Carlos Cajé Santos da Silva is the President of the Center for Studies of Law Firms (CESA), a long-standing partner at Machado Meyer Advogados and founder of Incluir Direito, an award-winning diversity initiative which seeks to increase the number of black individuals within Brazilian law firms. In this interview, ‘Cajé’, as he is known by all, discusses the need for greater diversity in the Brazilian legal market as well as the, short, medium and long-term goals of Incluir Direito.
Leaders League. What is the story behind the Incluir Direito project?
Carlos Cajé Santos da Silva. The project started in 2016 with Paulo Rogério Sehn, a partner of Trench Rossi Watanabe. He called me and asked if we could speak in person as, the next day, we had a meeting with the board of CESA, which gathers around 40 partners from Brazil’s main firms. Before lunch, Rogério asked me how many black individuals worked at Machado Meyer and I answered that I did not know. He then asked how many black partners we had and, upon hearing that question, I felt sort of an awakening, it was a watershed in my life. I was truly embarrassed by that question because we had no black partners at the firm. Rogério proceeded to tell me that at his firm, it was the same, and that this issue was being discussed internally.
We decided to involve CESA in the project, as it has previously played a key role in the main debates involving law firms, such as gender parity issues, and that is how the project was born. The first question I asked in that inaugural meeting was the same question Rogério asked me and the answers from partners at other firms did not differ from ours. Our surprise was confirming that less than 1% of Brazilian law firms are made up of black individuals. This number changed my view on the racial issue in Brazil.
Thus, we decided to act. The main goal of Incluir Direito is to transform. When we started this project, we knew that, above all else, it needed to be an educational program. We also needed to show black students that law firms have a great interest in hiring them and that their presence is very important. Proof is that 100% of the black students which participated in the Incluir Direito project are currently employed.
Could you tell us about the main initiatives of Incluir Direito?
To be an educational program, we knew we needed to build bridges with universities, so we started communicating with student collectives to understand all sides of the question. We quickly found out that black students were not interested in working at law firms because they did not consider them inclusive environments.
As we wanted our firms to attract these students, we started a project to prepare young black law students for our recruiting processes. Simply hiring these kids, by implanting a racial quota system or imposing their recruitment on firms, would show a lack of respect to their potential. Whilst preparing for our recruiting processes, our students have classes with HR specialists to understand the dynamics involved in a job interview, how to prepare an appropriate resume and more.
With these simple measures, we were already able to mitigate certain differences, as some of these black students are the first in their families to go to college. With this kind of preparation, they can start the application process equally or even more prepared than their competitors.
We later had a meeting with Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie to start an educational project and the university stood behind us 100%. Mackenzie developed an entire pedagogical project and we created a formal body inside the university to consolidate the initiative.
Our short-term goal is to create a fast-track postgraduate program for young black attorneys which did not have the opportunity to join a project such as Incluir Direito whilst at university. As many firms prefer hiring their own interns instead of making lateral hires, we would like to implement this new project and I am currently looking for a university to take this forward. This would allow Incluir Direito to also reach postgraduate students and help to adequately equip them for roles within law firms.
As previously mentioned, our medium-term goals are already taking place at a few partner universities. We have a few additional projects such as our partnership with non-profit association, EducAfro, which created college admission preparatory courses for black students. In this sense, more recently, we launched the Incluir Digital program, to raise funds for the acquisition of tablets, computers and notebooks for these students.
We have also spoken to Fundação Estudar, founded by Jorge Paulo Lemann, about setting up a similar initiative via CESA by starting a fund to invest in the education of black students. That is our long-term goal.
Could you tell about the main impacts of the Incluir Direito project? What kind of initiatives are taking place within Brazilian law firms?
Today, it is already understood that law firms and companies only benefit from diversity. When I am hiring a young attorney, regardless of gender or race, I keep in mind that we sell a service, that we sell knowledge, and, as such, that I must have the best minds within my practice. To attract and to keep those talents, I need to be closer to universities and for students to want to work at Machado Meyer Advogados. If I do not have an inclusive environment, they might just look for another firm, and I am not only referring to black individuals. Today, a lack of diversity could mean losing great minds and leaders.
Before the project, the young black students which took part in our recruiting process at Machado Meyer Advogados arrived as timid and defeated individuals. We need to empower these students and let them know that they belong within major law firms and that nobody is doing them any favors. When we hire an intern, we are always looking ahead and considering them as a potential future partner. This is how the main law firms grow and we need to ensure young black students understand this is also the case with them.
Changes have already been taking place within law firms. We have been promoting discussions on racial diversity, which was already a topic, but not a key issue. Now, we speak about the real-world opportunities which must be created.
Within Machado Meyer Advogados, we now see the racial issue from another perspective. We created IdeAfro, our racial diversity group, to discuss Incluir Direito’s initiatives and gather mentors for the project.
We now have 18 member firms supporting the project and without them, Incluir Direito would not exist. Not only do these firms provide financial support, but they also provide mentorship for the project’s students. We need this team spirit as we have the obligation to help these young attorneys by mentoring them and contributing to their professional development. We must bring about this transformation together.
In your opinion, what measures need to be taken to reduce racial inequality and increase the participation of black attorneys in the legal market?
One of our first challenges at Incluir Direito was facing the results of our research which showed that only 1% of law firms were made up of black attorneys. Partners were shocked and reluctant to publish these results. However, I said: “Of course we should publish them. We will publish the results and then do something about it.” That is one of the main difficulties, having an open discussion about the racial issue. Admitting the problem and not being afraid to discuss it within your law firm is one of the most important steps.
Another key problem is education. We need to change the access to basic education in Brazil and fight for something to be done. We will only be able to reduce these inequalities with high-quality basic education.
Finally, one of the greatest obstacles is our own omission. Our lack of proactivity, not only in demanding education from our politicians, but also simply doing something about it.
What kind of initiatives can we expect from Incluir Direito over the next 12 months?
At Mackenzie, we are currently expanding the project and recently received a new class of 26 students. Moreover, we began a pilot project with 15 students at Universidade de São Paulo (USP). At each university, the profile of students is different, so we must adapt our project to their realities. Due to the pandemic, unfortunately, we experienced a six-month delay in our project at PUC-Rio, but things are now getting back on track.
Next semester, we hope to at least double our students at USP and PUC-Rio. We recently began promising discussions with Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) which is great news. We had a constructive meeting with the heads of the university, to design a new project together and learn from each other as institutions.
In the near future, I hope we have a whole generation of black law students effectively included within Brazilian law firms. Today, we are already seeing the start of this cycle, with young black lawyers which participated in our first class already practicing at certain law firms.