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Amid the cry from corporate counsel for more minority attorneys to handle their outside legal work, an increasing number of law firms are hiring diversity managers to recruit and retain attorneys of color. But some observers charge that unless the diversity professional’s efforts are buttressed by top management devoted to real change, they may act as mere window-dressing whose function is simply to appease corporate clients. “It can’t be a look good, feel good, people-soft position,” said Virginia Grant, a senior consultant with Altman Weil. The law firm consultancy recently released the results of a survey, conducted in conjunction with the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA). The survey canvassed diversity manager positions at law firms in the AmLaw 200, a ranking of the nation’s highest grossing law firms by The American Lawyer, a sister publication of The National Law Journal. Seventy-six firms responded to the survey, and 51% of those firms had more than 400 attorneys. Among the firms responding, 46% had a designated diversity manager or director, and 93% had a diversity committee. In addition, 56% of diversity managers were lawyers in their firms, and 75% of those attorneys were partners. Moreover, 53% of diversity managers worked full-time in that capacity. The ‘Call to Action’ A push by corporate counsel for law firms to diversify their attorney ranks has prompted many to implement diversity programs. Last year, hundreds of general counsel signed a Call to Action, a revised version of a 1999 proclamation calling for more diversity in law firms. In the renewed pledge, corporate counsel vowed that they would refuse to hire law firms if they failed to demonstrate a commitment to minority hiring and participation. Helise Harrington, an attorney at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, has worked on diversity initiatives at the 670-attorney firm since 2001. Last year, she became its full-time diversity manager. The firm has 87 minority attorneys, not including gay and lesbian lawyers. Part of her role is maintaining a confidential relationship with minorities, women, gays and lesbians who have concerns or complaints about their jobs. But the most important task for people in her position, said Harrington, is selling the idea to firm leaders that diversity makes sense from both a public policy and a business perspective. “It’s very easy to say the client demands it and prejudice is bad, but convincing everyone to change an institution so that it becomes more inclusive is the challenge,” she said. Almost every big firm’s Web site and other marketing materials include a statement about a commitment to diversity, and firms are quick to issue press releases when they receive recognition from minority groups or corporate clients for their efforts. Overt bias is not a problem for most diversity managers at law firms, Harrington said, adding that bias is much more “shaded” today. For example, firms where white male attorneys only mentor other white male attorneys can make minorities and women feel left out. Firms that routinely bypass minority associates when doling out plum assignments also create an exclusionary environment, she said. The job of Harrington and other diversity managers involves recruiting, networking and retaining the minority attorneys their firms already have. They attend conferences hosted by minority bar associations, they run minority retreats within their firms and, at some firms, act as a watchdog to make sure minorities are receiving mentoring and feedback. According to the Altman Weil/MCCA survey, the mean annual total cash compensation for diversity managers was $335,000, and the total budget allocated to support the position, including salary, was $470,000. Progress is needed Apparently, these people are needed. Minority attorneys in the five largest firms in the nation this year equaled only 5.7% of the total number of attorneys at those firms, according to The National Law Journal‘s 2005 survey of the nation’s 250 largest law firms. Of the 12,588 lawyers working in the top five firms, just 730 were minority lawyers. The largest minority group was Asian- Americans, with 401 lawyers at the five biggest firms. Hispanic-Americans equaled 165 and African-Americans 150. Ten Native Americans worked at the five largest firms, as do four attorneys identified in the “other” category. The top five firms on the NLJ 250 are Baker & McKenzie; DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary; Jones Day; White & Case; and Latham & Watkins. Totals among the largest 250 law firms in the country are not much better. In 2004, the latest year for which the information is available, minority attorneys equaled just 9.64%, only a slight increase compared with 2003, when minorities totaled 9.42% of law firms’ ranks. The percentages of minorities from 2002 to 2004 actually fell below numbers in 2000 and 2001. By contrast, about 20% of law school graduates are minorities. Strong connection One way to boost the paltry showing is for firms to create a strong connection between the diversity manager and the organization’s most powerful leaders, said Grant, with Altman Weil. The consultancy’s survey found that only 21% of diversity managers serve on their firm’s governing committee. “When firms put the position at the right level, that’s an indication of how serious they are,” she said. Grant also said that she was “troubled” that diversity manager positions at some firms report to their human resources departments rather than the managing partner. The survey also showed that diversity managers spent most of their time developing and promoting diversity programs. Some 76% of managers were involved in recruiting, and 67% worked with a professional development committee. An important part of a diversity manager’s role is convincing key leaders that diversity is not “punitive,” said Karen Jackson Vaughn, diversity program manager at Philadelphia-based Saul Ewing. The 245-attorney firm has 19 minority lawyers. “Our focus is to appreciate that the demographics of the United States have changed, and that if we, as a firm, are going to move forward, we need to maximize the talents of all of us and open up our minds,” she said. Keeping minority attorneys from leaving is a more daunting task than recruiting them, Vaughn said. Attrition rates among associates in general remains high, and retaining minorities can be particularly difficult if they feel isolated, she said. “The challenge that most firms face is recognizing how to keep a momentum going,” she said. Momentum is what convinced Raqiyyah Pippins, a third-year law student at University of Virginia School of Law, to join Covington & Burling in Washington when she graduates. As chairwoman of the National Black Law Students Association, Pippins was impressed by minority partners and senior associates who had advanced through Covington & Burling’s ranks, instead of joining as laterals. A firm’s true commitment to diversity, said Pippins, is not difficult to determine. “The environment I would want to join is the one that retains people from different backgrounds,” she said.

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