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Recently, UCLA law professor Richard Sander published an in-depth study confirming what many in the law field already knew: African-Americans are disproportionately underrepresented in the senior ranks of America’s major law firms. Diversity-attorney recruiter and Carter-White & Shaw founder Ron Jordan has been making it his life’s work to alter that reality. Founded more than 15 years ago, Carter-White & Shaw, a recruiting and placement firm, is one of the country’s few minority-owned businesses that focuses primarily on recruiting senior-level minority lawyers for firms looking to keep up with today’s increasingly diverse workplace. There are no actual people named Carter-White or Shaw who head the company, just Jordan. The name is an homage to his parents. The law-firm-like moniker was needed to give it more credibility when cold-calling lawyers — and to bypass call-screening secretaries. With the help of his tiny staff, made up of his wife and two legal-research assistants, Jordan has placed an estimated 100 attorneys at private law firms around the country. Jordan doesn’t hold a law degree, and he says he fell into the legal-search profession by chance when he was an undergraduate student, after securing a job for a friend at a law firm. The 50-year-old legal recruiter relocated his firm from the California Bay Area to Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 2001. He sat down recently with Legal TimesMichael Martin to discuss the importance of diversity, being accepted as a nonlawyer in the legal community, and loving his job.
LT: Starting out, what were some of the issues or trends that you noticed regarding diversity recruiting and diversity in the legal field? Jordan: One of the things that bothered me, and one of the reasons I started in this business, is that people were talking about diversity but they didn’t do diversity. There were pipeline issues in diversity as far as going to law school. I wasn’t seeing a lot of minority partners, initially, going into major law firms. A lot of those major firms in San Francisco also had branches in Washington, D.C. When I moved in 2001, the thing that kind of brought me back, kind of abruptly, was that those firms touted diversity in California, but there was not that mirror image in Washington, D.C., which has probably the highest concentration of diverse attorneys, especially African-American attorneys, of considerable size of any place in the United States. But as people were coming from government offices, they weren’t being hired. You would see mainstream people leave the [Federal Trade Commission] or the [Food and Drug Administration] as general counsel, but you were not seeing the same diverse attorneys leaving those agencies going into law firms as partners.
LT: Tell me about the recruiting and placement process at your firm. How do you find and pair up diverse attorney prospects with your client law firms? Jordan: I travel a lot. I visit the National Bar Association and, if time permits, the Hispanic, Asian, and Lavender bar associations, but the majority of the time I go to [ Minority Corporate Counsel Association] events. As a headhunter and as a small company, I try to look at things on a nationwide level. My job, I think, is to help change the landscape, because if you have more diverse attorneys at your partner, associate, senior associate, and of counsel level, it makes those pipeline issues that much easier. Instead of having dissimilar people hiring dissimilar people, you will be able to attract similar to similar.
LT: How do you qualify the people you are placing? Jordan: Nine times out of 10, the people that come to us were referred by other people we’ve placed.
LT: How is your firm compensated? Do you charge the people you place, the firms, or both? And is it a flat fee or negotiated? Jordan: We charge the law firm, and the fee varies. It can go anywhere from 25 percent of base compensation, excluding bonuses, to 30 to 35 percent for our normal fee. It depends on who we’ve been working with. Firms that we’ve started with and who’ve given us the opportunity are obviously going to be [charged] a little less. But typically, it is about one-third of the base compensation. That’s a fair assessment across the board. There is a guarantee period attached to that, also. The person has to stay six months. It’s a prorated guarantee. Partners have to stay a year. Partners do not leave and go to another firm in less than a year; I mean, it disrupts their relationships with their clients.
LT: Are there very many diversity-attorney headhunters across the country? Jordan: There are a lot of headhunters that do diversity; there are not a lot of diverse headhunters. And I make that distinction by saying that there aren’t a lot of people of color that do diversity exclusively. Every headhunter does diversity due to their clients’ demand. They want a slate of diverse candidates. There aren’t a lot of headhunters that are diverse people of color and specialize in diversity. I think that there should be more.
LT: How did you solicit your services to law firms when you’ve just relocated to a new market? Jordan: The advent of e-mail was probably the greatest thing that ever happened to me [laughs]. Because I’m pretty blunt when I write managing partners and hiring coordinators — “African-American partner, book of business. If interested, call me.”
LT: You’ve previously worked primarily with placing partners, but you’ve recently expanded into also placing associates. Jordan: Yes, I’ve expanded from partner to third- and fourth-year associates, sometimes second-year associates. I don’t think it’s cost-effective for our clients to utilize our service to find lawyers with no experience. If they need us to do that, I’ll do it. I would rather they take it upon themselves to utilize their own network. And it’s also very expensive to train an attorney in today’s market — about $300,000 per attorney. That’s a lot of money. Base compensation in New York right out of law school is $145,000 and they don’t know anything, and then I charge you 30 percent on top of that? It just doesn’t equate; it’s just not fair. But I have to know the client and I have to understand what the need is. I’d rather they go and have job fairs, or most of the bar associations of color will have job fairs . . . there are career services at the law school. I mean, there are a lot more economically feasible ways to find someone with no experience that might have been overlooked, or the firm got bought out or folded. That happens. We see a lot of mergers and acquisitions, and suddenly some people don’t want to be part of a bigger firm.
LT: You mentioned pipeline issues being one of the factors contributing to a lack of diversity in the law field. How would you recommend correcting those pipeline issues? Jordan: One is the matter of [grade point average]. When I say pipeline issues, I mean diverse attorneys coming out of law schools like George Washington [University] or Howard [University] or any major law school in particular. If a person was at American [University] and they had a 3.0, it’s not high enough of a GPA because American is considered a second-tier school. Unless you know those things, [if] you have candidates that you think will fulfill the opportunities of those clients, then you will pursue them. I would look at GPA as a precursor, but I would look at all of the other things that go along with why that person had a 2.8 or a 2.9. Did the person work when they were going to law school? Were they taking care of a family? I mean, there are a number of mitigating circumstances that have nothing to do with that person being a potentially great lawyer. A lot of people put grades as the precursor. That is the standard — “We’re going to use the 3.0.”
LT: Any last thoughts? Jordan: I love my job. I think God gave me a great job. I work with some really incredible people. I continue to learn. I made some mistakes along the way, and I’ve been fortunate that people feel comfortable enough to tell about their mistakes. I’d like to continue to work with people that understand that diversity inclusion is just a part of life. It’s who we are as Americans. The legal business is a business, but it is really an intricate part of how we live on a daily basis. The law is what civilizes us. It makes us more human. It doesn’t make us less human. You have to have laws in this country in order to understand a democracy. If you don’t, then there is total chaos and anarchy. I’ve been fortunate enough that even as a nonlawyer, lawyers were willing to explain to me almost to the nth degree about their practice theories and what they did. Case in point, I had a client in San Francisco who was representing the union, subcontractors in a labor dispute. He sent to me two or three boxes full of publications that he had read several times when he was in law school, until he became a partner, so that I could gain an understanding of it. That was a little over the top, but I think for the most part law firms here in Washington, D.C., and, for the most part, up and down the East Coast understand that diversity recruiting is an integral part of doing business. And some have to work harder, and some firms don’t get it. I truly feel that in the area of diversity recruitment, people have to pay attention to diverse attorneys of color, specifically, and also attention to diverse attorneys of different sexual orientation, and also disabled . . . people. [They] should remind themselves that these people are a part of our society. They are contributors, not distracters [sic], and they should be afforded respect.
Michael Martin can be contacted at [email protected].

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