Attorney spearheads firm's diversity, inclusion efforts

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Felicia Thomas, the new director of diversity and inclusion at Bodman, is excited to lead the firm-wide efforts.

“Being the first law firm in Michigan to commit to having a dedicated, full time professional focused on diversity and inclusion is definitely noteworthy, but more importantly, it demonstrates a sincere commitment to fostering a culture where everyone here knows they’re valued for the professional skills they contribute and for who they are as a person,” she says.

“In my view, diversity involves opening the door and offering someone a seat at the table but that’s not enough. The next step—inclusion—in my opinion, is harder and where many organizations stop or fall short.
Inclusion requires the extra step of inviting the person at the table to share their perspectives and affirming you heard them. This affirmation creates a sense that their voice is valued and that they belong at that table.” 

An active member of the State Bar of Michigan’s Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Committee, and Character & Fitness District H Committee, Thomas will be based in Bodman’s Detroit headquarters and will also spend time in the Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Cheboygan, and Troy offices. 

Serendipity—and a canceled undergrad major—played a huge role in Thomas’s choice of career. She initially planned to study journalism at the University of Michigan, but the school of journalism closed in her freshman year. Earning her bachelor’s degree in English and African-American studies, during her junior year Thomas took “Law, Race and the Historical Process,” taught by an attorney—and was hooked. She went on to earn her J.D. from Michigan Law in 2002.

“I knew I wanted to study law, not necessarily to practice in a traditional sense, but because I was intrigued by the inter-sectionality of race, gender and the law and how it shaped U.S. history and impacts us to this day,” she says.

“I have lots of fond memories of Michigan Law, but the courses I took with James Forman Jr. while he was a visiting professor—now at Yale—reinforced my decision to pursue a non-traditional career path,” she adds. “James invited me to spend my 1L summer co-teaching a class on the 4th Amendment with him at Maya Angelou Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., a school he and a former law school classmate, David Domenici, founded.”

Thomas continued to gravitate toward lawyers who were thinking “outside of the box” and pursuing non-traditional paths. After spending her first summer in D.C. at MAPCS, she connected with two Michigan Law alums, Dan Varner and Mike Tenbusch.          

“They were doing great things with youth in Detroit and brought me on board as an intern during my 2L summer,” she says.

In her final year, Thomas served as a graduate student instructor at U-M, for Sociology 303: Race and Ethnicity. After taking the course during her undergrad studies, she found it interesting to experience the course from the other side of the classroom. It piqued her interest in teaching, something she continues as an adjunct instructor for Teaching Law in High School, preparing law students to teach contracts, torts, and criminal law to Detroit-area high school students.

Thomas spent three years clerking for Judge Daphne Curtis Means in the Wayne County Circuit Court Civil Division before joining Wayne Law in October 2006, where she wore many different hats over the years. Her roles included assistant dean of student affairs, director of student affairs, director of diversity initiatives, and director of recruitment and enrollment. She organized annual Title IX training, 1L orientation, Culturally Conscious Lawyers/Implicit Bias training, and diversity, equity, and inclusion sessions for clinic and externship students. She chaired Wayne Law’s Diversity & Inclusion Task Force and served on the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee.

 “What I loved most was having the opportunity to connect with students and supporting them from the moment they expressed interest as a prospective student to graduation and beyond,” she says. “Even though I didn’t get my law degree from Wayne, I felt very much like a part of the Wayne Law family—and still do.”

Making it a point to be involved with committees and departments outside Wayne Law, K-12 pipeline initiatives were—and still are—a huge priority for Thomas. Over the years, she has worked with more than 1,000 students through College JumpStart and the Detroit Public Schools mock trial tournaments.

A highlight was meeting identical twin brothers, juniors at Denby High School, during a mock trial tournament.

“They both expressed an interest in law school that day and eventually went on to graduate from NYU Law School, and one of them also got his MBA from NYU. Both are successful lawyers, so they’re living proof pipeline programs work,” she says.

“I’m excited to continue pipeline work with Spain Elementary students as a mentor and Bodman’s liaison with VIP Mentoring, a program the firm has supported for many years.”

A native of Rosedale Park in Detroit, Thomas is a graduate of Archdiocese of Detroit schools—St. Scholastica (K-8) and Mercy High School. 

She currently makes her home in Southfield, and in her leisure time enjoys spending time with family and friends, landscaping, and weight lifting. Thomas works out with personal trainer Julian Palm at WSU’s Mort Harris Recreation and Fitness Center.

“My goal is to enter a power lifting competition in the very near future,” she says.

“I look forward to planning firm-wide events and opportunities for people to connect with each other outside of the work day around common interests—from gardening and running to cooking and CrossFit.”

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