11. Diandra “Fu” Debrosse Zimmermann, DiCello Levitt Gutzler — Becoming Partner: Establish and Maintain Your Power

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Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann‘s 15-year career has spanned four firms as managing partner or partner as recovered over $45 million for her clients. Managing partner of the Birmingham office at DiCello Levitt Gutzler and co-chair of their mass tort practice, she is ranked Top 100 by National Trial Lawyers, Top 40 under 40 by the National Trial Lawyers, and numerous other accolades.

Today, we discuss only accepting the offer you want and how to have the uncomfortable conversations that tackle pay inequity. We also explore how to enter the courtroom with authority and recapture it when that power has been taken away.

What’s in This Episode?

  • Who is Diandra “Fu” Debrosse Zimmermann?
  • How did she secure her first partnership?
  • Why does she see the role of partner as a choice?
  • How to have a productive conversation about leading a case.
  • How can woman lawyers take back the power that is lost in the courtroom?
  • What actions are being taken in the legal industry to help rectify pay inequity across genders?

Transcript

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

You just have to decide to be comfortable with your own power and understand that a lot of people won’t like it and they don’t even understand a lot of the psychological reasons that it makes them uncomfortable.

Sonya Palmer

Follow your intuition, learn everything you can do not ask for permission and move forward. Even if that means going alone.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

I had decided at that point that no matter the reputation in size and in, in grandioseness of the firm, that I would not go somewhere. If I was not a partner, I felt that would have been dangerous for me professionally, I felt that it would have been perceived as a setback. And so in my communications with firms, I never left that as a choice.

Sonya Palmer

According to a recent survey, only 19% of managing partners in US law firms are female. We would like to see that change. Hello and welcome to LawHer the show where we celebrate the trailblazing attorneys and entrepreneurs who are changing the game for women in the legal field. Be inspired by their stories, learn from their mistakes and look forward to the future they’re helping build for the next generation of women in law. I am Sonya Palmer, your host and VP of operations at Rankings. The SEO agency of choice for elite law firms. This is LawHer. Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann is the managing partner of the Birmingham office at DiCello Levitt Gutzler and co-chair of their mass tort practice. Everyone calls Diandra Fu and her 15 year career has spanned four firms as managing partner or partner as recovered over $45 million for her clients. Today Fu shares by becoming a partner is a choice. We discuss how women can enter space as powerfully and exercise control to maintain autonomy. We also dive into pay inequity in the legal industry and what can be done to help close those gaps. Let’s dive in.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

I always really wanted to be a part of change, I think a part of social change and didn’t really understand how much of the law worked, but I knew that I was going to law school to try to represent people in challenging situations. You know, sometimes youre so young, I didn’t really understand what that meant. And a lot of my colleagues in law school were there for really different reasons. They want it to be corporate lawyers or defense lawyers. And my orientation was a little different.

Sonya Palmer

Can you share some of your experience? Why did you select Case and what excited you specifically about that program?

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

Sure. I wanted to get out of New York city.

Sonya Palmer

Oh, interesting. Most people want to go to New York city.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

I miss my home and it helped to return one day, but it looked at some law schools there got into one and learned about Case Western. Just fascinated about programs around the country and was pretty open and case made me a great deal. It’s a great institution. It’s a great law school. And I was ready for some adventure, which kind of tracks my whole life. I wish I could say I have these fancy grandiose plans. A lot of lawyers say, half of it is I follow my instincts always have still do. And it was a really wonderful. Experience great institution. I have friends for life from there learned a lot clerked at some great firms and I really have nothing but great things to say about my time at Case Western School of Law.

Sonya Palmer

Did you have any mentors or anyone that made an impact?

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

In law school, not really in terms of that’s untrue. There was, and he passed recently a lawyer named Hilary Taylor who worked at, he was a partner at what was then Western Heard Fallon Paisley and Howelly, and I clerked there throughout, I think my second and third year, and both of my summers. I was a law clerk there and he adopted me. It was my first exposure to a trial. He really guide me in terms of legal arguments and legal writing. He introduced me to members of the Cleveland legal community wonderful wife Pepper Taylor. And, he just took me under his wing, interestingly enough what was Western Heard Fallon Paisley and Howelly they’re still in existence, but under a new name was a defense firm. And so my training was at that defense firm and I care deeply about Hillary and all of the training and support and mentorship that he gave me, but knew that was not what I wanted to do as a lawyer.

Sonya Palmer

So any women who are currently in law school, is there any, anything you’d like to say that youd like to say to them?.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

A whole lot of things

Sonya Palmer

Let’s go. Let’s hear it.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

For me and I can, being a woman is key to who I am as a person. The work that I believe in and what I believe is the widespread marginalization of women across the world. And so I think women need to get really seated in that power. And not feel like to be a successful law student or a success, a successful lawyer, you have to divorce yourself from being a woman. And I think for a lot of the women who broke those doors down 20, 30 years ago in defense and plaintiff firms across the country their reality was very different. You know you, a lot of men’s type suits and you didn’t talk about raising your kids and you were petrified that you would be categorized. And I challenged women to really reject that. And to understand that your experience is really powerful. To understand that sexism is real. I talk about this in terms of the practice and how many women are made into what I call service partners are service lawyers where they’re doing a lot of the back room, writing the organization, the client interaction, but never have control over decisions. Case origination the financial side of the practice that drives so much. And so I want female law students to be vigilant of not stepping into those traditional explicit and implicit roles. Are you raising your hand in class? Are you being aggressive? Are you asserting yourself? When you have a law clerkship, and I think people often mistake asserting yourself with being aggressive or loud now, no, your voice matters and speak up. And as we all know, there’s a lot of social science research about. Women not speaking up women, not leaning forward women, not advertising and selling themselves. And that is a big part of being, at least on my side of the V a plaintiff’s lawyer is letting your clients and the world and co-counsel know what you do. And I think that skill set really needs to be pushed in law school. And I also think has like traditional stereotypes about who we are. We often don’t support each other in the practice by referring cases, but in law school and we have a shared gender experience that for most of us has led to certain types of discrimination, but it also can lead to a lot of empowerment. And I really encourage women in law school to become friends, those will be your opposing counsel, your referring counsel, your best friends. If you choose to have a family, which is not specific to women, but many of us do, and the numbers show that many of us are often responsible for those households. Even as we practice law, you’re going to need to call your home girl.

Sonya Palmer

Yes.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

Hey, how do you this? Because this is a bit crazy every single day. And I, I say this as a, plaintiff’s trial lawyer who has two children.. I have a 14 year old, seven year old. Those foundations and that love of self and that pride in your gender experience that Alliance to other women and that is part of a process that will continue throughout your practice that will be most necessary in fighting like real battles that you will face as a woman in this profession. Even, I hate saying these things because I’m like it’s 20 22. Why are we having this discussion? But very real and is consistently a part of my life as a lawyer. Despite my accomplishments and many women I know who are much more senior and more accomplished than I am, it’s continued to be a challenge to fight those explicit and implicit stereotypes about what we can do and who we can be as women lawyers.

Sonya Palmer

Very few women are partners in law firms. You have been a partner or principal at four firms for the better part of 25 years.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

Had it headed to 20 don’t put any more years.

Sonya Palmer

Very it’s very impressive. can you walk us through how you’ve got that first partnership?

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

Sure. I, and one thing I want to say to all the women lawyers is sometimes we recreate history to make ourselves fancier and to not do that because when you don’t do that, You help everyone know that we all have imposter syndrome. We all worry that we’re not good enough and smart enough and fast enough to be in the room. And that is actually sometimes a barrier to being a partner. Some of the studies about how women respond, what did you do? I just . Work hard every day, and sometimes a man will be like, I did.

Sonya Palmer

Oh, yeah, rattlerattle it off.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

How you present yourself, how you envision yourself, what you demand will be a part specifically in this profession of how people respond to you. So I was very young, my first partnership involved, a gentleman named ed general. Who’s a well-known special master. And he actually introduced me to the world of complex litigation and I knew. That both because I’m a woman and a person of color that there would be all kinds of assumptions about how intelligent I was, what kind of work I could do, et cetera, et cetera. So I had a checklist, I needed to be substantively strong. I needed to have experience in cases I needed to have courtroom experience. And then I also realized that the business part of. this .The ability to generate cases and generate business and relationships. In some ways is the most valuable and most protective piece of being a lawyer. Because then I had some control. If I had to go somewhere else or start my own shop, I had some control over the process instead of hoping that somebody would recognize my eagerness or my intelligence or my work product, because I think anytime you’re in a position where your future depends on the recognition by others, you ain’t in a good spot. So I started obsessive really trying to learn things because you’re so lost as a young lawyer, all of us. And I had a mentor I’m still to this day, who’s practiced over 50 years as a trial lawyer, Greg Cusumano and I’d call Greg what is this? And I would force my way into rooms and conversations where I knew other people thought I didn’t belong and maybe substantively I didn’t belong because I wanted to learn. And I want it to be at that table one day. And I tell people it is as much an intellectual exercise as it is an emotional exercise. The realization that you’re going to be wrong, you’re going to fail. You’re not going to know something. You may not attain your objective, but you just wake up every day and do everything you can. And so I think it was a combination of that as well as ed, who was a very great first partner and mentor to me who said, I think Fu has enough kind of incur to be a partner and brings a lot of value. So I think to be just totally objective, it was two parts. I was trying to figure out how to get there. And how to be a strong lawyer. And I also had the luck and benefit and so much to life is luck. Of having a senior partner at that time who felt that I could fill that role. And so I was there for almost eight years and Realize, and this is another thing I think, to move forward in your career sometimes, this is not, yeah, this is not my expert testifying you just in your gut. You’re like, it’s time to move. It’s that’s a curious thing about being a human. Sometimes we feel things that we haven’t intellectually really developed yet. And so I was seeing these prominent lawyers in PCB case and other cases of widespread impact contamination cases and drug cases lead these national cases and lead efforts at justice, right? You can’t, someone’s child dies money, doesn’t bring them back, but there’s accountability. And I think. May I want to be a part of that. I have something to say, I have a different cultural experience. I have a different way of communicating and living and I felt strongly and still do that. That different voice would mean something. And I decided it was time to move on. And I started my own firm with two other gentlemen. We had an agreement did that for a couple of years and ended up representing many cities and counties and opiates. And that’s a perfect example. I approached the firm by myself and said, look, I think these cases have merit. Would you work with. We don’t think it has merit and they just dismissed me, and it became, a Seminole representation in what I do now. And it was just sometimes the courage to look stupid and just follow your instinct and your experience. And we had great cases there cases I believe of real import got another leadership position that hit MDL there. Made other plays for leadership. They’re pretty much fun myself, and that was important. And I think it’s important for women. Sometimes you got to do it, you’re on your own. So other people don’t say, take a seat. You did that because I helped you. Or you did that because I put you on your case. So part of my process was being able to say that I had been able to do this, in some ways on a shoestring budget in the context of how expensive these cases are. And I was still able to have some modicum of success and continue with these cases. And then that ran its course, and that again is I think the emotional discipline of progress both in society and for the individual that sometimes you got to do something else and it is scary as hell. And at that time I had my second child, so I had a baby

Sonya Palmer

babies in the meantime. Yeah.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

And it was, I knew it was the time for a lot of reasons. It was a very difficult hurtful decision, for me being a lawyer is very personal. I think it’s a privilege. It’s when I take seriously, so that movement, so then I was approached by a few other firms. And it’s funny, the question you asked about being a partner. I had decided at that point that no matter the reputation in size and in, in grandioseness of the firm, that I would not go somewhere. If I was not a partner, I felt that would have been dangerous for me professionally, I felt that it would have been perceived as a setback. And so in my communications with firms, I never left that as a choice. My questions, which I think is very important for women and young women lawyers is, do not ask for permission. So all of my conversations were as a partner, as the principal, as an originator. What’s my role? What are you asking me to do? And that was a two-part conversation because I had very specific things that I needed and wanted at that time. As I thought about, what my career could be. I was at Grant and Eisenhower for almost two years. And it had somewhat left a lot of mass tort practice and was doing public entity work because the cases that were dismissed in the firm that dismissed me, those representations of those cities and counties made people stand up and say, most people who represent cities and counties don’t look like Fu how she do that? And that became really critical in in, in Grant Eiznhoppers and other firms being interested in having me as a partner. And I was able to do, I think, good work there for almost two years and work with some really great folks. And then it happened again, and it happened like many of us in the great pandemic I was walking around my neighborhood trying to keep safe. Cause I was working from home with my children who were in school via zoom and started thinking about my age. And what if I was going to work as a lawyer, which is very taxing what did I want to do every day? And what did I want it to mean? And that got me to a place where I realize I, I missed mass tort work. And there are core things that unify my practice, but I knew I wasn’t necessarily in the types of cases and in the role that I wanted to be. And so at that point, I made a decision to move on spoke to a few shops again, never left room for affirm to say, oh, come as an Of Council or come as a lawyer and we’ll talk about it because it was my decision that I was prepared for whatever repercussions came, even if it’s, I didn’t find the place I wanted that I would, I would begin the dialogue on a certain footing. And sometimes I think female lawyers are like, I’m just trying to get my foot in the door at some point. No, you’re not, if you got 10 years, We’re not putting our foot in the door anymore. You need to take the door off the hinges and keep moving. And I spoke with, mostly two of the partners at the cello. It got slurred. Now my, my very close friends, yeah, two men, I love deeply who are, I’m really lucky, Adam Levitt and Mark DiCello and they were telling me you need to come with us. And a lot of my questions, believe it or not. Was it about the active men or the verdicts or the settlements? Because at some level, these firms are all juggernauts. It was about my role in my relationship with them. It was about the women in leadership who, my partner, Amy Keller, oh my God. I just love her so much. And she was one of the main reasons I went to DLG and it was about and I remember one of our conversations, I said, Will you treat me and respect me as if I’m a white man, like you, will I be your woman of color partner or will I be your partner? And that was to be quite candid with you, at least 30% of what we talked about. Very candidly, very openly, very painfully about some of my experiences, how I had no intent to relive them. And how I envisioned the practice to be. And they were very open. Amy shared her own experiences and she’s had tremendous success. She’s a tremendous person. When you talk about partnerships with women I have such a reverence and love for her. And ultimately I felt like they were sincere and it’s, I’m headed to a year and it’s been the best professional experience of my life. Nothing comes close to him.

Sonya Palmer

Setting obtainable milestones is an essential element of any successful career. But when we shift the mentality around the milestone from a goal to that of a choice, we can set boundaries around what positions we are willing to accept and even the quality of conversation we are willing to entertain.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

And I think it’s an emotional thing. I think we’ve all had so many doors shut in your face that you start to think it’s you. And you know what I grew up with difficult immigrant parents. Everything was my fault. I’m very self-reflective and I’m a Catholic, so I got guilt. But you also have to have the emotional strength to say, okay, I’m checking these boxes and I’m qualified. And what holds people back is the fear that somebody will say, no, you’re not you know what? Go on to the next person. Cause someone’s going to respect and value and this is gonna sound sexist. For, in my life experience, women’s work ethic. It’s like crazy. Most women lawyers I know are like, kids in the bag or have kids, they’re caring for their parents and they’re writing in somebody’s brief and right in somebody’s, CLE presentation we often don’t feel worthy enough to say, and I just was like, you know what? They might say, girl, you crazy as hell. We’re not going to do it. But then I realized I didn’t want to be in that place anyway. So I wasn’t really losing anything.

Sonya Palmer

Yep. Yeah. That was another thing that you touched on that I thought was really remarkable. And that’s not the way that we see ourselves will influence the way that other people see us. So, if you see your, even though you are worthy and you are valued and you do belong there, seeing yourself as that will, it’s not going to change somebody’s mind, but it will influence them. And I think that’s super important, a lot, like lie to yourself. If you’re not feeling it, you just, you hype yourself up, like I, this is who I am, i, love that.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

I think you fake it till you make it. And the thing I’ve seen so many men do it. And I think, this is a really hard thing for women in so many realms, aside from just the professional realm is, all people could say is No. And, all of my girlfriends in law school, they were the ones up until two in the morning and they’re trying to get it right. And And I also think we’re very much scared of our own power and probably goes beyond being a lawyer. But, like I said, I’m a Catholic, but I just think our culture is in our religious framework, places, women in a space where to be powerful is really not liked let’s be clear. What, whatever people’s issues are with Hillary Clinton. When she came out the gate, that was so negative. And even in my career, I was telling a joke to my partner. I’m like, they’re like here comes through the devil and this sense of a good woman. This is 2022, but so many people feel this way. A good woman does this. She’s not brash. She is not aggressive. And I think we battle that ridiculous dichotomy. We are as complex as any man and more complexity but we when the moment arises for the benefit of our clients. Having boobs should not prevent me from being aggressive because I need to be aggressive. So I think, sometimes I see seminars about women finding their power and it’s like binary and I think it’s much more involved than that because of our traditions that govern. What’s a good person and what your role is supposed to be in life. And as a lawyer, and a lot of that shattering comes from internally. Like it’s all the one on lawyers. If you want to go get it, you know what I’m saying? You want to be the biggest damn probate lawyer in Michigan, and you want to get on a billboard, get on the damn billboard. You want to lead a national litigation. Its gonna be be a fight but you can do it. You just have to decide to be comfortable with your own power and understand that a lot of people won’t like it and they don’t even understand a lot of the psychological reasons that it makes them uncomfortable.

Sonya Palmer

I think again, you touched on that where we’re talking about, trying to. Trying to steer a very large ship in a better direction. These are huge conversations with like massive impact and consequences. And sometimes it’s not like the courage to change the world or change the firm or change the industry. It’s the courage to have a conversation..

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

Yeah.

Sonya Palmer

You go into that room. You’re going to talk to these dudes, sorry, dudes, and be like, Hey, this is where we’re at. And that’s a very scary conversation, but you’re either walking away with a good result or you’re told no. And you move on it’s the courage to have that first conversation that I think that it’s the first step for a lot of us.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

Yeah.

Sonya Palmer

I’ve talked about, I think Alison Williams, he was just a guest. We were talking about this, about how attorneys are masculine and then what does masculine mean? Because things like is aggressive, really masculine is that fair? And I have found. a good woman is quiet and she’s allowed to be strong and she’s allowed to win, but she must be quiet.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

You have one life and I think that. These limitations have made the lives of women, smaller foot argue, manifests, manifesting yourself as a full person. And to your point is I’ve had that the man, I love the masculine comment cause I’ve had so many men. That’s perfect. You’re just like a guy, in a woman’s body.

Sonya Palmer

Yes.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

Part of that’s being a woman and and getting comfortable with that, not stepping inside of yourself. And I think what’s hard because as human beings, we respond to how people respond to us. So I think when we’re younger, if we are aggressive and we’re talking a lot, oh my God, she’s so bossy. Oh my God. Sonya is her damn hands up. And she’s talking again. I battled this in my own. Like my little one is oh my God her name is. And she is like in per, she argued me down this morning about something in the back. And of course I get frustrated because I’m human, but I’m very careful about not criticizing that kind of exuberance and strong communication style because a lot of that comes out of boys are boisterous and girls are quaint sweet. And my 14 year old is much quieter person, but very dominant. And so I’m very conscious of protecting their identity and not limiting them in terms of that. And I think for women lawyers, it’s hard because still the predominant number of firms live in this really traditional space. And what you said, it’s that first discussion. But even how you frame that first discussion is breaking out of kind of the dichotomist approach to everything you either go in there yo, give me this job. Or you’re meek. There is a lot of great area and I encourage women go talk to your girlfriends and say, Hey. If I say this what’s going to happen. Have you dealt with this kind of firm? Have you dealt with this lawyer? I would say a lot of the most difficult conversations in my career have believed this not have been in consultation. They have not been like a movie where I’m like, okay, I want this. No, I called women I trust one of my best friends is not even in this business, but she’s a security expert. She actually has a contract with JFK and Delta. She’s amazing. and I’ll call her and say, Hey I’m about to do this. Why would you say that? And in a lot of this wisdom is not my wisdom and I’m not going to claim the wisdom. It’s so many women who’ve been like. Don’t ask for permission, change your language, and change. I had an older woman, who’s still a mentor of mine, change how you walk in a room. That’s a big thing. I, I said to a woman, lawyer who was always attached to her partner, he would always begin the discussion and he would say to her such and such. Isn’t that right? And I said, stop that, it’s your freaking case, you know everything about the case. And you might have to over a drink because he’s your friend and he does care about you. You care about each other, say, listen, this is going to be a difficult conversation. When you step in front of me in a case where I lead you, not only devalued me, you devalue my contribution to the firm. You weakened me in the eyes of the world and that weakens the firmm. Instead of building all of us, right? So you don’t have a woman partner who’s quiet. You have a battleax partner that makes the firm stronger. And that’s just practical advice. Any conversation I would reach out to people you respect and say, here’s where I’m trying to go. Here’s my challenges. Here’s this person’s disposition. Let’s round table this and talk about how I can enter the space and for women this cause how hostile, how I can control the space because often we’re not in control.

Sonya Palmer

There’s something to be said about like women who are powerful and who try to be more powerful, that sometimes it’s less about exercising control over others. And then just making sure that they can’t exercise control over you. And those are like, it’s well, it’s the same. It’s the same thing. You’re get, you’re taking power. They mean two very different things.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

I agree. And I think that was a third piece. I think it’s controlling the space, right? So I think, in a deposition, for instance, you walk in the room. I have a good friend, who’s a defense lawyer. And three weeks ago, somebody asked her she’s the court reporter so here’s the crazy thing in that situation. You’ve lost power in the eyes of people who know you’re not a court reporter. You’re seen as small in the room with the court reporter, would it shouldn’t be seen as small cause everybody works, but that’s the reality of our hostile business and the defense lawyer on the other side now had the plaintiff’s lawyer because she’s a defense lawyer now has control. And so that is a hard situation to not be super hostile, but to grab control of the space. And I think a lot of control in this space is like the energy you project into the space, which I think is learning how to control your energy and control what you project. I could be extraordinarily animated. I love to tell jokes, but actually right before I head into a serious hearing or into a courtroom, I actually ramp down. That sounds crazy. But I might meditate that morning. I might say a prayer that morning. I actually might try to go to vicram from the night before, because I need to. In many ways, contain myself to deliver the argument in the way given whatever the forum is. And then in that situation, for instance, it becomes about checking the defense lawyer said something snarky, and then you got to make a decision. How do I take that power back from them? And then to your point, your energy is deflated because you’re like and my girlfriend’s been a lawyer for over two decades.

Sonya Palmer

Okay.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

And so you feel embarrassed, humiliated, marginalize you. If you don’t get flushed because of your melanin, you feel flushed inside. And so now you got out, and for me, these are really. Practical things to practice. You’ve got to figure out what place you’re going to go to emotionally to gain. As I love to say to all my partners, everybody got to put their big girl panties on and put your big girl panties on in that moment and just pull yourself back. Because as you would spend the rest of the deposition, the rest of the hearing loss in feeling bad, and that energy just feeds itself.

Sonya Palmer

Yes. Yes. this year, equal pay day or the date that symbolizes how far into the year, the average woman must work to earn what a typical man earned in the previous year. It’s Tuesday, March 15th for Asian women. The day is May 3rd, black women, September 21st native women, November 30th and Latinas, December 8th, the legal industry is not immune to the wage gap.. What actions are you seeing in the legal industry to help rectify this inequity?

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

Not enough is my root answer. Honestly, in the legal industry, the legal realm, something people don’t like, I see litigation I’ve never seen in my career for decades. Especially in this profession and it still happens. You’d be blackballed. You are suing some of the country’s biggest firms for discrimination and pay. And often that comes with hiring promotion opportunities, et cetera, et cetera. So I think it’s a big deal for our profession, that lawyers are suing lawyers and saying, we have to be held to the same standard. That’s number one, number two, I think it’s also a time issue. This, this decade has women who’ve been in the mix for three, four decades that didn’t exist three, four decades ago. So I think those women are, real lights to other women as they ascend the ranks that you can demand pay. I think the third piece is what we’re doing like today right now is empowering women to talk about money to talk about control of money, which part of that is that implicit piece, a good woman doesn’t demand money. When it’s so funny in the context of women being called gold diggers, and

Sonya Palmer

Oh, yeah,

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

The gold Digger or you’re I had a situation with a firm and they said there’s never enough money for Fu. Coming from plaintiff lawyers that hurts folks.

Sonya Palmer

true.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

I don’t have a plane. So I think part of the legal profession is for me, the most powerful thing is when the people who are targeted are the ones leading the fight it’s a community of color or women. And I think we have allies, obviously my partners are my close personal friends and they’re my allies, but they’re white males and they see it and they support my efforts, but they have not lived it. So I think to have lawyers, women lawyers, who’ve lived it where Come over here. And let me tell you how you negotiate money. Let me explain to you the landscape. Let me explain to you how you originate cases. And that doesn’t mean that we break through all of the real challenges of the pay gap. So I think that’s another way those in the profession are fighting back. Something really curious about the pay gap as it relates to women as well. And women of color is so much of it begins in how you come in. So if it’s, while the split on law schools is half and half. If men are mostly going into those plaintiffs position, I it’s still a lot of plaintiff firms are predominantly men coming in, right? So they’re starting earlier. They’re getting contingent fees earlier. They’re getting relationships earlier. They’re learning how to develop business earlier. They’re going to be ahead in terms of pay. And so I think another piece of that is I’ve seen some efforts to talk about a pipeline, to get, passionate young ladies in high school and college and law school, ready to explain to them, get in the door, get in the firms. Ben Cropp and I started an organization, Shades A Mass to help people of color get in the door. And that’s the same concept. Let’s explain to you how to get in on ground zero, because in reality, both from an illegal damages perspective in real life, you don’t, you never catch up. You never catch up if you’ve been behind at the beginning. And so we want to get folks there early. So I think. A lot of the world’s waking up. I think a lot of women are leading this effort. I think we’re getting more educated about how we negotiate and ourselves. I think we’re being more honest about the emotional and cultural and religious reasons that we operate, the way we operate and put ceilings on our own heads, in addition to the ceilings that exist. So with mine, my we’re starting. We’re starting the process. And often when I speak, I have senior women who like was actually with a former partner, a woman in her late fifties, brilliant woman, and is no longer in the industry. And I said something about service partners, and she almost jumped out of her seat. Which is nothing wrong with that. If your passion is the HR of your firm, but that needs to be a choice. And that does not need to be a guided path. For women it needs to be, you can be, on, on finance committee, hiring committee or your firm, you could be one of the main originators of case cases, or you could be that partner that deals with HR, but it should not be that women are seen as the support of a firm versus the visionaries and creators of cases and financial opportunities for the firm. So I don’t think we’re there on that. But I think there are a lot of programs in the law firms. Some superficial, some not women driving policy, women publishing about these issues, women talking about these issues and podcasts like this, it all helps, move that ball forward.

Sonya Palmer

In your 2016 article, you said it’s on us to vindicate women’s rights. You wrote the equity cannot simply be declared. It must be lived and that we can not protect anyone without protecting everyone. Six years later, what are the issues you’re most passionate about now?

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

The same. I am definitely not where I want to be, and I’m not where so many of the women I respect and love are., but at every stage of my career, I am pulling someone with me. And I know some people feel like that’s not my job. There are other people who feel like I’ve been through hell and this is the price of entrance. I for me, that’s a moral problem. So for me, the moral imperative is if I’m moving up, I’m taking someone with me. When I went to DiChello , Levitt, I said, I’m coming to enhance the diversity efforts that were already, a a foot.. I’m going to come with lawyers and we’re going to expand the I E and I also come with my vendors. I have a good friend of mine. Who’s a vendor and she’s a woman, and I’m also coming with referring resources who are women and people of color. It, if you are not a member of a group, you can empathize with that group and believe, and be an ally and support that group. But for me, quite rudely, it’s a matter of self-preservation. If you don’t care for, folks who look like you and operate like you, and you’re not willing to do the work, it’s odd to expect somebody else to do the work. It’s not a very popular thing to say. As a woman, there are days that you’re going to have to be prepared to jeopardize your position, the case, or with your partners and say, look, that was dead wrong. Often people don’t even see it. You marginalize that associate. Okay. Why are you giving him 10 cases for her two cases? Or why do you think she’s not trial lawyer material or it sucks to have to always open your mouth. But it’s on us. And it’s on us to do it in many different ways. I think sometimes it’s the affirmative go get the lawyers, train the lawyers. I think it’s speaking to women lawyers. And for me, honesty is everything. I do not try to rewrite my history. Like it’s some amazing thing I’ve planned. It isnt. And I think it’s liberating to other women to say, I’m, I was where you are, or I am where you are. And let me tell you about some of the life experiences and professional experiences that hit me hard in that process, because that empowers them. I also think you have to be willing to face off against your own partners and your own employees and say, this is not who we We don’t call women bees. We don’t to mean women. We don’t feel differently about a partner. Who’s a woman and aggressive and a man who’s a partner who’s aggressive. And we all have these limitations and prejudices, but I think it’s our obligation to call each other out on it and to hold everybody accountable for it. Yeah, six years later, I’m in the same place.

Sonya Palmer

To acknowledge inequity is just the first step. To make it a measurable impact, action needs to be taken. That can look like employing people from disadvantaged groups or bringing someone with you as you climb the ladder. Or as Fu describes, it can be as simple as the daily actions we make.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

And I have to not worry about the law. I think, yeah. I told my kids for me, goodness, whatever that means that I think is a minute to minute decision is active and so if someone’s a good person, what does that mean? the weird thing about the human condition is every second of every day, we’re charged with making a decision. Am I gonna help this person? Am I going to walk by this person? Oh my God, that sucked. Am I going to say something? And so for me, the and I want to be careful because I think we’re human and people have to live their lives and they have to make money. But, bad things don’t happen unless we participate. And I think the way we participate when you are not the bad actor is by participating by not standing up.. And you can’t stand up about everything all day. I obsessed. I’ve been like totally obsessed about the Ukraine. I have any sub watching the news because it can eat you alive, in, in your space, what can I do? We talked about diversity and the firms fighting and doing a great job. And this firm this office has been open, a year. We have two Mexican nationals who work here, amazing woman, a paralegal, legal assistant of a woman, Alison Griffith, who works here. We have a law clerk that identifies as gay. We have a black man who came on board, we’re waiting for his bar results. I got something to tell people. It really wasn’t that hard. It’s not, I don’t sacrifice quality or accumen too hire you’re someone who’s black, someone who’s Mexican, a woman or women. So much of it is you gotta make a decision with whatever power you have, right. If it’s to support a program, if it’s to hire people, if it’s select co-counsel, if it’s to highlight a referring farm that you’re going to do that for another woman.,

Sonya Palmer

You have returned over 40 million for your clients and one landmark, eight figure cases. Are there any specific cases that stand out to you that you’re particularly proud of?

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

This is sound very bizarre. Probably the case I’m proudest of that I’ve pursued. I’ve lost recently on motion for summary judgment. And that involves the estate of a little girl named McKenzie Adams, who was nine when she took her life. She was a student at Dimopoulos city schools. She was called, but N word and was targeted by another child. And I don’t blame that child, but we alleged in that case that the school was on actual notice and they failed to take action. And she went to her grandmother’s house and took her life. And the other cases have great meaning, Represented many people. Who’ve lost family members and children, and who’ve been exposed and poisoned, but it’s important for me to speak about her case in the public sphere, because I think the blanket immunity for government actors has big deal. I think it’s important for a little black child in rural Alabama, for me to always assert that for life mattered, that what happened was wrong. That I believe was illegal. A federal judge has disagreed with us on that in summary judgment was granted against that family in that case. And we have some decisions to make and they have some decisions to make. I think I’m proudest of that because that was not an easy case to bring. It was not an easy case to litigate. But I think that. So much of life is luck. You and I are sitting here, maybe our upbringing, our family, our education. And we have an obligation to shine a light on people who haven’t been as lucky and have gone through a lot. And we’re in a challenging, legal climate. As many cases, we can’t bring many cases. We can’t win where there is legitimate wrongdoing. So I’m most tortured by that case, but proudest that we were able to represent that family and we’re going to keep fighting for them. Anytime.

Sonya Palmer

Thank you. You are a wealth of knowledge. Is there anything else you would like to share

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

No I appreciate being on here and love working with women. Love being friends with women, love being a woman,

Sonya Palmer

Yes, I whole heartedly agree.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

So I’ll be watching more podcasts and I’m around for whoever wants to talk about more ways to encourage, women in this profession. Cause I, and the one thing I will say I’ve noticed as I get older in the business is a lot of women leave. Because of a lot of the challenges and I wish there was a way for us to, and talk about that specifically and the top issues that lead to women exiting stage left and trying to stem that loss, because I think it’s a tremendous loss for the profession.

Sonya Palmer

. Fu is a fierce competitor and anyone would be lucky to have her in their corner. I wanted to know what she does to care for herself.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

Oh, wow. Oh, my God, that would be an F minus. So I used to be like a F minus. I used to be a pretty avid yoga practitioner. I was actually about 60% through a vicram certification when I started at DLT and then everything went off the rails. So I went back to vicram I think last Saturday, after six months. My self care commitment is to try to return to yoga. It’s pathetic.

Sonya Palmer

No, not at all.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

Cause I just don’t do a lot of it, but that’s that’s a problem. I acknowledge that, but I’m working on it.

Sonya Palmer

Yeah. You mentioned the meditation, so

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann

Yeah, I do try to pause during the day and collect myself because we all get so overwhelmed and frazzled. So I did meditate some. And I’ll tell you before the great pandemic I used to take an annual girls’ trip all my best friends, and we’ve been to Montreal together all over the world. And I re I realized how integral that was to my mental health. And I didn’t realize that until the pandemic. So I’m hopeful that, whatever new strains of COVID or are not so extreme that we’re shut down again. And I’m going to return to my annual women’s trip.

Sonya Palmer

It is imperative for women to stand up for ourselves and for each other. Sometimes to even our colleagues and partners, these conversations can be hard and often uncomfortable, but nothing ever got better through silence and as Fu mentioned, why would others stand with us if we won’t stand for us? On your way to the top, bring someone with you, take up space, establish your physical presence in and out of the courtroom. Through a fierce community of advocates together, we can be the change. A huge thank you to Deondra for sharing her story and unbelievable insights with us today. You have been listening to LawHer with me, Sonya Palmer. If you found this content insightful, inspiring, or it just made you smile, please share this episode with the trail blazer in your life. For more about Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann please check out our show notes and while you’re there, please leave us a review or a five star rating. It really goes a long way to help others discover the show. And I will see you next week on LawHer where we’ll shed light on how another of the brightest and boldest women in the legal industry climbed to the top of her field.

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