Missouri Lawyers Media honored 19 attorneys and one law firm at its inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Awards on Aug. 15 at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. Honorees were recognized for their work to advance diversity, inclusion and the dignity of all people in Missouri’s legal profession and for legal work to improve justice for all.
Charlie J. Harris Jr., a partner at Seyferth Blumenthal & Harris in Kansas City, told attendees during his keynote address that much has happened to improve diversity in the legal field since he became the first African American president of The Missouri Bar in 2007.
“I could not imagine this 10 years ago. I just couldn’t,” Harris said, looking out at the crowd. “I know I’m a better person for what you’re all doing. I know this state is.”
Harris strove to improve diversity and inclusion during his tenure as bar president. Of the more than 40 members of the board of governors when he took office, only three were women, he said. During his time there, he added three diversity seats to the organization’s board of governors in order to improve representation by minorities and women.
In his address, Harris described facing pushback from those who felt the move could lead to unqualified people serving in high-level positions. Instead, the change has led to improvements in representation of women and minorities at both the state bar level and in local bar associations, he said.
“In my view, we had to create a situation where we put people that historically did not have a seat at the table, at the table,” Harris said.
Improving diversity is in the business interests of law firms, Harris said. Clients expect that a law firm will share their own vision, and firms can’t offer that if they don’t offer a diverse and inclusive staff, Harris said.
“Clients want to be surrounded by lawyers that understand them, that get them,” he said. “If you don’t have that, you’re going to lose out.”
A committee of members of the legal community selected the honorees, Missouri Lawyers Media Publisher Liz Irwin said. Winners included law-firm administrators, leaders of nonprofit organizations, law-school educators, in-house counsel and others.
“They represent the epitome of ongoing work and exceptional achievement to encourage positive change,” Irwin said. “They are dedicated to the profession to ensure it represents the many facets of human diversity and to the application of justice overall. The nominations we received highlighted work as varied as the attorneys doing it, but each represents a laser-focused mission on appreciating our differences through a creation of inclusion.”
The inaugural class of honorees included: Susan Bassford Wilson of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete; Hillary Bean of Armstrong Teasdale; James A. Breckenridge of Levy Craig; Koriambanya S. Carew of Shook, Hardy & Bacon; Patrick I. Chavez of Edward Jones; Lauren C. Collins of HeplerBroom; Nicole T.S. Cortes of The MICA Project; Andy Crouppen of Brown & Crouppen; Circuit Judge Judy P. Draper of St. Louis County; U.S. Magistrate Judge Willie J. Epps Jr. of the Western District of Missouri; Kimberly A. Jones of Seyferth Blumenthal & Harris; J. Justin Meehan of J. Justin Meehan, Attorney at Law; Christopher A. Pickett of Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale; Keith Price of Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard; Tamee V. Reese of AT&T; Reuben A. Shelton of Monsanto (retired); Blake A. Strode of ArchCity Defenders; Lisa Sonia Taylor of Saint Louis University School of Law; Michelle Wimes of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart; and the Stinson Leonard Street law firm.