THE

Managing
Partners
podcast

Episode # 173
Interview on 03.15.2022

Hosted By
Kevin Daisey

Featuring Attorney

James Lewis



Managing Partner of
New York City Bar Association - Office of Diversity & Inclusion

About James Lewis

James Alexander Lewis, V is the Executive Director, Office of Diversity and Inclusion at New York City Bar Association.

At age 20, James sojourned to New York and became one of the youngest students to pursue a Juris Doctorate at his University. After law school, James served as a Big Brother for the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Program of Long Island, and as General Counsel for the Eta Theta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

He continues to serve his community as the Vice President of the Garden State Bar Association, which is specifically dedicated to furthering the cause of African American attorneys. He is also the Chair of the Minorities in the Profession Section of the NJSBA, Co-Chair of the Diversity Committee, and a Diversity Fellow with the American Bar Association.

He has been appointed to various committees by the Supreme Court of New Jersey. He is also a mentor for high school students through University High School in Newark, NJ and for the New Jersey Law and Education Empowerment Project (NJLEEP), where he also serves as an Advisory Board Member.

Watch the Episode

Episode Transcript

Kevin Daisey:

All right. Hello everyone. We are live for another recording of The Managing Partners Podcast. I’m Kevin Daisey, your host, also the founder of Array Digital. We help law firms with their digital marketing. We help them grow their case pipelines.

Kevin Daisey:

Today I have a really cool guest, a little bit different guest, special guest on here today. I have James Lewis and he is with the New York City Bar Association. So again, a little bit different guest. James, thank you so much for joining me. I’m interested to hear more about your story.

James Lewis:

Thank you for having me and glad to be here and talk a little bit about what’s going on with the Bar, a little bit about what I’ve done to get here and some opportunities for our firm to continue their growth and how we can support that endeavor. So thanks again.

Kevin Daisey:

Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. So, yeah. First question is, tell us the James A. Lewis, V, I want hear all the way back. No, it’s good.

James Lewis:

Be a long podcast there, Kevin. A long podcast.

Kevin Daisey:

So, yeah. Well, tell us your story, how you became an attorney, why you became an attorney and what that journey was like to getting where you are today with the Bar.

James Lewis:

Sure. Absolutely. So, in high school, I very much enjoyed Psychology and Journalism. Those are the two optional classes I took in high school and Psychology, I thought would get me to knowing people and Journalism would give me an opportunity to write. So, naturally when I went over to Rutgers for Undergrad, same thing. I was a Journalism Major and a Psychology Major and excelled in both, but along the way, I attended a program at Seton Hall where I met [Michael Shipp 00:01:39], who was an attorney at that time, but then went on to become a federal judge and just an all around inspirational guy.

James Lewis:

So, seeing him and the way he navigated the practice, as I thought to myself, I’d really like to be as much like him as I can. So, I started to emulate him. I started to do a lot of the things he was doing, got involved in some of the organizations I saw he was involved with and then accelerated my Undergraduate process. I finished college in three years, went on to law school at [Hofstra Law 00:02:07] in Long Island, ultimately became a diversity fellow for the New York City Bar and that’s kind of how I started off.

James Lewis:

I was fortunate. I started off right in Corporate, which not a lot of many folks get to do. So, I was over at Prudential Insurance. I then was over at the US Attorney’s Office to New Jersey, so got two very, I think, great experiences that a lot of folks don’t get to have early on in their careers in terms of federal practice and being corporate.

James Lewis:

Went on to the firm life. I was in the private sector for about 10 years, litigating, mostly in the employment sector with some banking and finance experience as well. Somewhat unique in that I was on both ends of the spectrum. I represented and defended managers and corporations, but I also prosecuted claims on behalf of individual plaintiffs. So, I think it gave me a robust perspective in terms of kind of what the different issues were.

James Lewis:

My practice, the last 10 years, we’ve seen the B2 Movement. We’ve seen the Black Lives Matter Movement, all of which impacted the employment space and I think had a natural kind of relationship with DI, Diversity Equity and Inclusion. So ultimately-

Kevin Daisey:

[crosstalk 00:03:16]

James Lewis:

… that landed me where I am now, where I now get to support different firms and their DI efforts, different corporations and their DI efforts, as well as all the attorneys in New York. It’s kind of a resource in terms of best practices, showing, educating folks, having programs. It’s been great. I’ve only been in this role for about six months.

Kevin Daisey:

[crosstalk 00:03:36]

James Lewis:

[crosstalk 00:03:36] folks are open to it and thinking innovatively about what we can and do to move the needle on diversity issues. So, all in all, a great experience.

Kevin Daisey:

Excellent. Well, yeah. Thanks for coming on to share that and that the role that you have is a unique one. What is your actual title there at the Bar for everyone listening?

James Lewis:

Sure. I’m the Executive Director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. I support all the diversity committees within New York City Bar, as well as a lot of the external communications, as I mentioned, with corporations and larger law firms. We’re looking to build relationships with the smaller firms as well, because we understand that the diversity issue is not in issues only within large firms. We’re talking about clientele. We’re talking about within… Frankly, the judiciary diversity, I think is a hot button issue right now and so we like to support wherever we can.

Kevin Daisey:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s a good way to look at it. What I’ve seen is I’ve had a lot of smaller firms on here, a lot of larger firms, too. Some have, obviously they embrace it from the start, it seems, which is great. Some of the larger firms that I’ve had on here that are turning the tides and being a little bit more progressive and doing a lot on their part to try to head it off. But, I think that’s great know for what you’re doing and how long has that role actually been in place there at the Bar?

James Lewis:

It’s actually been around for quite a bit.

Kevin Daisey:

[crosstalk 00:05:09]

James Lewis:

[crosstalk 00:05:09] think the fourth or fifth Executive Director of the office, but I think with each Director, there’s some sort of a different dimension and obviously the times we’re in are a little bit different than even five years ago, I’d say. So, I think the guess may be different or its supplements as times goes on.

James Lewis:

I think that, right now, there’s a focused effort on education and programming. I think that there’s also a focused effort on getting the data, getting our arms around where do things stand present date? How does that compare to 10 or 15 years ago and how can we continue to move in a positive direction? Because, unfortunately, there’s been a bit of ebb and flow and I suspect that in light of the pandemic, there’s going to be a disproportionate impact on women and folks who have historically been disenfranchised within the practice. So, naming that and being intentional about making sure that everyone gets an equitable chance within their firms to excel and grow and develop, I think is really the core initiative of the organization at the moment.

Kevin Daisey:

Excellent. Excellent. So, also, anyone tuning in and listening now or later, you can check out, so it’s just in nycbar.org, whether or out you’re familiar with that organization or not, association, so check that out.

Kevin Daisey:

So, James give me some of the ideas of maybe some of the actual programs or if there was a firm in New York part of the Bar, what type of assistance and programs should I expect to be offered by you and your team?

James Lewis:

Absolutely. So, one space that we are, I think, very much entrenched in is developing the pipeline at the moment. We have what’s called The Thurgood Marshall Internship Program and so we connect high school level students with larger firms. And again, that’s so early on, the thought of is that if we can introduce these folks to folks who are in the practice so they can understand of what, get an understanding of what the day to day is, that’d be useful for them no matter what they like to do. Although, I do like to give a soft plug and say think critically about becoming an attorney to the extent this interests you. So, really that’s one of our programs. Like I mentioned, I myself, was a diversity fellow, which is really some of the strongest, I think, students in the law schools throughout the New York region go through this program and get placed in different corporations and larger law firms as well.

James Lewis:

Again, that was my introduction to what the large law firm practice corporate arena look like and some of those relationships, frankly, have served me throughout my career. And for me, obviously, there’s a bit of serendipity that I’m right back at the New York City Bar, now in the role of Executive Director. So, I think that it gives you the substantive skillset in learning certain areas of the law much earlier than you would ordinarily, but also the soft skills in terms of navigating what may be an unfamiliar culture, unfamiliar climate, and finding that you can be yourself in that arena, I think, is useful particularly early on when folks haven’t really become firmly whetted necessarily to one particular career path or another.

Kevin Daisey:

Sure. Yeah. We’ve had 150 or more managing partners on this podcast and I’ve got to talk with most of them. My partner is also Host. But, I’ve had a lot… When I asked the question, “Hey, how or why did you become an attorney? What was the turning point? What was the moment?” And quite a few were in their teens or younger when they decided that, “Hey, I want to be an attorney. I don’t know about…”. Someone was like, “Hey, I saw a TV show and I wanted to be that person”, or whatever it may be, or some, hey, my grandma said, I’m going to be an attorney or a doctor. You had to choose one.

James Lewis:

Right.

Kevin Daisey:

I think for high school students, especially those in the debate or beta, stuff like that. I think it’s great to start on that early and have those programs out there like that. That makes a lot of sense. For me, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I don’t think, until after high school.

James Lewis:

Got you. [crosstalk 00:09:08]

Kevin Daisey:

[crosstalk 00:09:08]

James Lewis:

[crosstalk 00:09:09] probably two defining experiences, I think, for me, when I was younger, my sister and I, the police had an interaction with my uncle in front of us and when the police officer went to secure his baton, actually ended up hitting my sister square in the forehead. She’s four years younger than me.

Kevin Daisey:

Oh wow.

James Lewis:

I was about eight at the time, which means she was about four. So, I knew at that point I wanted to be kind of involved in being a change agent, making sure things like this don’t happen in the future. Again, the Pre-legal program I did in college, after I completed that program, I saw the law everywhere, right? It was when I went to go iron, you’re reading the warning and you know that a lawyer drafted that warning and said, “Hey, don’t put this on yourself.” Someone has to actually write that on the iron and when I was crossing the street and I’m thinking about the distance, I’m thinking there’s lawyers involved in every aspect of everything that we’re doing in life. I got to the point where I couldn’t un-see it and I just became very much interested in it. So, with those two pieces kind of in line, I knew that, ultimately, becoming an attorney was something that would be in the doing for me.

Kevin Daisey:

I remember, not related necessarily. Maybe to the iron one, but when it was… I think I was probably young, but there was incidents where someone at McDonald’s spilled a coffee on themselves. I remember that in the news when I was a, probably a teen. I’m not sure how old I was, but teenager maybe, and that was a big lawsuit and then you had to put contents in this cup are hot or whatever. [crosstalk 00:10:39]

James Lewis:

[crosstalk 00:10:39] Exactly.

James Lewis:

Yeah. Same thing. I think they made a Seinfeld episode about it. That’s how robust it was in the culture.

Kevin Daisey:

Exactly. So, yeah. It was probably back in the nineties, I assume, but I remember that. I was just in school. I was just, I guess, floored by the fact that someone could sue for millions of dollars for spilling a coffee on themselves, like they didn’t know it was hot. So [crosstalk 00:11:01]

James Lewis:

Right, and then I just got to thinking about how many lawyers have to be involved, right? So, there’s probably initial cut of the warning. Someone has to weigh in on it and there’s probably more litigation behind it. There’s counseling behind it and so with those thoughts running in my mind, I was like, “Oh, this is something that’s pretty interesting.”

Kevin Daisey:

Yeah. That’s crazy. Okay. Well, as far as, what’s your day to day and what if you’re talking, if we have other, again, firms that are tuning in, especially in New York, smaller firms, what’s the message you’d like to get across to them and if you had a chance to say, hey, you need to check out our programs. You need to come talk to me.

James Lewis:

Yes. So, taking advantage of the environment we’re in, right?

Kevin Daisey:

Exactly.

James Lewis:

I think that a lot of your audience is managing partners or folks who potentially want to be managing partners. I think that the Bar Association is of great value for business development, right? I think that you’ll meet attorneys in other arenas. Invariably, they may need to refer work or they may need assistance on a component of the work that they do have, or maybe they’re in house and they’re looking for to supplement the folks that they have already working for them. So, I think that in terms of relationship building, it’s just invaluable. I think there’s lot to be said for not knowing what you don’t know, right, and so I think that when you’re in these environments and you’re having these conversations, it exposes you to different levels of thought. It kind of exposes you to other folks who are at other practices or other firms. So, there’s a lot of just learning.

James Lewis:

I think that we call the practice of law for a reason. We’re always embedded in practice and trying to get better and what better way to do it than with your peers. So, I think that it allows for focused attention, but also with enough kind of organic component to it that you can gravitate to folks and folks who gravitate to you in terms of learning.

James Lewis:

Then, also, in terms of just succession planning, right? Who do we want to be our next crop of new attorneys within the firm? That’s a natural place to meet folks and kind of get them to know them outside of a place that’s exclusively about law. How is this person as a person? Is this someone I’d like to work with? This is someone that’s volunteering their time, which usually is a good thing. It bodes well, because that means that they’re that entrenched in this, that much more appreciative of the profession and seeing it continue to grow.

James Lewis:

So, I just think it’s all around a place of excellence and a place where you can grow and kind of think about things in a different fashion than you would, perhaps, if you were silo. So, there’s something to be said for just being part of the New York community and learning about what’s important to folks around you.

Kevin Daisey:

That’s excellent. Yeah. I think I’ve heard nothing of good things from all the Bar Associations that… I’ve had other partners, managed partners, on here that are part of the Bar. They’re on the boards. They’re involved. I’ve heard nothing but good things and a lot of them attribute that to the referral business that they do get by meeting other attorneys and being involved. So, that seems to be very important, especially for a small firm. A new firm starting out, it’s something you probably just, you need to take advantage of that and-

James Lewis:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Kevin Daisey:

… get involved right away as far as I can tell. Another question, just with COVID still happening and hanging around, events, in person things, the internships that you spoke of, what’s that look like right now in New York and are things kind of coming back to about normal or are you kind of still-

James Lewis:

I think where we are is sort of where in the hybrid space. I think there were some components of the virtual space that kiss the ground. You get better attendance, folks don’t necessarily have to fight with traffic or bee-line out of their offices in order to make it on time. So, I think some people are enjoying that. But look, there’s nothing like face to face interaction.

James Lewis:

I think some of the things you’re talking about, relationships are so important to this profession and so we definitely have had some in person events. Some of the committees are meeting in person, subjects to folks comfort level, but we’re looking to get more and more towards normalcy and hopefully get the worst of this behind us.

Kevin Daisey:

Yeah. I understand. What about internships? I guess that could be virtual or in person.

James Lewis:

Correct. [crosstalk 00:15:11]

Kevin Daisey:

[crosstalk 00:15:11]. I’ve had a lot of New York firms actually on here, but some are 100% virtual now or started that way and then some were like, “We never left the office. We’re still in the office.” So, I’ve seen a lot of… And then there’s the hybrid model, which seems to be more frequent. But, I’ve seen it all of across the board as far as, no, we have to be in the office, to work completely virtual, paperless. We can do cases in the whole State now. There’s so much more efficiencies. So, I hear a lot of different things, which is cool.

Kevin Daisey:

Then you got your trial attorneys who are like, “I need to be in the courtroom and face to face to face or I can’t get my job done.” So, it’s been pretty unique to kind of see-

James Lewis:

Absolutely.

Kevin Daisey:

… the different perspectives and just seeing how things are going. So, but as far as the internships, theirs can be virtual or in person?

James Lewis:

They were hybrids, so some of the employers folks were back and they said, “Look, if students feel comfortable coming in, they can come on in.” And some of them did. They wanted to get that experiment, so they went into the building, kind of got to learn the lay of the land that way as well and some students didn’t. They did their work virtually and got on calls, got on video camera, got to speak. We had some of our panel discussions in a fully virtual format, which I thought was useful because you got to reach out beyond the limited of the State and the local you were in and get experts from all around the country, which I thought was great. So I think again, there’s value on both ends, so most of the folks I’m working with are doing some form of a hybrid model.

Kevin Daisey:

Yeah. Excellent. Okay. Do you know how many firms are actually members of the US?

James Lewis:

We have a 160 Signatory Firms, which means those are the firms that are signed onto what’s called our Diversity and Inclusion Principles.

Kevin Daisey:

Okay.

James Lewis:

These are essentially major law firms in New York, but we’re always looking to expand that and we like the buy-in and we think that it is meaningful for the community to have more firms bought in and attorneys, frankly, to kind of the subset of what we believe in and what we’re looking me to encourage in terms of the diversity space. Because, again, I think there’s a lot of discussion about sort of the business case for diversity, but without necessarily using that language, I think we know that innovation comes from having different folks at the table and kind of-

Kevin Daisey:

That’s right.

James Lewis:

… making sure that we’re able to think beyond our own initial thoughts and we don’t have people as totally homogenous that just agree with what we’re saying.

James Lewis:

I think there’s something to be said for that back and forth and that pushback and that difference in perspective in terms of arriving at your best when you’re in the courtroom and we’re representing your client through every particular lens, when you’re putting, putting an argument for before the court and being frankly aware of what the counter arguments may be, because you’ve discussed it internally already. So, I think those are all the things that we try to entrench in the firms that are aligned themselves with us and support the work of the office do the same.

Kevin Daisey:

I love it. I love it. That’s excellent, man. Well, James, I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I really appreciate you sharing what you have, what you’re doing and what you’re up to and really kind of seeing really what, so just all the benefits I think of the Bar Association there. Do you know if other Bars around the country have a similar type of program in place or is New York kind of just [crosstalk 00:18:31]

James Lewis:

I think we’re a bit unique in the sense that our office is essentially a little bit apart and we support the committee. So, you have actual staff, including myself, who are supporting these diversity initiatives.

Kevin Daisey:

Nice.

James Lewis:

In addition to all the folks who are volunteering and joining the committees and then non committee members who volunteer their time, whether it’s to mentor high school students or college students. So, I think we really do have our arms around a lot of the dimensions of kind of being excellent as it relates to advancing diversity and inclusion. And frankly, we have a lot of history here and New York is different than some other climates by virtue of its size, by virtue of its own diversity. So, we’re able to leverage all of that and I think develop a truly unique program.

Kevin Daisey:

That’s excellent. Well, hopefully other ones can tune in and take some lessons from that and get on board.

Kevin Daisey:

So well, James, thanks so much for sharing all this with me today. Thanks for being a unique guest on the show and I want to have someone else from the Bar and I want to have, honestly, I want to start another series here where we have up and coming attorneys, law students, maybe talk with some of the colleges talk with… Or even someone in your program that’s trying to intern that maybe could be a guest to say, Hey, what are they seeing in this environment? What’s maybe different or what they’re seeing versus what a managing partner’s been a attorney for 30 years might have seen when they came through. So, I just want to kind of mix it up as well and get some different perspectives.

James Lewis:

Absolutely. I think that’s important, right? I add an intern over the summer and he was teaching me things on LinkedIn and social media that were so only forward to me. So, I definitely think that each generation comes another layer of perspective. That’s certainly useful and informative. So thank you for having me.

Kevin Daisey:

Yeah. Absolutely, and speaking of LinkedIn, please reach out and connect with James. His LinkedIn profile is just below. It’s just James Lewis V, so for the fifth, so James Lewis V on LinkedIn, check him out. We’re connected and we’ll be probably sharing back and forth quite often, but go connect with James and especially if you in New York, you’re an attorney want to learn more? I’m sure he’s happy to-

James Lewis:

Absolutely.

Kevin Daisey:

… share more information with you and get you involved. I’m sure he is looking for more people to get involved. So, please reach out to James and connect with him. James, before I wrap up and say goodbye, is there anything else you wanted to share that, anything coming up, anything, any news, anything you’d like people to know about?

James Lewis:

I think you’ve covered it. I mean, it certainly, if folks are interested in the Bar, please reach out, love to information share. If there’s folks throughout the country who are involved with other Bar associations, there’s opportunities to have some synergy there. I think we could take advantage of this virtual format that we’re in, always looking to grow our membership, always to continue the pipeline. So again, hope folks will think of me as a resource and thank you again for having me.

Kevin Daisey:

Yeah. Absolutely. Well, thank you. All right, everyone, this will be up soon on our podcast version. Also, be up on YouTube, our website. You can go check out [raylaw.com/podcast 00:21:44]. It’ll be probably a few days next week, sometime when we get that up on the website and then we’ll also have some edited copies of this. James will be sharing that with you too, up on Instagram and LinkedIn and other places like that. So, we’ll be tagging you and the Bar, I guess. So, we’ll get that out soon.

Kevin Daisey:

If anyone else listening, tuning in, needs help with their marketing, for their firm websites, for their firm, a more diverse website for your firm, we can help you out. That’s what we do. We help firms have a nice online presence, reputation, and grow their pipeline through digital marketing. So if you need any kind of help like that, go to raylaw.com Reach out to me, go on LinkedIn, ask any questions, happy to help. So, James stick on with me for a second. Everyone else, we’ll say goodbye. So James.

James Lewis:

All right. Take care everyone. Thank you.

Kevin Daisey:

Thank you.

 

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