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Black Women Attorneys Spurn Private Law Firms for Corporate Jobs

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By Nadra Kareem Nittle, Special to the NNPA from America’s Wire –

NEW YORK, NY - When Fania Washington had an opportunity to leave Winston & Strawn LLP, in 2004, to work for MTV Networks, she didn’t hesitate.

Washington had tired of handling cases that trickled down from the international law firm’s partners, and she sought more formidable challenges. She describes the firm as a “good firm with good people.” But, as an African-American and a vice president and employment counsel for MTV, Washington says, “I really feel like a partner in the company.”

A recent study by Corporate Counsel Women of Color (CCWC) discovered a growing trend in women of color leaving law firms to work as corporate counsels. Titled “The Perspectives of Women of Color Attorneys in Corporate Legal Departments,” the study surveyed more than 1,300 African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, and Native American female corporate attorneys.

A staggering 76.5 percent of women who participated in the study started their careers in law firms before leaving for corporations. Among reasons they cited for switching were feeling that their work was not valued, lack of good mentors, desire for more challenging work, and few opportunities for growth. Previous research cited by CCWC had found a 78 percent attrition rate for women of color at law firms.

“Women of color are going to law school . . . only to work for a law firm for a couple of years,” says Laurie N. Robinson, CCWC’s founder and CEO.

Robinson says data counter a misconception in the legal community that large numbers of minority women leave firms because they cannot handle the work. In reality, she says, it’s because women of color aren’t connecting with senior managers who can facilitate their desire for more challenging assignments, often leaving them struggling to obtain billable work.

Moreover, the survey found that these women had serious doubts as to whether their plight at law firms would improve, largely because so few women of color were partners who could serve as mentors. The majority of partners at law firms are white men, making it easier for white lawyers to bond with superiors.

“If you look at the breakdown of law firms, most of the partners are Caucasian,” Robinson says. “The challenge is how do we build a pipeline of people of color? Everybody at the law firms can’t work at the corporations.”

Dionne Greene-Punnette, U.S. markets counsel for MasterCard Worldwide, worked for law firms from 1996 to 2001 before going in-house. One firm, she says, had few African-Americans among its 700 employees. She considered herself a high-performing attorney who routinely traveled on business, worked 15-hour days and spent nights in her office to deal with a heavy workload. Yet, she says, she questioned how far she could advance because the firm had few minority attorneys in high-ranking positions.

“It’s harder to believe it’s attainable, if you don’t see it,” she says.

Like Washington, Greene-Punnette seized the opportunity to go in-house. At MasterCard Worldwide, she has more responsibilities. “I was a litigator when I was at the firm,” she says. “I wanted to transition where I could do more advising than troubleshooting, where I was part of the solution as opposed to cleaning up the problem.”

Veta T. Richardson, executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, says that based on previous research and anecdotal examples she has encountered, the CCWC findings are no surprise. A primary reason that women of color likely prefer the corporate setting is because corporations have valued diversity longer, she says, noting that in the 1980s, diversity was a priority as corporations contemplated doing business in a global marketplace with a varied customer base.

Law firms didn’t begin to consider diversity issues seriously until the 1990s, Richardson says, adding, “Many law firms have not had by and large a dedicated person thinking about diversity issues until the middle of the last decade.”

Washington questions whether many law firms have a serious commitment to diversity. She says that most firms pay lip service to diversity and that many don’t explore how to retain women of color or improve recruiting them.

Washington says law firms don’t examine how to retain women of color or how to attract others. She also suggest that law schools could offer a more realistic look at life in law firms and connect students with women of color partners in firms.

Richardson says firms should provide financial incentives to supervisors who make diversity a priority and should include diversity responsiveness as part of performance reviews. She suggests that firms ask: “Did the person do a good job mentoring someone of a diverse background?”

The CCWC study also says law firms could retain more women of color by providing them greater access to managing partners and executive teams, opportunities to interact with highly valued clients and quality assignments to help them build expertise on subject matter and meet billable-hour requirements.

By working with the Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals, Robinson says she hopes to encourage law firms to review the study.

The study also says law schools can help to reduce the high attrition rate by offering seminars on overcoming barriers for women of color at law firms. The study recommends creating networking opportunities in which students can interact with attorneys of diverse backgrounds.

“What I think is really interesting is that the women didn’t spend a lot of time speaking of their race and gender as barriers,” Robinson says. “They really focused on all of the things they do to overcome these barriers in the workplace—building up their level of expertise and working hard to be successful.”

Former Black Panther Leader Geronimo Pratt Dies at 63

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By Ra-Jah Kelly, Special to the NNPA from the Washington Informer –

Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, the former Black Panther leader, who spent nearly three decades in prison for a crime he claimed to have not committed, has died. He was 63.

Pratt -- who spent eight years in solitary confinement and had his 1972 murder conviction overturned in the death of a Santa Monica, Calif., teacher in 1968 -- died early Friday at his home in a village near Arusha, Tanzania. He had lived there for the past five years, according to a statement his friend, Pete O’Neal, made to the Associated Press (AP). O’Neal, who praised Pratt as his hero, said that he suspected he died from either a heart attack or stroke.

“Geronimo was a symbol of steadfast resistance against all that is considered wrong and improper,” O’Neal told the AP. “His whole life was dedicated to standing in opposition to oppression and exploitation...He gave all that he had and his life, I believe, struggling, trying to help people lift themselves up.”

Pratt had maintained that on the day of the murder, he was in Oakland for Black Panther Party meetings. He also reportedly said that evidence that would have proven his innocence had been destroyed or hidden by police and FBI agents.

Pratt’s conviction was overturned after a judge cited a lack of credibility by key witnesses, and in 2000 he settled a $4.5 million lawsuit for false imprisonment and violation of his civil rights against the FBI and city of Los Angeles.

However, Stuart Hanlon, the attorney who helped Pratt win his freedom, said his client had refused to harbor any resentment.

"He had no anger, he had no bitterness, he had no desire for revenge,” Hanlon said. “He wanted to resume his life and have children. He would never look back."

Pratt is survived by his wife and son.

South African Ambassador Slammed with Hefty Fine for Anti-Gay 'Hate Speech'

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

The South African ambassador to Uganda, a former columnist for South Africa's Sunday Sun paper, was found guilty of hate speech in an anti-gay article.

South Africa's Equality Court fined Jon Qwelane $14,450 and ordered him to apologize for promoting hatred in the column published in 2008 titled "Call me names but gay is NOT OKAY". It caused an uproar at the time.

Qwelane, appointed last year to Uganda where homosexual acts are illegal, did not mount a defense.

Vincent Moaga, spokesman for the South African Human Rights Commission, applauded the decision and said money from the fine would be donated to gay rights organizations.

Meanwhile, a lesbian who was brutally tortured in Uganda, is fighting her deportation from the UK. Betty Tibikawa, 22, was “branded” with a hot iron as punishment for her sexual identity.

"I can't sleep and I'm having terrible nightmares about what will happen to me if I'm sent back to Uganda. My family has disowned me because I'm a lesbian and I'm convinced I'd be killed, if I'm sent home.”

Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Gauri van Gulik said: "Our research has shown that many cases of women like Betty are not taken seriously by the UK Border Agency. “Unfortunately women who suffer this kind of violence have serious difficulty claiming asylum.”

CSU East Bay Professor Braves Bullets, Arrest to Enter Governor's Race in Nigeria

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

An assassination attempt that killed his aide and wounded another, and his arrest for disturbing the peace failed to scare off a determined Cal State professor from the race for governor in his home state of Benue, Nigeria.

Professor Steve Ugbah, of California State College, Hayward, who returned to Nigeria in December, had been tipped to win the April elections in Benue with a lead of 20 percent more than his opponent, Gabriel Suswam, a candidate of the ruling party of President Goodluck Jonathan.

But, victory was elusive. The 56 year old East Bay professor was defeated in a disputed election and he and members of his party were later detained and charged with inciting public disturbances and unrest. He was released on bail, last week, but continues to face charges that he says were cooked up to keep him quiet.

Ugbah’s home state is one of Nigeria's richest agricultural regions but people are poor and he was frustrated by the failure of politicians to improve it, relatives said.

The son of a medical field worker, he came to the U.S. in 1974, at the age of 18, to go to college at Ohio University, where he earned his Ph.D. before moving to the Bay Area to teach more than 20 years ago.

HUD Launches New Campaign Against Housing Fraud

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Areas Hard-Hit by Foreclosures Most Susceptible to Scams

By Charlene Crowell –

According to the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an estimated three million families have already lost their homes to foreclosure since 2007. But, the worst may still be ahead; analysts now predict that as many as eight million more Americans could face foreclosure by 2012.

With so many desperate homeowners looking for solutions, a new kind of consumer fraud has found a ready-made market. Families fighting for their homes and financial survival can be gullible to shady businesses that promise guaranteed mortgage modifications or a halt to foreclosures already in progress. Oftentimes, aggressive sales pitches to troubled homeowners claim that serious financial problems can go away as soon as payment of an advance fee is made. Other solicitations call for sharing personal financial information over the phone or online to quickly solve a housing dilemma.

The spread of these and other consumer scams have now trigged a new campaign by HUD and other consumer groups with dual goals. Know It. Avoid It. Report It is a new campaign that seeks to: 1) direct homeowners facing foreclosure to trusted housing resources and counselors; and 2) solicit the support of homeowners to shut down scammers who target communities of color and the elderly. The campaign includes support from the Federal Trade Commission, NeighborWorks America, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law. Using a combination of traditional and social media, the effort will also include multi-lingual brochures, posters and flyers along with multiple outreach activities in hard-hit areas such as Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

“You can’t go around Miami without seeing all these promises to ‘help’ and the result is that too many people are being taken advantage of,” said Ed Jennings Jr., HUD Southeast Regional Administrator.

"With millions of homeowners in foreclosure or at risk of losing their homes as they fall behind on mortgage payments, and eight million Americans expected to face foreclosure now through 2012, the timing of this campaign could not be more prudent," continued Jennings. "When you know better, you do better."

Another outreach effort in HUD’s campaign featured a two-hour telethon on June 1 with more than 20 housing counselors in the studio of Los Angeles’ KMEX-TV. Counselors answered viewer calls and also sought information to determine whether callers were at risk of being scammed and provided information on how and where to report scams.

Although HUD’s campaign has begun in three heavily-affected markets, every state where large numbers of foreclosures have occurred is also a potential target for this new kind of fraud. Residents of other states with large foreclosures include: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Anyone, regardless of where they live, can dial a toll free help line at 1-888-995-HOPE (4673), or go online for more advice on how to avoid housing scams at www.loanscamlert.org.

Additionally, the Center for Responsible Lending has state-by-state information on the number of foreclosures and the costs of bad lending practices, including payday loans, bank overdraft loans, and overcharges in auto financing. It is available at: http://www.responsiblelending.org/mortgage-lending/tools-resources/factsheets/

With communities of color already having lost $350 billion of wealth through foreclosures, everyone should be on guard against promises of debt relief that sound too good to be true. If there really was a quick and easy fix to the foreclosure fiasco, it would have happened before so many families lost their homes.

Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications manager for state policy and outreach. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

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