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Recently, The National Law Journal reported that, for the first time in more than 17 years, NALP noted a decrease in the number of minority and women associates in its member employers, when compared to the previous year. The decreases are less than 1 percent from the previous year and perhaps to be expected during hard economic times. When combined with reports of firms reducing their professional development staff and related expenditures, however, the decreases are troublesome signs that the recession, lowered attorney hiring rates, downsizing or lack of adequate training may undo years of small incremental gains made through diversity initiatives.

It is impossible to predict when legal hiring will improve and enable the profession to counter and reverse the decreases. However, firms can maintain their diversity efforts, even with shrinking budgets and lowered staffing, by ensuring that the right culture is in place to retain the diversity candidates who were brought in. A retention program is the crucial second element in building a successful diversity initiative, the first element being recruiting diverse candidates and the third being advancing diverse candidates to partner status. A successful retention program not only helps a firm maintain its diversity numbers but also preserves the firm’s investment in those hires. Successful retention also helps a firm gain a competitive edge in recruitment by demonstrating to candidates that the firm has the right kind of environment for them to develop their careers. Lastly, successful retention can help with business development by demonstrating to clients that the firm is a valued diversity partner that should continue receiving their business.

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