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Law firms always talk about the importance of diversity, but at Mountain View’s Fenwick & West, success or failure on that front can actually be felt in partners’ wallets. The technology-focused firm closely ties diversity goals to partners’ compensation. Fenwick mandates so-called “upward” reviews where associates specifically evaluate how much a partner has done to support diversity at the firm. Other large Bay Area law firms that were contacted say they do not directly ask associates for comment on diversity goals. In addition, partners are asked to annually commit to taking part in three activities out of a list of 12 that support not just minority recruitment but continued mentoring once they are in the door. The program is in its second year. For intellectual property attorney and San Francisco partner Laurence Pulgram, commitment to diversity has paid off. He received a bonus for his diversity-related activities last year, which included working on a pro bono case that dealt with gay-rights issues and visiting several minority organizations at law schools. Pulgram wouldn’t divulge the dollar amount of his bonus but said it was “not insignificant.” The compensation, he said, has “very real effects.” “It communicates that the firm means what it says in its desire to increase diversity in the workplace,” he said. “It raises your own consciousness. You ask, ‘What more can I do?’ That gradually, incrementally, makes a difference, when 80 partners are asking themselves this. It adds up.” The subjects of diversity and hiring reliably generate heated debate. Yet lately in legal circles the discussion has gotten even hotter. A study this summer by a prominent law professor blamed the low number of black attorneys making partner at large firms on the firms’ practice of hiring blacks with poorer grades than their white counterparts. The author of the study, UCLA law professor Richard Sander, also took large firms to task for failing to adequately mentor and train minority associates. The study has spawned harsh criticism in the National Law Journal and re-energized the debate about whether large firms are doing enough to support minority success beyond recruitment. But Fenwick’s approach sounded “very promising,” Sander said. “There’s a disconnect between the firms’ aggregate decision to hire lots of minority associates at the first-year level � and the firms’ commitment to evaluate and train those minority associates,” the professor said. Hiring decisions are generally made with broad, firmwide support, but once inside, associates are more or less left to fend for themselves, Sander added. Kay Hodge, chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in The Profession, said she hadn’t heard of any other firm in the country addressing diversity the way Fenwick has. Large corporations have been generally ahead of law firms in addressing diversity in new ways, she said, but Fenwick’s practice is “an innovative and creative step” for a firm. SERIOUS BUSINESS Fenwick’s diversity program asks partners to make sure the staff assigned to cases is diverse; to make sure staffers of both genders and all races and sexual orientations have significant client contacts; to take part in minority recruiting fairs; to foster good networking opportunities for minority attorneys; and to do pro bono work that deals with issues of diversity. “The fact that diversity became one of a relatively low number of things that can � in and of itself � trigger a bonus I think particularly communicates the firm’s seriousness of purpose,” Pulgram said. “By making sure that you expand your recruiting efforts to include diverse attorneys, you broaden the pool of talent � and you also benefit from broader perspectives,” Fenwick Chairman Gordon Davidson explained. “It’s also just plain good for business. Our clients care about diversity.” Plus, he said, “it’s the right thing to do.” According to the Minority Law Journal’s 2005 survey, Fenwick has six Asians, but no blacks or Hispanics, among its 80 partners. But minorities account for just over a fifth of all the firm’s lawyers, allowing the firm to rank sixth of the 240 firms responding to the survey. Fenwick reported 30 Asian-American, 12 Hispanic, four African-American and one multiracial person among its associates. Law firms in the Bay Area, one of the most diverse and liberal parts of the country, have seen increases in the number of minorities among associate and partner ranks in the last 15 years, according to a 2005 report by the Bar Association of San Francisco. In 1990, 10 percent of associates and 3 percent of partners were minorities. In 2005, those numbers had jumped to 24 percent of associates and 7 percent of partners. The BASF report stated that in California, 54 percent of the 2000 population was considered a minority. Based on this, law firms need to do still more, the report concluded. NO WINNING FORMULA Other large Bay Area firms, for their part, are putting work into meeting diversity goals. Morrison & Foerster Chairman Keith Wetmore said partners there are always free to describe their work in support of diversity in annual self-reviews, which are used to determine compensation. MoFo ranked second in the Minority Law Journal survey. More than 10 percent of the firm’s partners are minorities, including six blacks, 18 Asian-Americans and nine Hispanics. “Among the things we ask partners to describe is their non-billable contributions to the firm,” Wetmore said. “And certainly involvement in minority recruiting or our associates-of-color workshops is something that is frequently mentioned.” James Donato heads up the diversity committee at Cooley Godward Kronish and said the firm widely supports diversity beyond recruitment. “We do everything we possibly can to make sure that once you get great people in the door you’re able to keep them,” he said. Donato acknowledges that at many large firms keeping minority attorneys has proven difficult. In the 2005 survey, Cooley ranked 37th and reported having one Hispanic and two Asian-American partners. Cooley encourages its employees to speak up with complaints or suggestions of any kind on the diversity front, Donato said. “Attrition rates are so high,” he said of large firms. “Nobody’s really come up with a patented formula for success. It really is day-to-day consciousness and involvement that makes it work.”

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