Hope Thai Cannon is a partner with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP in Birmingham, Alabama. She is licensed in Florida, Alabama and Texas, and actively litigates cases in all three states, focusing primarily on Florida and Alabama. Cannon has spent the last several years representing financial services clients in mortgage and consumer finance litigation, and assisting them with their vendor management practices and regulatory compliance. In addition to financial services litigation, she has also tried products liability cases, employment cases and general commercial cases.
Cannon is chairwoman of the Defense Research Institute’s financial institutions and creditors rights specialized litigation group and is also a member of National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
As a participant in Law360's Minority Powerbrokers Q&A series, Cannon shared her perspective on five questions:
Q: How did you break the glass ceiling in the legal industry?
A: My main goal every day is to focus on working hard and doing the best job I can in representing my firm and my clients. That, in itself, is an accomplishment. To the extent that it also helps others in breaking new ground, then I’m happy to do that. I’m not sure, though, that I’ve broken the glass ceiling. At least, it hasn’t been my focus — the work has.
Q: What are the challenges of being a lawyer of color at a senior level?
A: I think all lawyers who reach a certain level face the same challenges, the biggest of which is getting new business. For minority lawyers, the path to getting new business can be filled with more obstacles because of the smaller percentage of minority decision makers in mid-sized to large corporations. I find this to be particularly true when it comes to Asian-Americans. As a result, there is a lack of organic networking opportunities for Asian lawyers.
The other challenge that lawyers of color face is getting past stereotypes. Being of Asian descent, many people who initially meet me are surprised to find out that I am a litigator rather than a transactional lawyer. They also automatically assume that because I am an Asian female, I cannot be aggressive. I think that most of us have a tendency to make some immediate judgments about people before we get to know them based on the way they look or where they’re from, so that’s just something that minority lawyers have to deal with on a pretty regular basis.
Q: Describe a time you encountered discrimination in your career and tell us how you handled it.
A: I can honestly say that I have never encountered any overt discrimination in my career. I have, however, experienced a couple of “did they really say that?” moments that make me realize that none of us should take ourselves too seriously. For example, when I was a young lawyer making my very first court appearance, the presiding judge told me that he was glad to meet me because, in his words, “Your people are so hard-working when they come off the boat.” It took a moment for me to realize what he was saying because it seemed so surreal. The partner I was with at the time, however, looked more horrified and embarrassed than I did. At that point I just felt bad for the judge, who clearly should have known better.
Q: What advice would you give to a lawyer of color?
1. Don’t worry about the glass ceiling. Instead, focus on making yourself an asset that neither your firm nor your client will be able to overlook.
2. Find a good mentor. The mentor does not have to be of the same sex or race. He or she simply needs to be someone that you trust and have the same values as you do.
3. Don’t allow yourself to be a token. If you are asked to be on a pitch, make sure you’ll also be asked to do the work and that you’ll get credit for the work.
4. Don’t be afraid to promote yourself. I learned a long time ago that, at least in this profession, if you don’t promote yourself, no one will.
5. You don’t have to constantly remind people that you’re a minority. In other words, don’t focus on that fact because if you do, others will too and that might not always work in your favor.
6. Be proud of who you are and where you’ve come from. Fitting in and being successful does not mean that you have to look or be like those who work around you.
Q: What advice would you give to a law firm looking to increase diversity in its partner ranks?
A: I think firms must recognize that while there may not be overt discrimination at the firm, that does not mean that lawyers of color are not affected, particularly when it comes to compensation. Firms must make an effort to put qualified and deserving minority lawyers in true leadership positions and positions that will expose them to true networking opportunities. As an example, minority lawyers can serve as chairs of committees other than just diversity and recruiting. I believe that firms must be deliberate and genuine in the efforts they take to promote minority lawyers and keep in mind that it is not just the minority lawyers’ job to mentor and help other minority lawyers.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.
Republished with permission. This article first appeared in Law360 on November 26, 2014.