Law Day Inspires Hope and Creates Opportunities for the Next Generation of Lawyers

Law Day Inspires Hope and Creates Opportunities for the Next Generation of Lawyers

Law Day Inspires Hope and Creates Opportunities for the Next Generation of Lawyers

Make no mistake about it, the aspiring lawyers at this year’s Law Day will help change the face of the legal profession. In a profession that remains one of the least diverse in the nation—85% of lawyers are white—the bar needs to encourage inclusivity and support underrepresented populations advancing in the field. That’s where Charles Robert Davidson, Director of the Pre-Law Institute and Center for the Post-Graduate Opportunities, and events like Law Day come in. At the Law Day luncheon, on March 1, 2018, Davidson told the audience of aspiring lawyers that they reaffirmed his faith in the future. “If you all have any doubt about whether you can do this I want you to put that to bed, right now. Because I have no doubt, you can do this,” said Davidson. He then introduced some of the game-changers in the room who have made extraordinary strives in their own legal careers, including Kathy Davidson, the first African-American Administrative Judge of New York state’s ninth judicial district; Shirlethia Franklin, a former Deputy Chief of Staff and Counselor to the Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice; and keynote speaker James Cadogan, Vice President of Criminal Justice at Arnold Ventures. “You are all here sharing space with people who have excelled in their careers and I want you to understand, this is your future. If you couldn’t become like them, you wouldn’t be in the room with them,” said Davidson.

 

Charles Davidson
Charles Davidson, Director of the Pre-Law Institute and Center for Post-Graduate Opportunities

“We need people who look just like you to do the work that is transformative in this society. You all are going to be the ones that change the face of criminal justice and social justice in America.” – Charles Robert Davidson, Director, Pre-Law Institute and Center for Post-Graduate Opportunities

Diversifying the Bar
The Pre-Law Institute at John Jay addresses the lack of diversity in the legal profession by emphasizing early student engagement in academic and professional skill-building programs. “We need people who look just like you to do the work that is transformative in this society. You all are going to be the ones that change the face of criminal justice and social justice in America,” said Davidson. Vice President of Public Affairs and Student Initiatives Laura Ginns reiterated Davidson’s point. “Your voices and your perspectives are needed,” said Ginns. “They’re needed in the conference room. They’re needed in the classrooms of law schools. They’re needed in the courtroom, and they’re needed in Congress.” She then introduced the keynote speaker for the day’s event, James Cadogan, Vice President of Criminal Justice at Arnold Ventures.

Vice President of Public Affairs and Student Initiatives, Laura Ginns
Laura Ginns, Vice President of Public Affairs and Student Initiatives

“Your voices and your perspectives are needed. They’re needed in the conference room. They’re needed in the classrooms of law schools. They’re needed in the courtroom, and they’re needed in Congress.” – Laura Ginns , Vice President for Public Affairs and Strategic Initiatives

“Since Law Day is about helping John Jay students and alumni prepare for careers in the legal field of lawyers, it’s important to say right upfront the thing that we all know,” began Cadogan. “The legal field today is not diverse. It is not multicultural. It is not representative.” Further illustrating his point, Cadogan cited 2018 statistics from the American Bar Association showing the lack of diversity in the Bar. “The disparities for practicing lawyers across the country are abysmal—85% of practicing lawyers are white, 5% are Black, 5% are Hispanic, and 3% are Asian,” said Cadogan. “We don’t need you to join the profession to maintain it as it is. We need you to join our profession to transform it into something that it has never been before.” During his speech he reminded students and alumni that their stories don’t live in isolation because they are not alone and offered three recommendations to help drive their legal profession forward.

Jame Cadogan during his keynote address
James Cadogan during his keynote address

“We don’t need you to join the profession to maintain it as it is. We need you to join our profession to transform it into something that it has never been before.” – James Cadogan, Vice President of Criminal Justice at Arnold Ventures

Who You Are Matters
His first recommendation was to remember that “Who you are matters.” He told the audience of the struggle minorities often face when entering a classroom or a profession where no one in the room looks like you. “If you’re not part of the majority population, there is this unspoken sense of having to sand yourself down, to assimilate to be like other people.” This he said, led to the shutting down of his own personality, an observation made known to him during a job performance review. “I realized that I had been holding on so tight to try to perform well, to do the right thing, to succeed, to perform in this new, demanding, unfamiliar environment that I closed up my personality. I let the environment change me rather than the other way around.”

He noted that representation in the work place matters and that became all the more evident when he was asked to become an advisor to Loretta Lynch, who was Attorney General of the United States at the time. Lynch had built a team of advisors that were mostly minority. “That matters,” said Cadogan. “We represented excellence and a commitment to the ideals of justice. We also represented the changing face of this nation and of the legal profession. Every one of my colleagues brought their full selves to work every single day. So my recommendation is be confident in who you are and what you bring to the table.” He added, “Be proud of the work you put in to get to where you are right now and continue to work every day to re-earn that pride. Build who you are into your legal career and you won’t regret it.”

Cadogan offering students some sage advice
Cadogan offering students some sage advice 

“Build who you are into your legal career and you won’t regret it.” – James Cadogan, Vice President of Criminal Justice at Arnold Ventures

Nurture Your Professional Family
Cadogan’s second recommendation emphasized the importance of creating and nurturing your professional family. “When you’re empathetic towards your colleague’s professional challenges, when you offer genuine support to somebody who wants to follow in your footsteps, this is the currency of building a real professional family,” said Cadogan. “One that you can rely on for support when things get tough and the people who will help you grow and develop as the years go by.” He told the audience the story of Eric Carmichael, a business man he befriended while working on then Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Carmichael influenced Cadogan greatly both personally and professionally. “Eric became like an older brother to me. He made my work easier. He helped build my political sensibilities, supported me in anything I needed. He had no reason to be that generous, not with his time, not with his knowledge, his relationships, or his home.” His friendship with Carmichael has served as a template for all his professional relationships since. “I’ll make time for as many people as I possibly can, but I always want to prioritize building real, professional friendships. Not transactional acquaintance-ships.”

A student looks on as Cadogan delivers his inspiring speech
A student looks on as Cadogan delivers his inspiring speech

Be Guided By Your Interest
His third and final recommendation was for students and alumni to be guided by their interest and let those interests shape their career. “Getting out of your comfort zone is risky, when you’re thinking about your career and your development. But the bigger risk is to be so afraid of failure, to hold on so tightly, to sand yourself down, that you don’t swing for the fences to see what happens,” said Cadogan. He detailed how his interests have led him to politics, work with the federal government, the legal defense club, and now philanthropy. “If you build up those muscles of courage to try different things when you have the opportunity, you’ll give yourself the greatest possible chance of finding the right path for you.” He ended his address with a hopeful message. “You represent a sea change in our body politic. You represent the rising consciousness of people, young and old alike,” said Cadogan. “Embrace who you are and do something with that. Support each other. Have the courage to try different things and dive deeply into what you find you love. If you do those things, I guarantee that you’ll have some unforgettable experiences on your journey into the law and you’ll do more good that you can possibly imagine.”

Some scenes from the event: 

Charles Davidson discussing

student at John Jay Law Day

Students at Law Day 2019 sitting around table

Five students at the John Jay Law Day 2019

Two Law Day students

Seven law day students at Law Day

Female students at Law Day

Mixed group of students at Law Day

 

Cookie with inspirational quote at Law Day