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A Father’s Day Edition of “Thursday Thoughts”

A Reflection on Pride, Lessons Learned From His Father, and the Value of Diverse Perspectives in the Legal Profession, with Daniel Restrepo

June is here, and as Fennemore proudly celebrates Father’s Day and Pride Month 2023 we are headed to Phoenix to visit with attorney Danny Restrepo in this week’s leadership profile!

 Talk about what Pride Month means to you, especially as it relates to the legal profession and the rights of LGBTQ individuals in the communities where we live and serve.

Pride every year comes with its usual spectacle – parades, colors, costumes, performances – and people frequently just associate it with a big rowdy party like Mardi Gras. It is definitely easy to see it that way from the outside looking in, and even from the inside it sometimes feels that way. But I think an important part of Pride that people sometimes miss is its origins and role as an act of defiance. Particularly in this moment in time, I think myself and others in the community have come to really appreciate the gravity and importance of that founding principal.

Pride is tenacity. It’s the active decision to live your life to the truest version of yourself, and it’s the courage to do so even when you have every reason to fear the repercussions. Pride is also liberty. It’s the shaking off of centuries-old ideas of how you have to fit into the world, and it’s the freedom in discovering those shackles never truly bound you. Pride is also a skill that requires practice. It’s frequent and conscious reminders to yourself of your inherent value and that the world is richer for having you in it.

I think that this perspective that many queer people carry with them, whether consciously or subconsciously, is immensely valuable to every facet of life, and the law is no different. The legal profession has a reputation for being stodgy, risk-averse, resistant to change, and slow when it finally acts. I realized that part of that is inherent to the profession; our job is to limit liability to our clients and seek out consistent results by sticking to precedent. In many cases it demands a conservative approach. But there are times when innovation and change are good and even necessary. When you have the capacity to recognize that the way things are is not necessarily the way things have to be, you also open yourself up to recognizing novel approaches to problems that might not otherwise reveal themselves. Additionally, when you’ve confronted unknowns that have the potential to fundamentally change your life, it is easier to empathize with and counsel a client who is likewise experiencing great uncertainty, albeit for different reasons.

Like other forms of diversity, law firms and communities as a whole stand to benefit from recognizing and celebrating these perspectives that flow from a person’s unique lived experience.

I think there have been great strides forward in the legal field, but plainly more work needs to be done. Part of this has to do with tackling the profession’s resistance to change, and part of it has to do with preventing further back-sliding of queer[BF1]  rights that has taken place over the past few years. However, I’d be lying if I said I was not optimistic about the future and the role of diversity in law, and I’m thankful to be part of a firm that has made a public and vocal commitment to innovate, further these goals and shake traditions where they’re harmful.    

With Father’s Day approaching, talk about your relationship with your dad – how has he had impact on your life and career?

I don’t think I realized how lucky I was to have the father that I have until I was older. I know that’s not a unique perspective, everyone was a teenager once, but particularly being gay you really come to appreciate when your relationship with your dad is a safe, understanding and supportive one.

My dad has always been very analytical in the way he’s approached life. He thinks through problems like an engineer. In full honesty, that somewhat detached analysis has at times been frustrating (and I recognize that’s rich coming from an attorney), but the inverse of that is that our conversations about any topic are rich and go beyond a surface-level discussion. And I love that. When it comes to exploring why or how something works, it’s hard to find a topic that he isn’t excited to dig into. I often joke with people that I am who I am because he’s a “Nat Geo” dad and not a sports dad.

I think I have him to thank for a lot of my talent for the analytical aspect of legal work and the way I understand problems. That way of thinking naturally goes hand in hand with what’s required to be a good attorney. But even more personally, I think his approach to understanding the world is also responsible for my somewhat smooth process coming out.

My dad doesn’t accept things just because someone says it’s so. He always asks for explanations when presented with even commonly held beliefs, and he has a natural curiosity for understanding new ideas. He gave me these tools I’d need to understand myself long before I even knew I’d need them.

I know so many people who struggled for years to come to terms with who they are because it is so difficult to challenge what everyone tells you is true. And, without an interest in understanding why something is, it’s incredibly difficult to unravel why something isn’t. Because of him, I had anearly interest in the “hows” and “whys” of history, culture, and the incredible complexity of biology and psychology. I had already come to recognize the shades of grey in these concepts and understood that many cultural norms are more or less arbitrary and particular to that culture. I honestly cannot think of better starting place for someone to understand what means to be queer than that.

I don’t think it’s surprising that since coming out my dad has been nothing short of supportive. Just like when I was growing up, he’s asked questions, has been excited to learn, and had no issue appreciating different aspects of the LGBT+ community once he understood it. Honestly, I think he’s gone to more Pride events than I have. I couldn’t ask for a better dad.

You’re a thought-leader in artificial intelligence and its current proliferation – impacting almost ever aspect of our lives. How does your lived experience and understanding of the field shape the way you envision the future of AI, and its role in law firms?

Sticking with the theme of Pride, I think being gay has made me more receptive to the idea of shaking things up when I think they have the potential to greatly improve our lives. Even if there are difficulties on the horizon that may be unavoidable, I think those difficulties are worth undertaking if it means the legal profession and society as a whole is better off. When it comes to A.I., there is a lot of fear surrounding it, but I think most of this fear comes from the up-front growing pains and uncertainty and difficulties imagining how the technology might fundamentally improve our lives.

I don’t mean to diminish the concerns voiced about A.I. There are plenty of valid considerations, legal and social, that will need to be carefully navigated. A.I. does have the potential to cause a lot of pain in the short term. People are going to lose jobs across industries, and, more particular to the legal profession, it seems likely that business model of law firms will need to be significantly restructured (if not, completely rebuilt). There are also legal issues regarding A.I. biases in the employment hiring context, and the creative fields in particular will be tested by a flood of A.I. content, the rights to which will be a hotly contested fight.

But I think only focusing on the immediate costs blinds us from imagining what might be. While people may lose jobs, it may mean a new approach to how our economy is structured, relieving the average hours worked without necessarily decreasing the average quality of life. Legal firms may need to rethink their business models, but that could result in attorneys being able devote higher quality time to the client-driven side of the profession. A.I. might even actually expand the accessibility of law to those who cannot presently afford it. While A.I. in the hiring process does raise initial concerns regarding unintentional bias, it also offers the possibility of significantly reducing discrimination once the software is further developed. Regarding creative works, art has never been purely about the product alone, but also the story behind it and a person’s innate desire to create; the idea that all human creativity will cease strikes me as such a fundamental misunderstanding of why people create art in the first place. The creative field will survive, even if it looks different from how it looks now.

My point is not that all outcomes in the future will eventually be positive or that all of these problems will be resolved. Instead, my issue with doomsday predictions is that they rely on unexamined underlying assumptions about how the world must work. They presume that the negatives we experience today (long work hours, the routine of a billable hour, and discrimination in hiring practices) are simply a given part of life that will be compounded by A.I., without considering the possibility that they do not have to be.

Resistance to A.I., outlawing the technology to save jobs, or naysaying A.I.’s value when it’s only in its infancy is at best futile and at worse actively harmful. A.I. is part of the world now. If we can let go of our prior conceptions of how the world has to work and allow ourselves the imagination to envision a better world as a result, those possibilities at the least become just that, possibilities. They become actionable. However, it is much more difficult to go about changing things if you believe they are unchangeable. You cannot begin to change what you consider incapable of change.

 Our summer associates are now working in six of our offices. What would you tell your younger self, or a 1L at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of the Law currently contemplating a career in the legal profession?

This is easier said than done, especially for the type of person who goes to law school, but its ok to not know exactly what you want to do or to not perfectly execute what you find yourself doing. That’s part of learning, and an ongoing lesson I have to remind myself of as well. Letting go of the need to have control over everything will ease a lot of stress when things inevitably change course. I think as long as you keep an open mind and have a good attitude thing will fall into place, even if you don’t know where that place is just yet.

What are you currently listening to (podcast or music); reading; and watching/streaming?

“Beef” on Netflix was a great time. Its about a road rage incident in LA between two people that quickly spirals to consume both their lives as they keep upping the ante in the ways they get back to each other.

As for listening, I’ve gotten into these Dungeons and Dragons play-throughs with comedians that I never thought I’d like. I didn’t realize D&D didn’t have to be high fantasy (not my favorite). The one I’m listening to now, “The Unsleeping City,” takes place in New York. The format is inherently unpredictable because of the mechanics of the game, and because of this they don’t quite follow the basic formulas you start to pick up on in books and shows. Your favorite character can die if there are too many bad dice-rolls in a row. Those stakes make the story a lot of fun.

Many thanks to Danny for his insights!

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