Sara E. Echenique, head of the firm's Latino Attorney Affinity Group, has been a member of the Diversity Committee since May 2015. Born in Philadelphia to Puerto Rican parents and raised in Puerto Rico, she joined the firm in October 2010 as an associate in the New York office.
Why is diversity important to you?
Diversity in our communities is a fact of life and, if a business does not reflect this in the workplace, it will be left behind. A diverse business community not only enriches the exchange and flow of ideas, it allows members of all kinds of communities to draw upon their similarities and find new and unique ways to bridge the gaps between their differences.
What challenges have you faced as a diverse lawyer and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge I've had to overcome is the feeling that I'm a step behind my peers purely as a result of my background since, among other things, I lacked mentors with backgrounds similar to mine. Several years ago I attended a Latina Trailblazers breakfast where one of the honorees confessed she had had this exact same feeling. What she said completely changed my perspective on this particular issue. She was a young attorney who had recently been made the first Latina partner at her firm. She acknowledged that although none of her mentors looked like her or shared her background, some of her biggest champions were non-diverse attorneys and without them she would not have come as far as she had.
Why did you get involved with the Diversity Committee?
Joining the Diversity Committee seemed like a natural extension of my desire to increase and develop the diversity of the firm. Being a part of the committee has allowed me to voice the challenges and issues faced by diverse attorneys directly to the people at HHR who are best equipped to address them.
What's the best way for a law firm to increase the number of diverse attorneys?
The firm has done a fine job of recruiting diverse attorneys and now we have to work on listening to their unique needs so we can retain them as well. But if we are talking purely about increasing the number of diverse attorneys, I think committing to recruiting diverse attorneys by including our current diverse attorneys is key. When I interviewed for HHR many years ago, I met with two women of color. I can't emphasize enough how much that blew my mind, after days of interviews with numerous other firms represented by non-diverse, male attorneys. I had already set my mind on wanting to work for HHR, but meeting with the living proof of the firm's commitment to diversity further cemented my desire to work for HHR.
What are the short-term and long-term goals for the LAAG?
In the short-term, the LAAG wants to continue establishing a sense of community across all the HHR offices to allow our members to make connections and (hopefully) find new ways to mentor and be mentored. (That being said, my door is always open to anyone.) In the long-term, the group would like to see the firm continue to increase its commitment to diversity, both by recruiting and retaining diverse attorneys, but also by becoming a more active participant in the Latino legal community. We have a plan of action that is currently underway and are excited to see how it pans out!