Why I am Attending this Year’s Annual Meeting

We all know that time away from the office is burdensome and almost takes more effort than if you had simply stuck to your normal schedule. But, I promise you DRI’s Annual Meeting is well worth it!

Last year I attended DRI’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco. I was not only impressed by the caliber of programs and panels, but was left in awe at the fellowship that cements the organization together. I was made to feel welcome by each attorney I met and was continuously encouraged to become more involved. What truly made the DRI Annual Meeting worth it for me was the networking opportunities that I was able to take advantage of and the several friendships I was able to make.

First, at each Annual Meeting, the various Committees will plan group dinners where all are welcome and provide an excellent opportunity to meet face-to-face those with people you may be working regularly with to promote and grow your Committee. I know the Workers’ Compensation Committee dinner was a true highlight of last year’s meeting for me.

Also, each of the Committees has its own business meetings and break-out groups. At these sessions, members can become more familiar with Committee leadership, learn about opportunities available within the Committee, and discuss important topics and trends in their given field. For young lawyers, this is a great way to become involved in a Committee and for more senior lawyers, these panels and programs present excellent speaking opportunities.

Finally, each Annual Meeting has several networking receptions, including a larger party on Thursday night and the President’s Gala that takes place Saturday evening. Both are not only great fun, but allow you to meet attorneys from every walk of DRI. I am positive this year’s meeting will be no different and can’t wait!

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

A Cut Above Your Ordinary Conference

I recently had the pleasure of attending DRI’s Diversity Conference in Chicago, IL this past June. It was my first time attending this DRI program and I had no idea what to expect.  I’ve attended events like this throughout my career – conferences seeking explanations and solutions for the increasing absence of women and minorities in the law profession.   Usually, the event is centered on lawyers talking to other lawyers about why there aren’t more woman and people of color in decision making positions within the law.

While these conferences serve the very real need to meet and speak with other lawyers facing challenges similar to your own, several years of attending these conferences has – shall we say – limited my interest in attending another in a seemingly unending series of conferences reiterating what I already know – the legal profession has a women and people of color problem.  Nevertheless, a number of other DRI members insisted that DRI’s Diversity Conference would be “worth the trip from California”.  They were right.

DRI contextualized the challenges we face into thought provoking panel discussions while simultaneously providing solutions to the problem in matching law firms directly with corporate general counsel.  Law firms that were looking to work with Fortune 100 and 500 corporations were able to hear directly from corporate counsel specific strategies for how to get and keep their work – and some were even able to interview with potential clients.  This experience was the direct opposite of my prior experiences with such conferences which ordinarily consisted of “throat-clearing” on the topic by moderately informed panelists followed by coffee and a pastry.  Nothing was accomplished.

In contrast, DRI provided its attendees with panelists that gave you exactly the information you needed to fashion a solution to the problems you may face as a woman or minority lawyer.  Moreover, by using its industry clout, DRI was able to provide selected attendees with the opportunity to interview directly with decision makers who could decide on the spot to send work to them.  No cold-calls.  No hoops to jump through.  All these individuals did was simply register for the conference.  Just amazing.

The 2015 DRI Annual Conference will be held at the Washington Marriott – Wardman Park in Washington, D.C. on October 7 – 11.  If you are on the fence about attending thinking it to be “just another lawyer conference”, let me assure you that DRI conferences are anything but.  If you’ve yet to attend a DRI event, I encourage you to come and find out how different it is from anything else out there for yourself.

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


As I prepare for an upcoming lifetime milestone — my marriage to my partner of ten years — I’ve been reflecting on various noteworthy events in my life. Interestingly, I’ve noticed a thread of events that originate with DRI.

Unquestionably, one highlight of my personal and professional life was having my mom present to watch me take the oath to become a member of the United States Supreme Court Bar, an opportunity which arose through my membership in DRI’s Young Lawyers’ Committee. I also was published for the first time as a result of my involvement in DRI. Writing an article in DRI’s Rx for the Defense as a senior associate was an accomplishment as it provided me an opportunity to both demonstrate my mastery of a developing substantive issue and educate others about that issue.

My membership in DRI has also resulted in invitations to participate in various speaking opportunities. Whether being involved in panel or speaking on my own, presenting on topics ranging from the learned intermediary doctrine, multidistrict litigation, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and law firm recruitment and retention has sharpened my presentation skills and has also provide me numerous business development opportunities.

Many colleagues I have met through DRI have developed into friends and I look forward to seeing some of them at my upcoming wedding. “DRI for Life” isn’t just a catchy slogan, it is a true reflection of what DRI offers for those that become members, attend seminars, form friendships, and grow professionally.

Dominic Campodonico – Gordon & Rees LLP, San Francisco, CA

Superstars of DRI

Marie Chafe is a partner at the Boston law firm of Cornell & Gollub. Anyone who knows her will tell you that she has every quality of a DRI Superstar: Accomplishment; National Leadership; Inspiration; and Passion. Marie is an accomplished and nationally recognized civil and commercial litigator in the defense and management of complex products liability, transportation, construction, and business disputes against U.S. and international corporations. She is also a leader. In addition to her passionate fulfillment of her many roles and responsibilities with DRI, Marie is also on the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Defense Lawyers Association and Women’s Bar Association, and is an active member and advocate in the IADC, FDCC, and the ABA. In the past year alone, she has spoken across the country at one annual meeting, one trucking litigation meeting, one women’s meeting, and at the 2014 DRI Product Liability Conference in Phoenix.

By her tireless example, Marie is a perpetual inspiration to those around her. Her work for DRI is a constant reminder of everything that DRI has to offer, inspiring members and prospective members to step up, join and be noticed. And, for Marie, it is no surprise that DRI has taken notice! Marie is currently on three DRI steering committees: Membership; Women in the Law (WITL); and Product Liability’s Automotive Group. She is Chair of the Networking Subcommittee of WITL, the Vice-Chair of Biomechanics & Injury Causation Subcommittee of Products Liability, and the Massachusetts State Liaison for WITL. Most importantly, however, Marie is passionate about the value of DRI, personally, professionally and socially. She has used that passion to help organize, market and run WITL networking events across the country to provide women with opportunities for interaction, professional networking, and socializing. The women, and men, who attend these events will attest that she uses her passion to spread the word about the benefits of DRI to the numerous prospective, new and active members that she encounters. On a personal note, when I mentioned to another DRI member that I was writing this piece, he made a statement that says it all:

“Marie is really something else! No matter how busy she is, whenever a DRI need arises, she enthusiastically offers to help, and then completes the job like a superstar!”

Thank you, Marie, for all of your work and your passion for DRI!

Emily G. Coughlin, Esq. – Coughlin Betke LLP


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