“Let’s start with the ‘why,’” said Tara Plimpton as she opened the virtual Deans’ Roundtable on Wednesday, Feb. 16. “Why we’re doing this Birmingham Stands Together series, why we’re coming together as a community to talk about diversity, equity and inclusion.”
“Having a diverse and inclusive workforce or student body elevates our ability to compete — as a community, business, law firm or a law school. Diversity helps increase unique critical thinking skills within teams. It helps us manage our reputation with our stakeholders, and it helps us attract and retain talent.”
Plimpton, who is Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary at Regions, was recently recognized by the Birmingham Business Journal as a Leader in Diversity award winner. The BBJ program highlights innovative and impactful DEI ideas from Birmingham companies.
Plimpton’s passionate commitment to DEI issues was evident in her opening remarks of the second installment of the series of symposiums she and her team have created.
The mission of the series is to gather leaders in DEI from across the Birmingham legal community to engage, share ideas, and take steps to bring about progress in this vital area.
“Getting local legal leaders together in this forum will help all of us ensure our profession is taking bigger steps to make meaningful progress toward a more diverse, equitable and inclusive environment by working together,” Plimpton said.
The first event, held in December 2021, included a panel of Birmingham law firm DEI leaders and focused on identifying opportunities to enable success for diverse individuals in Birmingham’s legal profession, which will create more diverse teams and enhance service to clients.
Plimpton and the team wanted this second event, which was planned and executed by the Legal Department’s Culture & Equity Team, to include a discussion about the importance of law schools in creating and maintaining a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture and learning environment.
“Law school is the beginning of a career journey,” Plimpton said.
Diversity helps increase unique critical thinking skills within teams. It helps us manage our reputation with our stakeholders, and it helps us attract and retain talent.
Tara Plimpton, Regions Chief Legal Officer
The panel discussion was moderated by Plimpton and Chief Governance Officer Andrew Nix, who leads the Regions Legal Department’s Culture & Equity Team.
Panelists included Mark Brandon, Dean of the University of Alabama School of Law; Charles Campbell, Dean of Faulkner University’s Thomas Goode Jones School of Law; Scott Garrett, Dean of the Birmingham School of Law; and Corky Strickland, Dean of the Cumberland School of Law.
Plimpton and Nix opened the discussion by asking about the role of DEI in the respective law schools and about their DEI strategies and goals. Participants noted the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in general but particularly in the area of law.
“Access to law school increases access to justice,” said Dean Campbell.
Dean Brandon remarked that racial integration in Alabama law schools is a relatively recent event and that the systematic exclusion that occurred in our past has come at a huge cost. “Through conscientious effort to acknowledge past wrongs and ensure all people are able to participate in education, in the profession and in society — that’s how we can help make things right,” he said.
When discussing DEI strategies for their law schools, the deans talked about the importance of active student body organizations, scholarship funds and having strong partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, for their recruiting efforts.
Dean Campbell added that when his school launched their executive schedule, it opened up legal education opportunities for a larger population, specifically “people with careers, families, and mortgages.”
The Deans’ Roundtable and the overall Birmingham Stands Together program are central to the mission of the Regions Legal Department’s Culture & Equity Team.
Andrew Nix, Regions Chief Governance Officer
One of the interesting facets of the conversation was how different the law schools are in their approach. For example, the Birmingham School of Law tailors its program to non-traditional students who are working full-time jobs and attending to other obligations, offering classes on weeknights and weekends. Dean Garrett expressed pride in the diverse student body, which reflects the surrounding Birmingham community. And with a mostly adjunct faculty, he says they “actively seek instructors who reflect the student body.”
The other deans agreed with the importance of DEI in faculty, as well as the staff and student population. “Instructors are critical, they’re the primary source of engagement for students,” said Dean Strickland. The participants also noted that DEI considerations extend not only to race and ethnicity, but also to sexual orientation, disability and religion.
As the discussion came to a close, Plimpton asked the deans how local companies, law firms and other organizations in the community can help the law schools fulfill their DEI missions. A consistent response was around mentoring and aiding law school preparation.
Dean Campbell urged lawyers in the community to provide outreach and mentor students or potential students. “Students from underserved communities, in particular, often suffer from lack of preparation,” he said. “We need to provide guidance for these students and ensure they understand the path, so they have the best opportunity to succeed.”
Plimpton and Nix ended the program by thanking the deans for a terrific discussion and all attendees for continued participation in the event.
“The Deans’ Roundtable and the overall Birmingham Stands Together program are central to the mission of the Regions Legal Department’s Culture & Equity Team,” Nix said. “We want to support and maximize the impact of Regions’ diversity, equity and inclusion efforts through engaging our community, our department and others within the legal profession.”
“Today’s event was another successful milestone in our journey,” Nix said.