In Conversation With Affinity Group Leaders Shana Ramirez And Mario Robertson

Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP


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Shana Ramirez and Mario Robertson participated in a Q&A about their affinity groups and their experiences at Katten. Their remarks are part of Katten's 2024 DEI Annual Report.
United States Corporate/Commercial Law
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Shana Ramirez and Mario Robertson participated in a Q&A about their affinity groups and their experiences at Katten. Their remarks are part of Katten's 2024 DEI Annual Report.

Shana Ramirez, Co-Chair of the Partner Collective for Racial and Ethnic Diversity

Shana Ramirez, Private Credit Partner in Katten's Century City office, has been involved in diversity initiatives since the beginning of her legal career. Once a leadership role opened up within the firm's Partner Collective on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, Shana leaped at the opportunity to become the group's Co-Chair along with New York Partner and Financial Markets and Regulation Co-Chair Carl Kennedy. Read on to learn how Shana overcame obstacles as a woman of color in the legal profession and what mentorship and community building mean to her and other associates of color.

While mentor/mentee opportunities are important in any career path, why do you think it's especially important to provide mentoring for our associates of color? How does mentoring offered through the affinity group differ from other mentoring/career development resources available through the firm?

Given the lack of historical diversity in the legal profession, I think it's particularly important for young lawyers to see the growth in diversity, particularly in the more senior ranks, so they can see that there is a clear path to their own success. Mentorship through affinity groups like Katten's Partner Collective on Racial and Ethnic Diversity (PCRED) is key because it provides guidance that may speak to associates of color on a more personal level, given the members' shared or common experiences. It also provides comradery and a strong sense of community for those who have not found it elsewhere.

Have you faced any obstacles navigating the legal profession as a woman of color, and if so, how did you overcome them?

Yes. I think that if women, particularly women of color, exhibit certain traits, they are faced with increased scrutiny as compared to their male counterparts. Over time, I've learned to always keep my "audience" in mind during personal interactions while remaining true to myself.

In your view, what is the significance of affinity groups at law firms?

I think community and a feeling of belonging are important and that affinity groups can provide both. No one wants to feel like they're alone.

As a Katten partner today, what advice would you give to an associate of color at the beginning of their career?

Be proactive and offer to take on more substantive tasks, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Don't be shy about seeking out the work you want. You only get one career, so it's up to you to take control of it instead of just letting it happen to you. Additionally, seek out mentors that will help you succeed early and as often as possible.

How does PCRED collaborate with firm leadership to develop resources or organize social events?

I think the Diversity Summit last year is a perfect example of how firm leadership supports the PCRED group. The event was well-attended and served as a great opportunity for folks to make real, lasting and personal connections.

Mario Robertson, Co-Chair of the Black Attorneys Affinity Group

Mario Robertson, Litigation Associate in Katten's Chicago office, has served as Co-Chair of the firm's Black Attorneys Affinity Group (BAAG) since October 2022 alongside Litigation Partner Johnjerica Hodge (as of January 2024, Corporate Counsel Tracie Bedeaux assumed Johnjerica's role as Co-Chair). He became involved with BAAG during his first year at Katten and now, in his leadership role, welcomes incoming Black associates to the group and helps provide the same guidance and sense of community that he received to current members. Read on to learn how Mario collaborates with firm leadership to provide learning and mentorship opportunities to his fellow Black attorneys at Katten, and why he believes affinity groups are crucial to their success.

While mentorship opportunities are important in any career path, why do you think it's especially important to mentor young Black attorneys or Black students who are considering a career in law?

I recently attended a keynote speech at the "Charting Your Own Course" career conference, where it was highlighted that Black attorneys account for a mere 2 percent of partners at law firms to this day. I believe one of the main reasons that law firms have not retained Black attorneys is the lack of representation among partners at their respective firms. Therefore, these attorneys do not see a viable path to partnership. The statistic further demonstrates that Black lawyers need to seek out and establish mentor relationships with attorneys who are not Black or diverse to understand how to be successful at law firms.

What is the most important piece of advice you would share with a Black junior associate at the beginning of their career?

As a Black associate, all your mistakes feel magnified because you may be one of several Black attorneys in your associate class, if not the only one. Therefore, I would inform the Black junior associate that everyone makes mistakes and that the true differentiating factor between associates is how one owns their mistakes and learns from them.

As a junior associate, I was fortunate to establish connections with senior Black associates and partners who were candid about their mistakes as junior associates, which helped me understand that errors are part of the learning process and, if addressed correctly, will not prevent you from advancing at a firm.

How do you collaborate with firm leadership to implement programming and spread the word about BAAG to new associates who join Katten?

When Black associates join Katten, the BAAG co-chairs reach out to welcome them to the firm. Also, we have recently started coordinating welcome lunches for incoming BAAG associates to meet other members in their offices who can provide them with support and answer any questions they may have.

How do affinity groups like BAAG help break down barriers for attorneys of color?

BAAG and other affinity groups like it are instrumental in breaking down multiple barriers to success for attorneys of color. Such groups provide junior associates with advice on how to get work from senior associates and partners, as well as mentorships so young attorneys can learn non-obvious steps that they should take to improve their development and achieve future goals. Our BAAG partners and senior associates encourage junior associates to foster relationships with attorneys outside of their practice group to expand their network within the firm and help them understand all that Katten can offer, which can lead to valuable cross-selling opportunities.

Read the more in the 2024 DEI Annual report here.

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