A grassroots approach to diversity

By Adam Stone

It’s easy to feel helpless when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. Big systemic changes are needed, institutional shifts that are outside most people’s job descriptions. Imoh Akpan, J.D. ’06, comes at it from another perspective. 

“I take a grassroots approach to diversity,” he says. “It’s about being involved in volunteerism, being a mentor, being available to go to lunch. There’s a lot I can do as an individual to help diversify the legal profession.” 

A partner in the Baltimore office of Goldberg Segalla, Akpan brings to bear this personal approach on a number of different fronts. He’s co-chair of the Diversity Committee of the Federation of Defense & Corporate Counsel, as well as a member of the Diversity Steering/Planning Committee of the Defense Research Institute. And he’s an active member of his firm’s diversity task force. 

Akbar has also been active with the law school’s Fannie Angelos Program for Academic Excellence, which prepares students from Maryland’s historically Black colleges for admission to law school and helps them to excel and thrive throughout their legal careers. 

“Imoh has been a real champion of DEI, not only in academic circles with his leadership of the Fannie Angelos Program annual gala, but also in the legal profession, with his efforts to diversify law firms by improving their hiring and promotion practices,” says UBalt Law Professor Mike Higginbotham. 

Akpan’s dad was a lawyer, as was his older sister. “I saw some of the struggles she faced as a Black woman trying to rise up in larger law firms,” he says. As he thought about how people might overcome similar challenges he evolved his grassroots approach to DEI, largely from his own personal experience. 

A mentor who is now a partner at D.C. law firm Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell “made himself available to me on an individual basis. He kind of gave me very direct, targeted advice that applied to me. I could bounce ideas off of him,” Akpan says. That individual attention “helped me so much just by giving me context, perspective.” 

Now he brings the same philosophy to his own DEI efforts. “I want to highlight the importance of those personal, individual interactions, particularly in building and promoting the network of diverse attorneys,” he says. “Having a connection with someone who has already done it before, getting advice from someone who has faced those challenges before. That can be invaluable.” 

With his professional work and extensive efforts around diversity, not to mention a wife and two children, he’s got a pretty full plate. How to keep it all in balance? He says the key ingredient is passion. 

“You can say it’s a scheduling thing, but to me it’s really an effort-and-energy thing,” Akpan says. “I like the job that I do. I obviously love my family. And the work that I do on diversity is important to me.  

“If you like what you’re doing, it doesn’t actually seem as hard. You can find time for all of this, if what you’re doing is meaningful to you.” 

Adam Stone is a writer based in Annapolis.

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