Ipso Facto Q&A: Allegheny County Bar Association's Director of Diversity and Gender Equality Alysia Keating

Monday, 15 April 2013 11:00 AM Written by  Drew Singer

20130415 KeatingAlysia150Alysia Keating: is the first-ever Director of Diversity and Gender Equality at the Allegheny County Bar Association. Ipso Facto spoke with the Penn graduate about the state of diversity and equality in the Pittsburgh legal community and what it was like for her to ditch a successful career at Big Law to raise a family. Here are the highlights of that conversation:

Ipso Facto: You went to Penn, then Georgetown for law school, then you worked in New York and Florida. How’d you get to Pittsburgh?

Alysia Keating: I got to Pittsburgh by way of my husband and my family. He’s from Mount Lebanon, we were looking for a place to move to that had a good quality of life and good opportunities, it just seemed to make sense. We came here in 2007.

Q: How did you wind up working with the ACBA?

Keating: I got lucky. I was looking to come back into the legal profession — I practiced in ‘93, left in 2004 when I was in Florida — and I was looking to come back in. About a year and a half ago, and stumbled upon a posting for this position and I was pretty sure I didn’t want to practice law again at that point. I was looking for personal fulfillment, something I was passionate about, and I think I found it. I think the fact that I had walked the walk brought a lot of credibility to my application. I’m a female, Hispanic attorney who had practiced at firms of different sizes in different markets, from the largest firm in the world at the time to the largest Florida firm at the time I left. I had achieved a level of equity partnership, then I chose to leave the practice of law altogether to raise my family.

Q: What was it like to leave the law to raise your family?

Keating: I had two kids at home who were being raised by a nanny. I had one of those epiphanies of “What am I doing?” For all intents and purposes I was a success, but I still was not entirely happy. I had to take a step back and reevaluate what it is that I really want out of life, because life is too short. It was a difficult decision because I was choosing to leave a very comfortable lifestyle, but it was the best decision I ever made.

Q: So what’s a normal day at work like for you now?

Keating: It’s busy, I’m firing on all cylinders. The two biggest components of what I do in terms of work are coordinate the programs and offerings of the ACBA Institute for Gender Equality and coordinate the ACBA’s diversity efforts as it relates to the affinity groups of the ACBA. I run our summer clerkship program for first-year minority law students, which is right now very busy. One of the things that I’m most proud of is the summer clerkship program. From inception in 2005 through 2011, the program placed an average of 13 minority first-year law students in the city. Last year, in my first year here, we placed 20. This year, 25-28 students will be placed in first-year positions at firms or corporate legal departments or government agencies or nonprofits. That’s significant progress. What we’re doing is raising the profile of diversity inclusion and keeping it on the radar screen. It’s working, our message is being heard. The commitment of the legal community here isn’t philanthropic, they see it as a legitimate recruitment tool. I love working with diverse students because I was there at one point. Pittsburgh is a who-you-know town, so for a lot of these minority students who aren’t even from the area, they might not know anyone, so we’re connecting them to employers. Employers tell me they don’t know where to find diverse candidates, and the answer is right in their backyard.

Q: What are your goals?

Keating: Ultimately, I’d love to move the needle on these issues. I’d love to have a flourishing legal community made up of a variety of diverse perspectives both among lawyers and staff members, I’d love to see women advance to the same degree and be given the same opportunities as men. To the extent that they choose to leave the profession to raise children or otherwise, it’s not because they don’t see a path for them. But even though Pittsburgh is a completely different market than those I’ve practiced in, it faces a lot of the same challenges as far as recruitment and retention of diverse attorneys. I don’t expect change to happen overnight, but incremental change is great.

Q: If you could make one problem completely disappear, which would it be?

Keating: It would be for workplaces to be more inclusive. You don’t realize that you may not be as inclusive as you think you are. Besides “Where do I find diverse candidates?” the other question is “How do I keep women and how do I keep diverse candidates?” And my answer is the same as you do to keep any attorney: Meaningful opportunities for everyone — regardless of your race or ethnicity or gender — to advance and develop in the firm. The most frustrating thing I hear from firms is “I’m losing people.” It costs $200,000 to $500,000 to lose an associate, so that’s a large cost.

Q: Did you know that, of nearly 8,000 Pittsburgh lawyers listed on Martindale.com, you’re in the top 10 percent for profile views?

Keating: No, why would I know that? That’s interesting. Why do you think that is?

Q: I was going to ask you that.

Keating: I’ve spoken to a lot of people who’ve been in this market for a long time. There are naysayers who say we’ve dealt with diversity and gender issues for a long time. They may not be optimistic about the fact that we may not be able to change as a market or profession here in Pittsburgh, and I think I’m really challenging that and trying to raise the profile of these issues to a level that people can’t ignore. And here’s where the perspective of someone from outside of Pittsburgh comes into play: If you look at other markets that are more diverse, you understand that to be positioned in a growing global marketplace, you have to be willing to value different perspectives and invest in developing those different perspectives. I know that there’s a reason to be doing this that’s beyond “it’s the right thing to do,” and that’s not what’s driving me. I understand from a business perspective there’s a reason to be moving towards this stuff. I don’t stop talking about it, that’s what's going on, I’m raising the issue and keeping it at a constant level. I think that because I’m passionate about it, I’ll be able to sustain it. Although my job and my focus is to serve the members of the bar association and the legal community, it would be foolish to do that in a vacuum and not similarly engage these issues across the greater Pittsburgh community. Maybe some of these people in the community are looking me up.

Q: What else?

Keating: I really want the legal community here to understand what a resource I can be to them. I’m not here at the bar association, in this position, to drive diversity hiring at the bar association. I’m a resource to firms and attorneys. Some have really taken advantage of that and I would hope that more would take advantage of that. That means that I’d be firing on more cylinders than I already am, but that’s what I’m here for.

(Top image: Allegheny County Bar Association Director of Diversity and Gender Equality Alysia Keating)

Drew Singer is a third-year student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on Twitter @Drew_Singer.

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