X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
It finally happened. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., a consumer of approximately $200 million in legal services annually, announced this past fall that it had fired one of its outside law firms-not because of the quality of its legal work, but because the firm failed to meet statistical recruitment and retention goals for minority and women attorneys. Many other corporations are threatening to do the same with respect to their outside law firms. It is not surprising, therefore, that diversity is the hot topic in law firms these days. Diversity has grown well beyond a moral imperative; it has become a business necessity. It is no longer enough to commit to amorphous, if noble, goals of creating an inclusive environment. Corporations are now requiring their law firms to meet specific goals and prove that their legal matters are being handled by diverse lawyers. This moment was a long time coming. In 1999, the chief legal officers of 500 corporate law departments signed a document entitled Diversity in the Workplace-A Statement of Principle. See www.acca.com/ gcadvocate/diversitystmt.html. These corporate signatories agreed to urge their outside counsel to make immediate and sustained efforts to improve diversity within their firms. However, after five years of increased focus on law firm diversity, in-house counsel acknowledged that progress toward the goal had reached a “disappointing plateau.” Accordingly, in the spring of 2004, Roderick A. Palmore, chief legal officer of Sara Lee Corp. and a member of the board of directors of the Association of Corporate Counsel, authored A Call to Action-Diversity in the Legal Profession. See www.acca.com/public/accapolicy/diversity.pdf. Signatories to this document reaffirmed their commitment to the 1999 statement of principle, and further pledged not only to choose law firms based “in significant part” on how effective they have been in creating diverse work forces but also to “end or limit” relationships with firms that failed to perform adequately in this area. Despite this clear and compelling mandate, it was unclear whether real change would occur. Now that Wal-Mart, following the principles of the call to action, has fired an outside law firm, many firms are, or should be, scrambling to adopt or enhance diversity policies. As discussed below, the four key steps to consider are obtaining commitment from the top, investing in the commitment, tracking progress and celebrating successes. Commitment from the top The first and most important way to increase and support diversity in the workplace is to obtain a sincere commitment from the top levels of firm management. Even the most ambitious and well-designed programs will die on the vine if senior firm leadership-either the firm chairman or the firm executive committee-does not support them. Indeed, surveys conducted by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) show that law firm leadership involvement is a critical factor that distinguishes successful diversity efforts from those that fail. These law firm leaders must be vocal. They should identify and emphasize diversity as a core firm goal and deliver this message to the firm through a strong mission statement that succinctly describes the firm’s ongoing commitment to diversity. The mission statement should also provide a framework for developing diversity initiatives, allocating law firm resources and assessing the firm’s progress toward achieving its goal. Law firm leaders must also actively participate in diversity initiatives. By attending firm-sponsored diversity events, mentoring minority attorneys and taking an active role in recruiting diverse candidates, leaders can demonstrate powerful evidence of their commitment. Lastly, law firm leaders have to own the commitment. A senior-level partner must be accountable for ensuring that the firm actively pursues and adequately funds diversity initiatives. Good intentions alone do not make for effective diversity initiatives. Firms must also sponsor activities that sustain and promote diversity. Often, this requires a capital investment; however, there are ample opportunities for leveraging other firm resources or partnering with community and nonprofit organizations that promote diversity. For example, firms should consider creating a diversity committee. Ideally, this committee will reflect the firm as a whole-including partners, associates and administrative staff from all offices. It must also include a member of the firm’s management committee or a senior level partner. The diversity committee will develop and monitor programs to ensure that the firm complies with the mission statement; fund diversity-related events both in-house and outside of the firm; and sponsor multicultural events and celebrations. The committee can also serve as a clearing-house for ideas and issues that may arise in the area of diversity and inclusion. It should not, however, absolve attorneys who are not on the committee from personal responsibility for furthering the firm’s diversity goals. In fact, law firm leadership should make it clear that all attorneys, including partners, will be evaluated in part on their personal efforts to enhance diversity. Three of the most important elements in a firm’s investment and commitment include training, recruiting and retention. Most law firms would agree that having a diverse and inclusive workplace is a laudable goal. However, many are still uncomfortable openly discussing racial, ethnic and gender issues. Specialized training can play a crucial part in diversity success and awareness. Diversity consultants help generate candid dialogue that allows firms to recognize and manage inherent biases. Firms can initially rely on outside consultants to assess their needs and provide diversity training. Recruiting strategies Firms will naturally measure the success of their diversity initiatives by the number of diverse candidates hired. Given increased competition for such candidates, firms need to implement innovative recruiting strategies and set aspirational goals. These efforts should include, at a minimum, directing the hiring partner or committee actively to recruit diverse candidates and to vigorously follow up if offers are extended. Firms may want to establish relationships with minority student groups at the law schools where they historically recruit and should consider recruiting at schools with high minority enrollment. Firms can also participate in minority bar association job fairs. Diverse candidates can also enter law firms laterally. Firms must require department chairs to consider their diversity goals when hiring lateral candidates. Firms that work with professional recruiters should ensure that they are aware of the firm’s interest in diverse candidates. Indeed, there are now several recruiting agencies that specialize in placing diverse candidates. Innovative recruiting by itself is not enough. Clients want to see a demonstrable record of successful retention and promotion of diverse attorneys. Nothing signals success in this area more forcefully than the promotion of minority associates to partnership. Firms should provide resources-which can include mentoring programs and affinity groups-to encourage, develop and ultimately retain minority associates through to partnership. The importance of mentoring Mentoring can play an important role in contributing to the success of diversity in a law firm setting. To give formal mentoring programs the greatest chance for success, law firm leaders must visibly and vocally support them and lead by example. They should also make sure that mentors appreciate that their participation will greatly advance a core firm goal. Mentoring programs that formally pair minority attorneys with law firm leaders can be particularly rewarding. Such pairings provide powerful symbiotic benefits. Minority associates can experience, first-hand, the firm’s commitment to their personal and professional success. At the same time, the firm leadership has a direct line of communication with the minority associates and can address issues promptly and effectively. In addition to the purely personal attention, mentors should monitor minority associates’ hours, as well as the sufficiency and quality of work assignments, to ensure professional growth and fulfillment. Firms can support diversity by encouraging minority and women attorneys to establish or join formal affinity groups, which share common connections such as race, cultural heritage, gender, sexual orientation and family responsibilities. Affinity groups offer minority attorneys opportunities to develop informal mentors. They also can foster business and networking connections. Firms do not have to go it alone. Law firms can build solid reputations for supporting diversity by encouraging their attorneys to participate in minority bar associations, sponsoring minority bar association events and supporting the involvement of all attorneys and staff in nonprofit organizations that provide services to minority communities. Indeed, simply by surveying their attorneys and staff regarding their outside activities, many firms will find that they already have significant connections with pillar minority organizations in their communities. In such cases, those firms cannot simply acknowledge, but must continually promote and encourage such worthy involvement. Significantly, some clients explicitly evaluate their law firms’ diversity efforts, in part, by their participation in, and support of, such organizations. Finally, by underwriting the cost of attorney attendance at diversity seminars and conferences, firms can benefit as their attorneys learn new and innovative approaches to promoting, supporting and achieving diversity. Such events are sponsored by, among many others, the MCCA, which offers an annual Pathways to Diversity Conference, and the American Bar Association, which hosts an annual National Conference for the Minority Lawyer. The third key element to increasing diversity is tracking progress. While a robust, diverse environment cannot be measured solely by reference to a mathematical equation, numbers do matter-just ask any minority attorney. Tracking certain essential statistics helps firms identify which efforts work. It also focuses individual effort and thereby promotes diversity because experience shows that what gets measured and reported actually gets done. Some firms explicitly consider contributions to diversity when determining annual compensation for partners, and as a factor in the performance evaluations of associates and staff. Firms can reference and adopt a number of approaches to benchmarking. As just one example, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York has issued its own Statement of Diversity Principles. See www.abcny.org/pdf/diversity_principles.pdf. Firms that sign on to the statement commit to hiring entry-level classes that substantially reflect the diversity of graduating law students, and to maintaining that level of diversity as the classes progress. Regardless of how firms decide to measure their progress, the point is that they should be aware of where they stand in terms of diversity, and have a plan for improving their position. Achieving diversity is hard work, but it is important and worthwhile. Firms should celebrate successes, small and large. Firms should take advantage of cultural heritage months, such as Black History Month, to share, learn and enjoy the positive aspects of a diverse work environment. Firm-sponsored diversity celebrations can be as simple as highlighting a relevant piece of history in the firm newsletter or Web site. They can also be slightly more elaborate, like sponsoring a speaker or screening a documentary. Whatever form they take, such celebrations provide wonderful opportunities for attorneys and support staff to interact in a substantively different setting. A workplace that encourages and supports differences also promotes innovative perspectives that ultimately result in better client service. Firms that choose to make the investment, and whose leaders consistently demonstrate a commitment to the effort, will see a return not only by being a more competitive firm but also by having created a better and more inclusive workplace. Edgardo Ramos is a partner in the New York office of Day, Berry & Howard, and chairman of the firm’s diversity and sensitivity committee. Lynn Anne Baronas, based in the firm’s Hartford, Conn., office, is the firm’s director of professional development and diversity.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.