Many lawyers could tell you that their cultural or ethnic background has been a challenge for them in some way when getting established and thriving in the legal profession.
A Diversity Week panel on April 11 presented by TJSL Middle Eastern Law Student Association (MELSA) had a positive and valuable take on that issue.
“Strengthening Your Law Practice by Using Your Cultural Acumen” featured panelists from different backgrounds who gave personal and professional insights on how to make good use of your cultural background to be more successful.
What is cultural acumen?
"It is knowing who you are and knowing your culture,"said panelist Alara Chilton, an attorney of Colombian origin. "It’s not just understanding your own culture, but understanding the culture of your clients. Take the time to get to know them and don’t be afraid to ask them questions so you can better understand them. Culture is a lot more than just your native-tongue.”
“Your clients don’t want to hear legalese when they speak with you,” said Jennifer Siverts ’06, who is active in the Filipino community. “They want to speak to someone who cares. Treat your clients as people. Real people, and not just another case. They may be people who are going through the most difficult time of their life.”
“There are still tremendous amounts of racism, prejudice and bias out there,” said panelist Nadia Bermudez, who is involved with SD Diego La Raza Lawyers and practices law in a minority-owned firm. “Be conscious, but not self-conscious of your race. I have embraced being Latina.”
“I try to be a citizen of the world,” said Camille Guerra ’04, who is multi-lingual and has spent time in many parts of the world. “I look beyond being Mexican-American and I have no problem relating to other cultures.”
Arshan Amiri, the president of the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA), feels that collaborating with others is a way of increasing your cultural acumen. “I want to move forward with other diversity organizations,” he said.
“Don’t let race be a barrier,” said Aaron Dumas, who is Jamaican. “It’s good to associate with people in similar cultures because they are going through the same struggles. But you have to go out there and meet people of other cultures as well.”
And Dumas gave some advice that virtually every panelist also talked about when dealing with any cultural group. “If you do well for one person in a community, the word of mouth will spread quickly,” he said. Likewise, they all stressed that if you don’t do a good job for someone, the word will also get around quickly.
Alara Chilton feels that involvement with other groups is important both in law school and later on in legal practice.
“It’s about getting involved,” said Chilton. “Other organizations would love to have you.”
"I truly enjoyed hearing the panelists speak about their experience using their cultures to not only advance their legal careers but also to better advance their clients' interests," said Yinka Glover (3L) of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA).
“I really enjoyed the panel,” said Sara Denton (2L), the president of Outlaw, TJSL’s LGBT student organization. “I felt that the discussion on how to effectively advocate for culturally diverse clients was not only informative, but extremely beneficial in my pursuit of a career in immigration law.”
MELSA’s president Bardia Pourfallah 3L watched the successful cultural acumen event with great pride and satisfaction because it celebrated the revival the vitality of the organization.
“MELSA was a student organization that had completely died out last year,” said Pourfallah. “I was on the board two years ago and last year I decided to revive this great, culturally-oriented student organization. After laying the foundation for the organizations revival, I recruited four other great students who I felt were as motivated as I was to run a student org.: Nastaran Parvizi as Vice President, Houtan Yaghmai as Treasurer, Neda Shoushtari as Public Relations Officer and Danielle Al-Chalati Secretary. Over the course of the last year we have all worked hard to bring successful social and career-oriented networking events to our members and the TJSL student body. As a result of that hard work, we consistently had some of the highest student turn out numbers to our events. During this process, we have all also become great friends. This panel event is all of our board members last law school event, as we are all graduating 3L's. We have watched this organization and its membership grow and all our hard work has paid off and has allowed us to finish on a high note with this Diversity Week panel. The event was a great success receiving praise from students, faculty, and the panelists themselves. This was a great way to finish out all of our board members law school careers.”
"With the competitive job market that students face today, it is important to find any strengths that may set them apart from others," said MELSA's Vice President Nastaran Parvizi. "The panel provided some helpful insights on how cultural acumen can be utilized to make students more marketable in the legal field."