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At a diversity conference held at Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen yesterday, some associates said their identity as minority members has led to false perceptions of skill sets and a diminished caseload. The “Power of 3: AIM (Assignments + Inclusion + Mentoring)” conference was a daylong event that started with a candid discussion from minority associates about their lives as young attorneys. Later in the day, a minority partner roundtable focused on what it took for nine of the city’s minority partners to achieve their current positions. The most commonly heard word of the day: mentor. What Associates Had to Say Most of the associates who took part in the minority associates roundtable said they joined large firms because of salaries, debt they incurred in law school, training opportunities or the chance to work with a range of clients. They spoke in front of the press under the condition that their names not be used. While the debt may be nearly paid off as associate salaries rise, the training and workload aren’t always there. One black female associate said she was working at her second firm after the only work generated from the first firm was the overseeing of contract attorneys as they handled document review. It’s not much better at the second firm, she said, because she has to fight for work with the majority associates. She said the partners have to pass her office to get to the other associates and she still doesn’t get the work. Another female associate said she, at the suggestion of a friend at another large firm who does the same thing, prints out every e-mail that she sends to a partner to request work to have a record that she tried. Many of the associates asked how a firm would know what they could do if they were never given work. A light workload wasn’t something all of the associates were facing. Some said they had partners/mentors – some of color, some not – who looked out for them. One associate said she was given a ton of work on the idea of “if you want to play with the big dogs, here you go.” “You’re put in a position where you’re either bored out of your mind or your drowning,” she said. That, in turn, creates envy among majority colleagues, she said. Another associate said when a black, female attorney has to be pushy to get work, it creates a stigma that follows that attorney around. One black associate said she found it difficult getting her white secretaries to handle any of her work on time. A woman who identified herself as a Latina associate and is one of only two bilingual attorneys at her firm said she is often asked to translate things. She said she gives a list of translation services to whoever is asking. “Translation is not a legal skill,” she said. It speaks to the type of work firms think minority associates can handle, she said. Some of the associates said they felt a burden when thinking about leaving their firm because of what might happen for other minority associates down the line. Others said minority attorneys are too dependent on who is around them. Given the statistics, they will never be a majority in a firm, they said. “We have to buck up, and we have to be able to make it on our own,” one associate said. Most of the associates said it was important to have a plan B and be prepared to walk away from the firm if repeated attempts to solve problems fall on deaf ears. Carl Singley, who recently joined Wolf Block and helped put together the conference, said having the courage to leave a firm can be liberating. “You are responsible for what happens in your career and the quality of life you live,” he said. “Don’t assume that you’re powerless.” Each of the associates offered suggestions to law firms that want to improve associate life for minority attorneys: Take work-life balance seriously; Mentorship. Don’t just assign work but teach soft skills and be candid about things that some may not want to discuss; Explain and assist in business development; Have management evaluations done by the associates; Help clients understand the power of diversity; Create an anonymous mechanism for complaints; Get to know associates on a personal level to break down barriers; Include minority associates on firm committees; and Recruit from schools other than the top law schools because some attorneys may not be able to afford or don’t want to go to those schools. What Partners Had to Say Wolf Block Vice Chairman Bernard Lee moderated a panel of eight of the city’s minority partners to discuss how they became partner and what they have done since reaching that goal. Albert Dandridge of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis was the most senior attorney on the panel and said he was once told that an associate would make partner if he could be left in a room with a client and could go to a partner’s house for dinner with the family. Kevin Hexstall recently made partner at Rawle & Henderson and said he made an effort to be creative and stand out from the other associates. Hexstall had experience on the prosecutor’s side and created a formal proposal to take to firm leadership about creating a criminal defense practice within the firm. A law firm is a business, and no one would bring on a partner in their business without knowing that person would benefit the business, Hexstall said. Other than perfecting skills as a practitioner, the panelists increasingly pointed to the importance of mentors. “You don’t make it in a large law firm without a fairy godmother or a fairy godfather,” Dandridge said. “Period.” Michael Pratt, a partner at Pepper Hamilton and the next chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, said there are very few attorneys who have the intelligence, leadership abilities and drive to become the rainmaker or chairperson. For the majority of attorneys who fall somewhere below the elite, Pratt said the best way for them to stand out is through the support of a mentor who will go to bat for the associate. Monique DeLapenha of Wolf Block said that when she was up for partnership as an eight-year associate at her previous firm, she was surprised to hear that her partner status would have to be deferred for one year. It was through her work on the firm’s recruitment committee that DeLapenha was able to talk to a partner in the firm to see what the problem was despite receiving several positive reviews. A week later, she said, she was made partner. Paul Lancaster Adams of Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads disagreed with the sentiment that mentors are necessary to success. He said it was hard work that created opportunities for him. If an associate does follow the mentor route, it is important to remember where your bread is buttered, Pratt said. Taking work for another partner over your mentor might not be the best choice, he said. Adams said it is also important to take advantage of the opportunities mentors present, such as joining them for a conference or seminar. “As an associate, your client is the partner,” Dandridge said. Also on the panel were Jennifer Battle of Schnader Harrison and Diana Liu and John Nixon of Wolf Block. Fran Fattah, the new director of diversity for Wolf Block, helped put the conference together. It included a keynote address from the chief diversity officer of Andrews Kurth, Elizabeth A. Campbell, and a panel on legal positions outside of large law firms. To read anecdotes from the experiences of some minority associates and more suggestions from minority partners, read the blog section at www.thelegalintelligencer.com or go directly to The Legal ‘s blog at www.thelegalintelligencer.wordpress.com.

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