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After clients the Sara Lee Corp. and Sears Roebuck & Co. lured three African-American partners from Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, the firm needed some new blood. So it called in recruiters who specialize in diversity recruiting: Maryland’s Carter-White & Shaw and Chicago’s Winston & Green. Within a few months, Sonnenschein had a pool of candidates from a range of ethnic backgrounds. It hired laterals for offices in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco and may add one in Chicago, says John Childs, a Chicago-based Sonnenschein partner who handles diversity issues. “While mainstream headhunters have a few contacts, they don’t have the same network” as diversity recruiters, Childs says. Specialists “talk to attorneys of color. They know who’s available and who’s ready to move.” Companies long have prodded the firms that work with them to hire attorneys from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. As the ranks of new associates and general counsel become increasingly diverse, that pressure is growing. “The corporate clients are definitely driving this issue,” says James Potter, general counsel at Del Monte Foods. “Without clients demonstrating with their business that this is an issue, law firms will not respond to it.” Across the country, boutiques that match minority attorneys with law firms say business is on the rise. And now, at least one traditional recruiting firm is getting into the act. Major, Hagen & Africa now has a recruiter focused on diversity efforts. “It’s a growing area,” says Edna Messick, a Jersey City, N.J.-based diversity headhunter. Ron Jordan, senior principal director at Carter-White & Shaw, says that during a recent day he received calls from a San Francisco firm asking for two attorneys, a firm in Minnesota that needs three attorneys, and a New Jersey firm on the lookout for three. “One year ago, I would have had to solicit those calls,” says Jordan, who used to cold-call law firms to generate business. Nationally, only a handful of headhunters are experts in diversity recruiting. Winston & Green specializes in Midwest attorney talent while Carter-White & Shaw is a national headhunter. Messick, an attorney who is the president of three-year-old E.M. Messick Consulting Inc., focuses on filling in-house positions nationally. AGGRESSIVE NETWORKING These recruiters, who develop their clientele through word of mouth, say they specialize in providing firms with a slate of high-quality candidates from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. To do that, diversity headhunters aggressively network among minority lawyers, making the rounds at conferences, conventions, and specialty bar associations. “It’s not an easy area to break into,” says Messick, a former managing director for diversity publications for American Lawyer Media, parent company to Legal Times. “I can’t see Major, Hagen & Africa spending time with a third-year Hispanic student who does not have an offer and helping him with his r�sum�,” says Winston & Green recruiter Larry Green, whose 14-year-old firm’s client list includes Winston & Strawn, GlaxoSmithKline, and Piper Rudnick. Nevertheless, as more law firms re-examine their diversity hiring strategies, mainstream recruiting firms are taking notice of the niche. Major, Hagen & Africa has started a diversity task force to look at its own internal diversity issues, as well as ways to better provide firms and corporate legal departments with more minority candidates, says Major, Hagen managing director Anna Marie Armstrong, who is heading the effort. “In the past year or two, we have seen an increase in the number of clients that want a diverse group of candidates,” she says. At one Major, Hagen client, San Francisco’s Farella Braun & Martel, minorities account for 13 of the 118 lawyers, including four partners. While the firm has made diversity a priority for years, it lately has become more aggressive in those efforts, says Mark Petersen, vice chair of the firm. “We have expressly told recruiters that diversity is a priority for us.” A combination of factors has revved up firms’ interest in minority attorneys, headhunters and firms say. Corporate legal departments tend to be more integrated than the firms they hire for outside counsel, Green says, and it’s not uncommon for those that have made internal diversity efforts to push firms to do the same. “As law firm clients,” says Don Liu, the general counsel at IKON Office Solutions, “IKON and other corporations are in a unique position to influence law firms to promote diversity.” Liu says the company believes “diverse law firms can better serve and support our diverse legal needs.” According to the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, more people of color are being tapped for general counsel posts at Fortune 1,000 firms. Its annual study, released this month, found 41 Fortune 1,000 companies have Asian, African-American, Latino, or Native American GCs. That compares with 14 minority Fortune 500 GCs in 2000. The MCCA expanded its study from Fortune 500 to Fortune 1,000 firms this year because many companies fell off the Fortune 500 list during the economic downturn. Veta Richardson, the association’s executive director, agrees that the new crop of GCs are influencing law firms. Minority and female GCs tend to be more savvy about the struggle with diversity at firms, she says. “I think some of the diversity dynamics are propelled by people who were at law firms who left for diversity-related reasons,” Richardson says. “They are now GCs.” Richardson says she has heard from some partners-turned-GCs who’ve vowed not to send work to their former firm because they had negative experiences there. “The people who are mistreated today [at law firms] may be writing the check � or not writing the check � tomorrow,” she says. It’s not uncommon for corporate general counsel to ask firms how many minority attorneys they employ and whether those attorneys will handle the company’s legal work, firms and recruiters say. Del Monte’s Potter, who went in-house after working at law firms, says his company seeks firms that credit minority attorneys for handling Del Monte’s legal matters or bringing in its business. Firms are also feeling internal pressure to diversify. PRESSURE FROM WITHIN At Sonnenschein, where minorities account for 11 percent of the firm’s 650 lawyers, including 3 percent of its partners, a “ground swell” of younger attorneys pressured the firm to make diversity a higher priority in its strategic plan, says Childs. Achieving diversity goals is now one of the criteria used to judge firm leaders’ performance. New attorneys or lateral hires also are asking prospective firms whether they have diversity committees, whether people of color are on it, and whether the firm does community work, firms and recruiters say. Sometimes firms do not realize they must rethink their recruiting strategy if they want to make inroads in diversity, Messick says. If a firm has its heart set on a lateral candidate with an Ivy League diploma and a $1 million book of business, it will miss many talented white attorneys, not to mention people of color. Minorities account for only a small percentage of partners nationwide � just 4 percent of partners at the nation’s 215 largest firms in 2002, according to a study published in Legal Times affiliate Minority Law Journal � and only a few of them have been partner for a long time. So minority partners tend not to have big books of business, headhunters say. Retaining new hires also requires a commitment from the firm, Messick says. The most successful firms have a multipronged approach that includes hiring, mentoring, retention, and reaching out to local community groups. “Otherwise you are just throwing bad money after good,” Jordan says. A commitment to diversity doesn’t end with new hires, agreed Childs. “You need to put into place mentorship programs. When you bring in a lateral, you have to weave them into the fabric of the firm.” Ultimately, changing law firm culture benefits all attorneys, not just minorities, said Jordan, a legal recruiter for 12 years. New attorneys have different expectations about firm life, he says, noting that women make up more than half the incoming students at law schools. Partners historically have been used to hiring talented laterals and leaving them to fend for themselves in competitive, sometimes hostile firm environments, Jordan says. “Nurturing is hard for law firms to learn,” Jordan says. “Either they will get it now or [lawyers] will go to the firm that will.” Jahna Berry is a staff writer at The Recorder, the San Francisco affiliate of Legal Times and where this article first appeared.

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