? Search the DRI expert database and expert profiler. These types of broad resources are even more valuable to small firms with specialized practice areas.
  4.  Double-Dip Your Seminar Trips. For small firms, any time a lawyer is out on business travel, the impact is felt on the home front. The firm is down billable hours, fewer hands are around to handle last-minute projects, and travel is much more expensive than staying in the office to watch a webinar. But the truth is that relationships aren’t often formed through webinars. If you want to build a meaningful referral network, you need to get out and shake some hands! Attending DRI seminars is an incredible way to meet inspiring lawyers from across the country. There is not a single DRI seminar that our firm can’t turn into a “double dip trip.” If we are traveling to New York for the Insurance Coverage Symposium, we plan our flights so that we can visit clients in New Jersey and Boston while we’re on the east coast. If an associate is attending the Young Lawyers Seminar in Nashville, it’s easy to have her stop by a client’s office in Atlanta on the way. The convenient locations of the DRI seminars make it possible for small firms to get the most bang for their travel buck.
  5. Seek Out Publication and Speaking Opportunities. Small firms are always looking for ways to set themselves apart from the competition. One of the best ways to increase your firm’s visibility is to become well-known as being knowledgeable in your substantive practice area by publishing or speaking. These opportunities abound at DRI. From blog posts, to articles, and compendiums; from webcasts, to panel presentations, and break-out sessions. DRI is always looking for current topics to share and welcomes participation from its members. Did you recently obtain summary judgment on an issue of first impression? Have you researched an emerging area of law? Share it with the DRI community! Most Substantive Law Committees have a publications chair or a social media chair you can contact to figure out what opportunities exist and how you can get your name out there.

Alison R. Christian, Shareholder at Christian Dichter & Sluga, P.C.

Personal and Professional Development

Personal development and professional development are equally important when it comes to career advancement as a lawyer.  Part of the overall development process is going beyond one’s everyday experiences and being able to add new skills to your arsenal.  In this respect, DRI has a lot to offer each individual member. My membership in DRI provides me with exposure to other law firm models, different practice areas and colleagues from all over the country with subject matter expertise.

In my experience most lawyers in large law firms live in silos.  Meaning we stick to the familiar and we are creatures of habit.  Sometimes our silos come in the form of geographic region, practice area, office location or maybe even the lawyer’s own internal team.  Breaking out of one’s silo is not easy, but it is possible and beneficial.  Membership in DRI has been a positive silo disruptor for me.

DRI has allowed me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and operate outside of my silo.  It has given me the chance to work with colleges from different backgrounds and operate as a part of a team where each member is located in a different part of the country.  In many instances we are able to discuss the diverging and converging paths of our professional careers and our personal lives.  For instance, a number of my peers are more experienced lawyers and they have offered input on matters such as finding the right sponsor in a large law firm, mutually beneficial alternative fee structures, and understanding a law firm’s internal culture.  As time went on I also reached out to my friends in DRI to test my new strategies and find key experts.

Perhaps one of the greatest resources DRI has to offer is the opportunity to develop strong relationships with other members. For me the opportunity is not limited to a seminar or a weekly conference call.  It often expands to the ability to pick up the telephone and get another member’s perspective on any issue.  As a result members of DRI often find ourselves investing time, and energy in each other and the organization.  It is this type of relationship building that adds real value to being a part of DRI because it is a natural part of working with fellow lawyers, judges and subject matter experts.

DRI is personal because it allows me to invest in myself and others.  It allows us all to build meaningful relationships that help us grow as a professional and as a people.

Ricardo Woods • Partner, Burr & Forman, Mobile, AL

DRI – It’s Personal

I saw a post recently on the DRI Diversity blog that impacted me at my core.  It is the sort of post that some organizations would have shied away from because it raised serious issues on a diversity topic that is still very controversial for some.  Instead, in subsequent days I saw other posts from DRI members lauding the author of the article for his courage to raise these important issues.  This is one of the primary reasons that I gravitated toward and have been a longstanding member of DRI over any other legal organization.  DRI’s commitment to diversity is real!  DRI and its members have been at the forefront of these issues and I have found DRI to be an oasis in what can sometimes seem like a legal desert.

As an African American woman who has been practicing over 20 years, there are some circles in which I have not always felt welcome or appreciated.  I have had to work hard to try to fit in and get ahead in a profession that I love but which can sometimes be very challenging for African Americans, especially in a large firm environment.  I can remember it like it was yesterday — the first time I attended a DRI Diversity for Success Conference in Chicago almost a decade ago.  It was at a reception which was filled with people of all ages and backgrounds but who all seemed to be excited about making diversity a priority for the organization.  People were warm and welcoming and I began an odyssey with DRI that would take me to the highest levels within the organization and ultimately the profession.

Ever since that first day, I looked forward to attending the Diversity for Success Conference each year.  I would re-connect and solidify relationships with old friends and would get the sustenance I needed to go back to Florida to continue my drive to achieve success in the profession.  Indeed, the diversity conferences became a fixture in our African American Forum budget at my prior firm and attorneys would vie for a spot on the team selected to attend.  Each time I have attended the conference since that first day, I have experienced an intense feeling of belonging and have felt revived and rejuvenated.  Not only have my experiences with DRI had a curative quality, I gained deep insights as well as good friendships as a result of my participation in DRI sponsored events.

I was for some time the only African American female partner in my former AmLaw 200 firm, and then later only 1 or 2 African American female partners.  DRI’s diversity committee offered sometimes the only opportunity I had to interact with and bounce ideas and experiences off a variety of other African American male and female partners in large law firms.  As co-chair of diversity at my prior firm, I also leaned heavily on DRI’s leadership for ideas to assist me to bring new insights to the diversity and inclusion dialog.  Douglas Burrell, DRI’s current Membership Chair, has been a source of constant encouragement and inspiration.  Pam Carter, who heads up the DRI’s Diversity Committee, was also a tremendously positive influence.

From my perspective, DRI should be a staple in any lawyer’s portfolio of membership organizations.  For me it has been intensely personal and I have thoroughly enjoyed my association with DRI!

Tanya Lawson, Senior Litigation Counsel – Law Department – Florida Power & Light Company

Are We Asking the Right Questions When Talking About Diversity?

I recently read an announcement by a top U.S. law firm congratulating itself on its accomplishments based on a recent Law 360 survey regarding law firm diversity.  The firm reported great pride in its placement, issued appropriate kudos and congratulated the firm’s ongoing commitment to supporting minorities in the firm. The problem, however, is that when you speak with African American attorneys who work at major law firms there is often a disconnect between what firms are reporting and what these attorneys are experiencing.

Some surveys that look at the best firms for minorities in general may overlook important issues affecting African Americans specifically and, as a result, firms may be lulled into the complacent view that things are going well for all minorities when in fact the statistics may be skewed in favor of a particular group (or groups), especially in certain parts of the country where certain minority groups are more heavily represented.  A recent article looking at African Americans in law firms reported that African Americans are among the most poorly represented minority groups consisting on average of 3.5% of non- partners and a mere 1.6% of partners.

In addition, some of the numbers being reported simply do not convey the full experience of African Americans who are trying to make a long term go at “Big Firm.”  Over the years I have watched some of most pedigreed and qualified African American attorneys leave big firms.  With the number of African Americans going to law school dwindling, this does not bode well for the future of African Americans at Big Firm.  This is an issue that is of some importance to African Americans today and it is one at which firms should take a closer look rather than touting positions on the latest diversity chart.  If the numbers and underlying experience at firms nationwide are issues, comparing one underperforming firm to its underperforming peers does little to move the ball forward.  Perhaps those doing the surveys of Big Firm should place greater emphasis on the overall experiences and longevity of attorneys within these firms.  This may help firms to understand what is needed to ensure the long term success of African Americans in the law firm environment.  If not, African American lawyers will continue their exodus to more fertile and inclusive ground.

Tanya Lawson,Senior Litigation Counsel | Florida Power & Light Company

Membership Retention Tips – Let’s Keep Who We Have

It is great to receive new members and the effort DRI’s leadership puts forth in making this happen is greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, members come and go for various reasons and while we would like to keep all our members, we understand attrition is unavoidable.  Below are tips to keep the members we have and ways to ask lapsed member to come back.

  • Engage, engage, engage!  Ask new members to join a committee but also ask them to get involved by placing them in contact with a committee chair or vice chair.  Provide a lapsed member with a list of all DRI Substantive Law Committees and let them know that involvement in committees puts them in touch with others in their practice areas.
  • Tell new members about DRI online resources and the Expert Witness Database.  Ask a lapsed member if they utilized all of DRI resources.
  • Ask members to complete their member profile, searchable by other attorneys.
  • Let new members know they receive seminar discount rates and guide them to DRI’s website so they can view all the programs DRI has to offer.  Young lawyers (admitted to the bar 5 years or less) receive a certificate to attend any DRI seminar for free.  Ask a lapsed member if they ever attended a seminar, tell them about your experience.
  • Inform new and lapsed members about DRI’s searchable archive of articles, committee newsletters, Defense Library Series and course materials.

As always, we appreciate your time and effort in all you do!

Cheryl L. Palombizio – DRI Director of SLDO Relations

DRI’s Commitment to Diversity, Professional Growth and Personal Satisfaction

As an Asian American lawyer, I have found that DRI provides the resources to aid diverse lawyers to become successful in their practice.  My DRI membership has been a source of personal satisfaction and continues to contribute toward my professional growth.  And, as I look around, I find the same has happened to other Asian American lawyers who chose to make the most of their membership.  One such shining example is Melissa Lin who is a partner at Righi Fitch Law Group in Phoenix, Arizona.  Her practice includes the representation of individuals, contractors, businesses, and municipalities in tort and contract litigation, primarily in the areas of general liability, construction defect litigation, complex litigation, personal injury, and product liability.  Melissa was honored as a 2012 through 2015 Southwest Super Lawyers Rising Star.   She was named to Lawyers of Color’s 2013 Inaugural Hot List for the Western Region, and was also named as one of the top valley attorneys by North Valley magazine in 2013

Melissa has been a DRI member since 2007 and has been actively involved in various DRI committees, including Women in the Law, Diversity, and Construction Law.  She currently serves as the Membership Chair of the DRI Construction Law Committee and the 2015 Diversity Seminar Vice-Chair and Expo Chair.  When I asked Melissa about her experience with DRI, she told me, “DRI is one of the most rewarding legal organizations to belong to and get involved with. In addition to providing writing, leadership, and speaking opportunities to a national audience, DRI provides diverse attorneys like myself an opportunity to meet and interview with corporate counsel through the DRI Diversity Expo.  I have also made great connections and friendships with other attorneys from around the country who I can call with questions at any time.”  Examples of some of the great opportunities Melissa had through DRI include speaking engagements at the 2014 Construction Law Seminar and the 2013 and 2014 Diversity Seminars.  In addition, she has published articles for the DRI – The Voice of the Defense Bar newsletter.  Melissa is definitely a rising star within DRI.  Melissa has also served in leadership roles with the Construction Law Section of the Maricopa County Bar Association, the Arizona Asian American Bar Association, the Women’s Metropolitan Arts Council of the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Young Lawyers Division of the Arizona State Bar and Arizona Association of Defense Counsel.  Melissa believes that DRI has been one of the most instrumental and helpful organizations to her career.

Melissa is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants.  She grew up in Tucson, Arizona where her parents have owned and operated a small business for over thirty-six years.  Although her father was initially opposed to the idea of law school for Melissa because they had no connections in the legal community and didn’t know any lawyers, Melissa followed her dream of becoming a lawyer.  Through her hard work, enthusiasm, and commitment to her clients, Melissa has shown that success can come to those who seize the opportunities presented to them.  It is my hope that other Asian American lawyers can draw inspiration from Melissa’s success story and leverage all that a DRI membership offers.

Alka Srivastava - Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP, Raleigh, NC

Partnering With Your SLDO To Make A Positive Difference For Women Lawyers

We have all seen the statistics: only 17% of equity partners in the nation’s largest 200 firms are women, only 2% of equity partners in the largest 100 firms are female minorities, and women make up the largest percentage of staff attorneys.[1] These trends prevail even though women have continued to enter the practice of law for the past three decades at a rate of at least 40% of law school graduates every year. The recent “2015 Glass Ceiling Report” published by Law360 just last month acknowledged that “Women continue to be dramatically underrepresented at every attorney level in the U.S. legal industry, and firms made negligible progress toward gender equality in 2014.”[2]

Where does one begin to make a lasting, positive difference for women lawyers?  That is the question Beth Fitch and I answered when we co-founded the “Ladder Down” program in Arizona with the help of the Arizona Association of Defense Counsel.

In January 2013, we launched a powerful year-long pilot program for women lawyers built on three pillars: leadership, business development, and mentoring. Beth and I wanted to give women practical, tangible tools for succeeding in the legal profession that they can begin implementing in their practice right away. We were driven to empower women through a new type of training that marries instruction with accountability.  After all, one cannot have sustained change unless the actions become a habit, and habits take time to develop. For more information about our program, check out our website at www.ladderdown.org. The program is now in its third year and has proven to be pivotal in changing the professional lives of its 80 participants for the better. The Ladder Down program has been so impactful that it is now being used as a model across the country, with similar programs underway in Seattle and New York. The reason for the interest in Ladder Down is simple: our structure works. The evidence of the empowerment is overwhelming.

After completing the one-year course, our Ladder Down graduates report measurable improvements: promotions to partnership, new clients, expanded business networks, robust referrals, substantial raises, firm transitions, and a universal increase in community involvement. Participants negotiated their salaries (some for the first time), developed formal business plans, and gained speaking and publishing opportunities. They landed positions on boards, obtained origination credit, and learned to state their accomplishments. In addition to these “external” changes, they saw internal changes: increased confidence at networking events, a new ability to resolve conflict, a commitment to prioritizing business development, and a better understanding of their own strengths. Every one of them benefitted from taking risks they would not otherwise have taken.

When Beth and I first launched Ladder Down we had several conversations about which organization would make the best partner. Beth had served as President of the Arizona Association of Defense Counsel several years earlier, as had my father Doug Christian, and I am still an active member of the AADC Board of Directors. We both had such wonderful experiences and built lasting relationships through the AADC that our natural inclination was to start there. I pitched the Ladder Down idea to the AADC Board during our 2012 fall retreat and was met with an incredibly warm reception. The Board was excited about this new endeavor, which was unlike anything that the AADC – or any other SLDO to our knowledge – had ever undertaken.

As with any program, the first questions surrounded expenses. What would the pilot program cost and how did Beth and I intend to pay for it? We approached our faculty (by far our largest expense) and were able to negotiate “pilot program” rates for the inaugural 2013 Ladder Down program. Once we had their rates confirmed, we were able to set a target goal for fundraising. We explained to the AADC that our goal was to find law firms interested in sponsoring at the $1,000 level; in exchange for that $1,000 the firm would be guaranteed a space for a participant of its choice in the 2013 program. We asked the AADC to match our $1,000 sponsorships (up to a certain cap) until we reached our target amount. The AADC agreed with that strategy and we were approved to start fundraising in the fall of 2012. Several Board members even committed their firms to the $1,000 sponsorship right there on the spot. When I called Beth after that meeting, the first words out of my mouth were “It’s alive!”

The relationship between Ladder Down and the AADC was mutually beneficial from the start. The AADC was instrumental in helping Beth and I spread the word about our new program. They helped advertise the launch to the AADC members, and the firms represented on the Board were eager to sponsor our pilot program and send their attorneys to Ladder Down. We also had a home for Ladder Down rooted in Arizona’s defense community and could run the financial component of the program without having to start our own 501(c)(6). Because participation in the first and second year classes was restricted to AADC members, AADC membership increased. In fact, each year we saw several women lawyers join the AADC specifically to participate in Ladder Down. And in 2013, during the pilot program’s first year, DRI recognized the AADC with the DRI Diversity Award. This award is given to the SLDO that demonstrates a commitment to diversity and it was an incredible honor for the AADC. It is not hard to see how this relationship between an SLDO and Ladder Down can be win-win!

Our mission going forward to is to bring Ladder Down to other SLDOs interested in making a positive difference for their women lawyers. The staggering statistics that we continue to see reported are not going to shift unless there is a more intentional effort to bring about change. The good news is that the leg work for “Ladder Down” has already been done. We have the structure and agenda for the year-long program in place; we have faculty with demonstrated results; we have brochures, applications, evaluations, and CLE certificates already created; and we have leaders from the Arizona program who are able to share their experiences. The next steps are to find champions in other cities who can partner with their SLDOs to launch this fantastic program. I encourage you to reach out to me about how you can start a Ladder Down program in your area.

Alison R. Christian, Shareholder at Christian Dichter & Sluga, P.C.

[1] See National Association of Women Lawyers and The NAWL Foundation’s 2013 Annual Survey on the Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms. www.nawl.org).

[2] See “The Glass Ceiling Report” by Jake Simpson for Law360, April 19, 2015 http://www.law360.com/articles/644628/print?section=insurance).


Become Involved and Build Personal Relationships

I first joined DRI after one of my partners and another associate at my firm attended the Women in the Law Seminar a couple of years ago. When they returned to the office, they could not say enough good things about the incredible experiences they had and the amazing women they met at the Seminar. Each of them quickly became involved in the Women in the Law Committee, and seeing the awesome opportunities afforded to them so quickly, I knew DRI was an organization I needed to be a part of. I joined DRI shortly thereafter and signed up to be a member of several Committees, including the Women in the Law Committee, the Young Lawyers Committee, and the Workers’ Compensation Committee.

As a workers’ compensation attorney, I knew right away that I wanted to become more involved in the Workers’ Compensation Committee so that I could not only continue to learn about the practice, but also network with other attorneys. I was immediately welcomed into the Committee and was soon given the incredible opportunity to serve as the Committee’s Membership Chair. Through that position, I have met and have been able to work closely with so many great workers’ compensation attorneys across the country.  I only continue to expand my network and build relationships with each conference call and project. I also find our Committee’s Online Community Page to be incredibly useful. It is not only a good networking tool, but a great resource for those difficult questions you just can’t find an answer to.

Moreover, thanks to DRI, I have traveled to San Francisco for the 2014 Annual Meeting, Chicago for a Membership Committee fly-in meeting and sunny Fort Lauderdale for the 2015 Women in the Law Seminar. On each trip, I had the opportunity to meet exciting new people, who are all doing great things in their respective practice areas back home. I’ve walked away from each trip humbled and with real personal connections that I hope to build on in the years to come.

As those at my firm did a few years ago, I encourage you to join DRI. In a short period of time, you can become involved, build your practice and develop personal relationships with attorneys across the country.

Sarah Smith, Drew, Eckl & Farnham, LLP, Atlanta, Georgia

Affinity Group – Veterans


Support [sup·port]: (1). bear all or part of the weight of; hold up;  (2). a thing that bears the weight of something or keeps it upright.  The concept of “support” is not foreign to any of us.  We have each encountered periods in our lives where, but for the support of others, we would not have been successful.  The word “support” is also a term especially familiar to the current and former members of our military.  Whether Soldier, Sailor or Marine, each understands that in the “combat theatre”, the level and quality of your support determines mission success or failure.  DRI understands this better than most legal organizations.

As our veterans transition from military service to their civilian careers, they face new and different challenges – a different “theatre of operation” with diverse “threats” and a distinctive “mission”.   Family members, friends, and reserve military organizations can provide certain levels of support that can ease the transition from active duty to veteran status.  However, those veterans embarking on a legal career face obstacles that are more immediate and may have a more lasting impact on a legal career.  Obtain a private firm or in-house counsel position?  Pursue a career as a litigator or am I better suited to a more transactional practice? Is my long-term career goal to become a shareholder in a large firm or to run my own law practice?  This is strikingly different from a career in the military where your career objective – whether officer or enlisted – is to get promoted to the next pay-grade or get selected for the “special duty assignment” that will increase the odds of your promotion in the near future.

With its conferences, affinity groups, and webinars, DRI is the equivalent of having the Marines on speed dial.  DRI provides the resources to aid young lawyers to gain the confidence to grow into partners; partners to grow their firms; and firms to take their business to the next level by attracting quality clients and lawyers.  Whether you are a young lawyer recently separated from the military and starting your legal career or a shareholder in a 300 lawyer firm, DRI provides the resources, training, and mentoring that ensures your legal career is as successful and productive as your military career.

Semper Fidelis

Tyrone Matthews, Founder and Managing Partner | Matthews Law Group, P.C.

San Diego . Los Angeles . San Francisco . Dallas

A Tribute to Christian Johnson


Often, we attribute DRI Superstar status to DRI members who have held significant leadership positions, have belonged to the organization for a significant number of years or who have completed a significant number of tasks that have helped DRI Grow.  However, sometimes, a person bursts on the scene and in a short period of time makes significant and lasting contributions to DRI.  Christian Johnson is one such person.

As a member of DRI’s Young Lawyer Steering and membership Committees, Christian distinguished herself by spearheading the effort to recruit over 100 new DRI members in 2014.  She lead the young lawyer efforts to hold receptions around the country where young lawyers could come and learn about the many benefits derived from being a DRI member.  Christian’s efforts lead to her being asked to serve on DRI’s Membership Committee where she worked with former committee chair, Chris Kenney on developing DRI For Life initiatives geared towards young lawyers.

Because of her ideas, work ethic and commitment, Christian was destine for greater leadership roles within DRI.  Unfortunately, this young superstar recently learned that she had significant health concerns that have forced her to stop practicing law and her active involvement in DRI.  However, true to her character, Christian did not simply resign from her DRI duties; instead, she first completed all of the projects she was spearheading, but also recommended her replacement

Superstars like Christian will always be a part of the DRI family, whether she is active or not.  Please join the DRI Leadership in wishing Christian a speedy and full recovery.

Douglas K. Burrell, Chair, Membership Committee | Drew Eckl & Farnham, Atlanta, GA