Asked and Answered . . .


Bonnie Mayfield on the IADC’s Diversity Committee

By Steve Thorpe

Bonnie Mayfield, a member of Dykema’s litigation practice in Bloomfield Hills, was recently named chair of the International Association of Defense Counsel’s (IADC) Diversity Committee. Mayfield has tried product liability, pharmaceutical, commercial, medical malpractice, labor and employment cases. A frequent lecturer, she has spoken to groups such as the International Association of Defense Counsel (IADC), and the State Bars of Michigan and Wisconsin, and was a panelist at the American Bar Association’s mid-year products liability meetings.

Thorpe: Tell us about the International Association of Defense Counsel’s (IADC) Diversity Committee and its goals.

The Diversity Committee members are a cross-section of lawyers from a number of states and countries, including Canada, Japan, and Italy. They are members of the IADC, which is an invitation-only, peer-reviewed, international legal association.

This year, the goals of the Diversity Committee include expanding on and showing how diversity and inclusion and the pursuit and enhancement of the Rule of Law connect us, both professionally and personally, through the IADC and beyond. We will join with other IADC Committees and explore, through action, programming, and discussion, the intersections of the Rule of Law and diversity and inclusion and educate
about substantive areas.

Thorpe: What work does the committee have planned for the coming year?

The Diversity Committee’s work includes continuing our Quote Initiative, which displays, on the IADC’s banner page, quotes under the title: “Embracing Diversity and Inclusion!” The quotes help promote thinking and discussion about the benefits of diversity and inclusion. Since starting the Quote Initiative about two years ago, we have shared more than twenty-four quotes. We also have created a Webinar series through which we will interview leading individuals in the legal and other arenas through conversational, web-based interviews exploring diversity and inclusion, and, of course, any other matters that the interviewees want to discuss.

During our inaugural Webinar, the IADC’s own Connie Lewis Lensing, senior vice president in the Legal Department at FedEx Express, will be interviewed by Diversity Committee member Pamela Carter, the founder and owner of Carter Law Group, LLC. As detailed in my Committee Chair Corner Article, the committee is undertaking even more work to advance diversity and inclusion.

Thorpe: How does your legal background assist you in your new role?

I have been very fortunate as both my legal and personal background have laid the foundation for my role as chair of the IADC’s Diversity Committee. That background includes holding leadership positions in different bar associations and community organizations and writing, speaking about, and mentoring individuals and organizations about diversity, inclusion, and how to overcome unconscious bias and microagressions.

Also, early in my legal career, I met a Texas-based, African American trial lawyer pursuing a case in a Michigan federal district court where I was a law clerk. He shared with me that no matter who is sitting next to him, he strikes up a conversation and, by the time the plane lands, typically, he and his seatmates are no longer strangers and he has enhanced his skills as a trial lawyer who has to convince and relate to a variety of people, including unlikely supporters, in a relatively short period of time.

Well, you know, I do the same thing and have met the most interesting people, some of whom have helped me along the way of my career and life. I have found that, if you dare to open your mind and heart, you find more inclusion than exclusion. Think Anton Chekov’s “The Bet”: “‘The geniuses of all ages and of all lands speak different languages, but the same flame burns in them all. Oh, if you only knew what unearthly happiness my soul feels now from being able to understand them!’”

Thorpe: In addition to insights from your career, how does your personal experience enrich your understanding of diversity challenges?

“Success starts and ends with your mindset…whether positive or negative. To be successful, you must have a positive mental state. Ultimately, a negative mindset will prevent, if not minimize and/or eliminate your success.”

Meaning, I do not see diversity “challenges,” but instead “opportunities for diversity and inclusion.” Those opportunities are manifold. For example, building a successful, diverse, and inclusive trial team was not difficult for a matter I defended and we received client recognition for doing so.

Sponsoring, working and socializing with, and befriending diverse and not-diverse lawyers and other people, both inside and outside of legal organizations, is easy to do when you truly embrace the following quote: “I can see myself in all things and all people around me.” Then, you realize that we are all more alike than different and it becomes easy to take real, tangible, personal, and individualized actions that help build diverse, inclusive teams and organizations.

Thorpe: In a recent quote you talk about diversity, inclusion and the rule of law. How do the three work together?

Diversity, inclusion, and the Rule of Law are intertwined and the law helps prevent exclusion based upon diversity. Through cases like Batson, and Guiterrez, the Rule of Law prevents the peremptory exclusion of potential jurors due to group bias based upon grounds like race, religion, ethnicity, etc. The Crime Victims’ Rights Act, the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act, and laws like Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation law, help empower the vulnerable, including human trafficking and other crime victims in need of equality and civil justice. As IADC President Andy Kopon stated, “One of the IADC’s stated core values is a commitment to respecting the Rule of Law and improving social justice. The Rule of Law is a profoundly important topic that we as lawyers dedicate ourselves to almost every day in our law practices.”

Thorpe: Progress on these issues can sometimes seem slow and laborious. Are you optimistic about the future?

Tangible results that expeditiously move diversity and inclusion forward keep me optimistic. Those results include that women and/or minorities have moved into the highest leadership and/or ownership positions of top law firms. Judges have established individual rules encouraging in-the-courtroom speaking roles for women, younger (defined in terms of years of practice), and/or diverse attorneys. Clients,
looking behind the numbers, are proactively partnering with outside counsel in staffing (and, hopefully, the next step of determining true compensatory credit for work actually performed by outside counsel); at least one General Counsel now requires tangible results or a forfeit of a percentage of fees. Majority bar associations have elected women and/or minorities to positions in their highest leadership ranks. No doubt, a confluence of these tangible results helps keep those involved in the legal arena on the pathway of concrete diversity and inclusion. In my part of the world, there is no room for pessimism, as optimistic, tangible results will ultimately prevail.