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Last year, The Legal Intelligencer surveyed the 24 largest plaintiffs firms across Pennsylvania and found diversity to be almost nonexistent among them. “It was a good wake-up call,” said Mark W. Tanner, president of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association for the 2007-2008 term. But a survey of the same firms this year yielded only slightly better numbers. Last year, out of 301 attorneys accounted for in the survey, eight attorneys were racial or ethnic minorities — less than 3 percent. This year, out of 326 attorneys, 15 — or about 4.6 percent — were racial or ethnic minorities. (See chart here.) “I don’t think anyone had an overnight fix for a long-standing problem,” Tanner said. Last year, 17 firms had no attorneys who were part of a racial or ethnic minority, and the few firms that did have attorneys of color usually had only one. This year, there were 14 firms with no lawyers who were part of racial or ethnic minorities, and only three out of those that did have more than one. Last year’s percentage of women attorneys overall was about 23 percent — 70 out of 301 attorneys. This year, 82 female attorneys accounted for about 25 percent of the 326 total. And where last year there were eight firms where women made up more than 30 percent of their firms’ attorneys, this year there were nine. Like last year, the difference in the percentage of women attorneys varied widely from 50 percent to zero. But, where five firms had no female attorneys last year, the number dwindled to two this year. Just as they were last year, the statistics were collected by taking information from plaintiffs firms’ Web sites, which was put forward to the firms for confirmation. To the degree that it could be compared, information in the 2007 edition of The Legal Intelligencer‘s annual magazine, PaLAW, mirrored the findings. Despite the lack of significant improvement reflected in this year’s statistics, Nadeem A. Bezar, the only ethnically diverse attorney at Philadelphia-based, 10-attorney Kolsby, Gordon, Robin, Shore & Bezar, which also has two female attorneys, was optimistic that diversity had become a priority in the plaintiffs bar over the past 12 months. “I’m not sure that you can readily tell there’s an improvement, but you can certainly tell there’s an aggressive effort being made,” he said, adding that his firm and a few others he knows of have been recruiting from minority bar associations. To support his point, Bezar pointed to the new diversity-aimed programs both the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers’ Association and the Pennsylvania Association for Justice have instituted, both separately and jointly, over the past year. According to Tanner, these programs include a mentoring program that pairs trial lawyers with minority law students and a free plaintiffs firm job bank that automatically sends updates to all of the minority bar associations. Steven E. “Tim” Riley Jr., president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, said his organization has taken steps to “reconnect” with minority bar associations, increase the presence of minorities on panels and as speakers at CLE seminars and even published a list of best practices for diverse hiring at law firms. After last year’s article ran, Tanner and Riley sent a joint response to The Legal Intelligencer detailing the steps both organizations planned to take to improve diversity in the plaintiffs bar. Early in the letter, both admitted that “we would be disingenuous if we assured you and members of the minority communities that we will make this change overnight.” But a year later, much of what they proposed has come to fruition. And while results have been slower to develop, both Riley and Tanner believe real, perceptible change will take time. “It’s not a problem we’re going to solve overnight, but we’ve made some real significant tangible steps forward,” Riley said. Tanner echoed these sentiments, adding that the goal of both organizations is to “create a situation where people are going to look to improve.” Bezar said he takes comfort in knowing there are concrete efforts in place. “It’s a process,” said Bezar. “And like a lot of processes it starts off with a lot of formal programs. Some will work better than others, but as long as the issue is being formally addressed, it will get done.” He said he believes 2009′s numbers could reflect a real step up from 2007. But that doesn’t mean he’s content to sit idly by and wait. “Really, what should be clear is that as diverse as my firm can get, that’s what I would like,” he said. “It does not behoove any firm of any size to not be diverse. It doesn’t help at all.” Bezar said that noticeable change may require strong tactics. “I think, initially, it almost has to be cherry-picking,” he said. “Not just an awareness but an aggressive attempt to diversify the attorneys who practice at a firm.” In last year’s article, Peter M. Villari of Villari, Brandes & Kline in Philadelphia said he wasn’t sure how to approach hiring minority attorneys because he didn’t know if it was appropriate to specifically target them. Villari said he’s still struggling with that ethical dilemma now, but was frank about his firm’s intentions to hire more minority attorneys. The firm, which has six male attorneys and five female attorneys, recently hired its only non-Caucasian lawyer and is looking to add more racially and ethnically diverse attorneys, but not just to satisfy some imaginary quota. In part, he said, it’s to gain a better insight into the minds of diverse juries. “I would be foolish to say to you that [different racial, ethnic and gender groups] don’t view certain basic issues differently,” he said. “It’s my job as a lawyer to speak their language, not just with words but by understanding their cultures.” Villari said he has been pleased with the amount of diversity in the resumes he has received during his past three hires. “I see positive change in my own little part of the world,” he said. But not everyone has noticed a diversity problem to begin with. “I can tell you that, in the past, we have had black attorneys and we have had female attorneys that have worked for us,” said Michael D. Fishbein of Philadelphia-based Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, which currently has only white male attorneys. “Just for personal reasons having nothing to do with race or sex, they felt they didn’t really want the hubbub of litigation.” That his firm lacks diversity now is more a function of its size than anything else, he said. “With 11 people, we basically hire people based on the applications we get and whoever is most qualified,” he said. And because there is little turnover at the firm, opportunities to diversify its attorney staff are few and far between, said Fishbein. “In fairness, we don’t really do that much hiring,” he said. “If you look at the people that work for us now, certainly nine of the 11 have worked us for more than five years — maybe much more than that. It’s not like we’re recruiting that much. We don’t have that much of a change in staff needs.” Jim Beasley Jr. of The Beasley Firm in Philadelphia has a similar perspective. “[Plaintiffs] firms are, typically, so much smaller,” he said. “The way it is, I’m just looking for the best people we can find. We’ve been at a steady state sizewise for more than 40 years. Compared to a lot of the big firms, the plaintiffs firms are not as diverse, but it might just be the way the cards are falling.” The Beasley Firm currently has five female and one ethnically diverse lawyer out of 15. Alan H . Perer of Pittsburgh-based, six-attorney Swensen, Perer & Kontos, which has two female attorneys and no other minority attorneys, said he has seen a lot of female attorneys enter the plaintiffs bar in recent years, but few racial or ethnic minorities. “I would hire other minorities if they were qualified,” he said. “I have no problem hiring other minorities, but we haven’t had applicants, to tell you the truth.” Like Fishbein and Beasley, Perer said he felt the frequency and volume with which traditionally smaller plaintiffs firms hire hinder their ability to really diversify their attorneys. “I think some of the talented minorities get scooped up by some of the larger firms,” he said. “They hire a lot of people. We might hire one new attorney every few years. The large firms, where they hire three or four new associates every year, might be more receptive to hiring minorities.” But African-American attorney Prince Altee Thomas, special counsel to Fox Rothschild, said minority candidates are out there for plaintiffs firms but are often unfairly overlooked. “The smaller firms have got to stop finding excuses for not having a larger number of minorities in their ranks,” he said. “Sometimes you have to take a gamble on an individual. My complaint is that I don’t see those opportunities coming for minority attorneys.” Thomas said firms often fail to recognize that many minority attorneys have worked their way through college and, often for financial reasons, did not have the opportunity to attend the most prestigious law schools. “In many instances, the legal community looks at factors of law schools and grades,” he said. “I don’t think they consider where minority attorneys started in life and how they got to where they are.” African-American attorney Robert Ross of Philadelphia-based, nine-attorney Ross Feller Casey, which has three female attorneys and two black attorneys, agreed that plaintiffs firms need wider scopes when it comes to hiring. “You have to get more minority candidates in front of you,” he said. Joe H. Tucker Jr. of Philadelphia-based Booth & Tucker agreed. “Expand your pool of who you’re looking for and what you consider to be an appropriate candidate,” he said. “And I’m not in any way suggesting a standards change — I’m just saying in terms of who you look at.” Ross applauded the steps taken by the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association and the Pennsylvania Association for Justice over the past year for helping to expose the plaintiffs bar to minority candidates and vice versa. “The plaintiffs bar, since these initiatives have started, has made significant efforts to expand the pool of minority candidates through recruitment efforts and by exposing the practice to minorities who might otherwise have looked to other practice areas,” he said. But Tucker said he wasn’t quite sure the efforts were making a real impact. “I know that the [Philadelphia] Trial Lawyers Association has actually begun a program to help bridge that gap [between minority candidates and the plaintiffs bar], which is very good thing,” he said. “I don’t know, though, if the message has gotten out to the African-American legal community.”

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