2018 MoFo Diversity Summit: Putting Our Stories to Work

The MoFo Diversity Summit is a special tradition at the firm. Over 20 years ago MoFo began hosting a biennial professional development workshop for its U.S.-based lawyers of color. In 2014, the event was expanded to include LGBTQ+ lawyers and renamed the MoFo Diversity Summit. This year MoFo also welcomed its Wetmore Fellows and diverse Bay Area summer associates.

“Every time, I leave the Diversity Summit reinvigorated and reinvested in the firm,” Purvi Patel, Partner and Diversity Strategy Committee Co-chair at the firm shared. “This year was no different. The Summit provided a meaningful opportunity to connect with our diverse and LGBTQ+ associates, and I was blown away by their engagement and commitment to the firm and its D&I initiatives.”

MoFo kicked off the 2018 Diversity Summit on Wednesday, June 20, with a leadership dinner to recognize the work of the Affinity Group Chairs and Associate Advisory and Engagement Committee (AAEC). Firm chair Larren Nashelsky and Director of Diversity + Inclusion Natalie Kernisant addressed this group of associate leaders who help us to define firm culture and pay it forward, thanking them for their commitment and efforts.

“When we talk about diversity and inclusion, we often talk about the firm’s commitment to these values; we talk about things like our rankings, programming, and initiatives,” Natalie Kernisant began, “but at the heart of it all are the attorneys who dedicate countless hours to make MoFo an inclusive place to work.”

Following the leadership dinner, over 150 MoFo lawyers and staff gathered at the Omni Hotel in San Francisco on Thursday, June 21 and Friday, June 22. This year’s theme, “Putting Our Stories to Work,” celebrated the personal stories and narratives that make us unique. We use storytelling to draw connections amongst our colleagues and clients. When we bring our whole selves to work, we enrich our collective experience and become stronger. At MoFo, our diversity is the reason for our success.

The two-day event opened with welcome remarks from Natalie Kernisant, who introduced Larren Nashelsky for a fireside chat. Associates Dario de Martino and Crystal Kaldjob interviewed Larren about the state of the firm and his personal journey to becoming chair. Larren also shared information about the path to partnership and the state of the firm.

The afternoon of day one included a mentorship and sponsorship panel discussion and business development sessions. During the panel discussion, two associates, Carlos Espinoza and Emiko Kurotsu, moderated a conversation with three partner-mentor pairs: David McDowell and mentee Purvi Patel, Jackie Liu and mentee Fredo Silva, and Will Stern and mentee Claudia Vetesi. Originally associates at the firm, all the mentees in these pairings successfully joined the partnership over time. Panel members shared tips on how to develop strong relationships with partners and leverage those relationships as careers develop and evolve.

Following the mentorship and sponsorship panel, junior associates learned how to get a head start on business development by building their network and senior associates learned the ins and outs of business development and pitching to clients. The “Perfect Pitch” panel, moderated by Purvi Patel, featured a panel of five diverse in-house counsel from Chevron, Kaiser, Neiman Marcus, Salesforce, and Uber. Panelists shared insightful feedback for associates, including what a good pitch looks like, common missteps when pitching, and the importance of diversity on a pitch team.

Day one ended with a reception, wine tasting, and dinner at Dogpatch Wineworks. Associates enjoyed networking with local clients and alumni, and MoFo alumnus and chair emeritus Keith Wetmore had a chance to meet the 2018 class of Wetmore Fellows, a program initiated under his leadership five years ago.

On day two of the Summit, MoFo partnered with GK Training and Communications, to host effective communication workshops. Trainers discussed public speaking skills such as how to get ready to present in front of an audience and how to properly prepare for networking opportunities. GK also focused on vulnerability and how bringing more of your whole self into a presentation helps to better connect with the audience. After the presentation, attendees broke into small groups to practice and present their own short stories and critique presentations based on the skill sets learned.

Something unique to the 2018 Summit was the special track created for the Wetmore Fellows and diverse Bay Area summer associates. During the event, they were asked to develop a pitch for the MoFo Foundation to donate money to a nonprofit of their choosing. On day one of the Summit, Attorney Career Development Manager Erika Drous and Director of Attorney Training Henry Brown coached the summers and fellows on presentation skills and had each of them present their pitch in front of peers. Three finalists were chosen to present the following day to all attorney and staff attendees.

Jamis Barcott pitched the Indian Law Resource Center (ILRC), and won a first place donation of $5,000. “Growing up on my reservation, I remember looking out to lush evergreens and a bay that stretched farther than our ancestors’ imagination. But, behind this idyllic scene laid a serious problem that affects Native children to this day: child abuse. Currently Native children, and until recently Native women, exist within a jurisdictional gap where both the state and tribal governments are unable to criminally prosecute their white male abusers. While the federal government maintains sole jurisdiction over these crimes, their offices exist hundreds of miles from reservation land and they often times view these crimes as unworthy of their limited resources. In 2013, the ILRC helped close this gap that existed for Native women by helping pass the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Today, the ILRC has put their effort into extending those protections to Native Children.”

The runners up, Michelle Sosa Acosta pitching the College Track and Amanda Sadra pitching Los Angeles’ Downtown Women’s Center, each received a $2,500 donation to their cause.

“I chose College Track because the program offered me a community that supported my personal and academic growth,” said summer associate Michelle Sosa Acosta. “College Track is a nonprofit organization designed to guide low-income high school students to attend four-year universities and provide scholarships to make it possible. Often these students are the first in their families to go to college. Growing up, my family was very low-income and the highest education level anyone had reached was high school. College Track didn’t just introduce me to colleges. The program challenged me to advocate for my learning so that I could become a competitive college applicant. Moreover, the program instilled in me a sense of responsibility for my community and inspired me to take on various forms of community service. I truly believe I would not be where I am today without College Track’s support.”

Amanda Sadra was incredibly thankful for the donation to her nonprofit. “The Downtown Women’s Center has been fighting tirelessly against homelessness among women since 1974. While the Center provides excellent direct services to all who cross through its doors, what sets it apart is the dedication, kindness, and compassion with which the organization treats people. Women who go to DWC are happy, healthy, and, importantly, treated with love. It’s not hard to see why each woman the Center helps turns into an anti-homelessness advocate in her own right. The Center’s impact on individual lives, and homelessness as a whole, is simply inspiring. I am so grateful to the MoFo Foundation for choosing to support this incredible organization.”

The Summit also provided opportunities for associates to bond with their colleagues. Friday morning activities included yoga, a workout class, and a walking tour of the Ferry Building, and Friday evening offered a reception and optional trip to Alcatraz.

Learn more about the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion program on mofo.com.

Ready to kick off the 2018 MoFo Diversity Summit.

MoFo’s Purvi Patel, Craig Martin, and Cynthia Akatugba enjoying the Thursday evening wine tasting and dinner at Dogpatch WineWorks.

MoFo’s Craig Martin, Dean Atyia, Trevor James, and Anna Erickson White at the Thursday evening wine tasting and dinner at Dogpatch WineWorks.

Signage welcoming Summit attendees to the Thursday evening reception.