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When Solomon Watson IV joined Boston’s Bingham Dana & Gould in 1971, he was the firm’s first African American lawyer. “It was not much of an issue,” Watson says. “My style is to get along with everyone.” Yet when Watson describes those times, a sense of discomfort trickles through his carefully worded recollections. Not with the firm, necessarily, but with Boston. He remembers going out to a local bar after work with a group of white associates. Watson says he quickly “got the sense that the proprietors weren’t happy to see me.” He conveyed his misgivings to one of the white associates, who responded sympathetically, “Folks in this section of town don’t like black folks.” Watson says that, rather than make a fuss, he simply stopped going to that bar with his colleagues: “To me it was easier. I could stay in the office and crank out more billable hours.” Easier, maybe, but not much fun. In 1974 Watson moved back to his home state of New Jersey. He joined The New York Times Company in New York and eventually rose to become general counsel of the newspaper publisher from 1989 through 2005. The same year that Watson joined Bingham Dana�1971�David Andrews joined San Francisco’s McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen. His experience in those early years was markedly different. “I was not at all uncomfortable because of my color,” Andrews says, despite being the only minority lawyer at the firm for most of his tenure as an associate. Like Watson, Andrews left the law firm world in 1974, to teach and do research in Germany and then to work for the federal government. But by 1981, Andrews was back at McCutchen as a lateral partner and in 1991 became its chairman, the first African American to head a major U.S. law firm. He stayed in that post until 1997, leaving to serve as the top legal adviser in the U.S. Department of State. A stint as general counsel of PepsiCo Inc. followed, until Andrews retired from day-to-day practice in 2005. When Bingham Dana and McCutchen, Doyle linked arms in 2002, more than a few observers wondered whether the marriage would last. The merger worked nicely on paper. Bingham: East Coast, corporate, 500 lawyers. McCutchen: West Coast, litigation, 300 lawyers. But the cultural fit seemed awkward on several levels, including diversity. On Minority Law Journal’s Diversity Scorecard, McCutchen ranked number five in 2002, and Bingham Dana ranked number 106. Bingham Dana lagged well behind McCutchen in reaching diversity milestones�in some cases, by close to two decades. But Bingham Dana chairman Jay Zimmerman convinced McCutchen that he was committed to diversity going forward, and in fact the firm had ramped up its minority numbers shortly before the merger, largely through lateral partner hires and recruiting. Five years later, the merged firm looks very different from the old Bingham Dana. Bingham McCutchen’s minority numbers now place it forty-fifth in the Diversity Scorecard, and it ranked as high as eighteenth in 2006, before the recent acquisition of Washington, D.C.’s Swidler Berlin pushed its percentages down. Lawyers of color make up 14.6 percent of Bingham McCutchen’s 914 U.S. lawyers, according to Minority Law Journal’s Diversity Scorecard. Minorities constitute 6.8 percent of the firm’s 365 U.S. partners and 19.7 percent of its 549 U.S. nonpartners. Not all the differences between the merged firms have been ironed out: San Francisco still far outpaces Boston in its proportion of minority lawyers (although both offices rank above average in their percentage of minority lawyers compared with other firms in their respective cities, according to National Association for Law Placement statistics). Diversity seemed to come more naturally to the old McCutchen. But as he promised the McCutchen folks, Zimmerman has kept diversity front and center through an institutional commitment. Cochairing the firm’s diversity committee is Ralph Martin, a lateral partner who joined Bingham in 2002 after a decade as Boston’s first African American district attorney. When he graduated from law school in 1978, Martin says, “I wouldn’t have looked at [Bingham Dana], and they wouldn’t have looked at me. Of all the major Boston firms, Bingham [has] changed the most.” Sol Watson’s short tenure at Bingham Dana was not an auspicious start for diversity at the firm, and for many years the situation didn’t improve much. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1998�more than a quarter of a century after Watson’s hire�that the firm elevated its first black lawyer, Malcolm Sandilands, to the partnership. Legacy Bingham Dana partners tend to blame Boston for making it hard to add color to the firm’s ranks. “Boston was not a terribly hospitable place for lawyers of color,” says Leslie Shapiro, who became Bingham Dana’s second woman partner in 1985. “I can remember [minority lawyers] who came through here who had a very hard time. They felt very uncomfortable.” Boston, the site of the infamous busing crisis of 1974, has never been on the short list of diversity-friendly cities ["A Tale of Two Cities," Summer 2003]. The Boston legal scene is also a relatively lonely place for lawyers of color, lagging well behind the national averages. According to NALP’s 2006 survey, 2.9 percent of partners in law firm offices in Boston were minorities, compared with 5.1 percent nationwide. Boston’s minority associate percentages were relatively better but still below average�11.8 percent versus 16.7 percent nationally. But to some degree, Bingham Dana seemed to appeal even less to minorities than other Boston firms did. African American attorney Fletcher “Flash” Wiley, who recently became of counsel at Bingham, says that when he graduated from Harvard Law School in 1974, he never considered the firm as an option: “I knew what kind of lawyers were there�stodgy, old-school kind of guys.” Instead, he formed his own, minority-owned firm. Bingham Dana was also known for its hardworking, sink-or-swim attitude. “It was trial by fire, with the thinking that the best people would simply rise to the top,” says John Chu, an Asian American lawyer who was at Bingham from 1984 through 1995. “The white male�dominated aggressive culture is a bit of an anathema to the notion of diversity. Culturally, an Asian American or someone from the inner city, for example, may or may not feel comfortable in that environment.” On the other hand, the firm was never exactly part of the Brahmin establishment, says Joseph Hunt, who chaired Bingham Dana in the early 1980s and again in the early 1990s. For years, Hunt says, the typical Bingham Dana lawyer was a blue-collar military vet who had gone to Harvard Law School, although the firm also had more than its share of women. Starting in the 1970s, “we did our best to be diverse,” he says. “It was part of the business culture at the time.” Like most firms then, Bingham Dana focused its diversity efforts on hiring, expanding its recruiting efforts to Howard University School of Law�it was one of the few large firms to do so at the time� and to California law schools, which had a significant Asian American student body. But success was limited, Joseph Hunt says, due to stiff competition and Boston’s bad reputation. The few minority lawyers who did come to the firm�Hunt couldn’t recall any names�tended not to stay. In 1988 Chu became Bingham Dana’s first minority partner. “I don’t think I or the firm looked at it as a big milestone for diversity,” says Chu, who worked in the corporate department until he left in 1995 to form his own firm. During his decade at Bingham, he recalls, “no one ever said to me, ‘We’ve got to bring in more minorities.’ ” Instead, Chu says, “ they treated me like a white guy, and I didn’t have a problem with that.” The sense that Bingham Dana stayed whiter longer than other Boston firms is borne out by the statistics. In 1978 Hale and Dorr named the first black partner of a major Boston firm. Over the next four years, Goodwin, Procter & Hoar; Foley, Hoag & Eliot; and Ropes & Gray elevated black associates to partner. Hale and Dorr could also boast of having the first Asian American partner of a big Boston firm: William Lee joined the firm in 1976 as the only Asian American lawyer in a major Boston firm and became partner in 1981. In contrast, Bingham Dana named its first Asian American partner in 1988 and its first black partner in 1998. Hunt says the disparity between Bingham Dana and other firms was due, at least in part, to the “luck of the draw. If Sol [Watson] had stayed, he would have been partner.” Over on the West Coast, it was a different story. San Francisco’s legal scene, which for many years was just as clubby and white as Boston’s, began to change in the late 1960s. As the center of the counterculture, the city attracted lawyers who took an interest in diversity, among other liberal causes, and who eventually transformed their firms. Today, according to NALP, at Bay Area firms minorities comprise make up 8.4 percent of partners and 24.6 percent of associates, placing the region second in diversity among major cities, behind only Los Angeles. Early on, McCutchen took diversity a step further than other San Francisco firms. Starting in the late 1960s, its hiring partner, Alfred Moorman, “began to populate the firm with women and minorities,” says partner David Balabanian. “Al Moorman really led the way.” Moorman, who died in 1995, served as the firm’s managing partner from 1976 through 1985, by which time McCutchen Doyle had the highest percentage of women associates in the country (46.6 percent), according to The National Law Journal. In 1985 the firm could also boast of two black partners and one Hispanic partner among its 64 partners, as well as two blacks, four Hispanics, and six Asian Americans among its 123 associates. Not exactly impressive by today’s standards, but at that time, Bingham Dana could count just one minority attorney�an Asian American associate�among its 113 lawyers. McCutchen’s next managing partner, James Hunt, continued the push for diversity, says Andrews, who describes Hunt as a mentor. In the late 1980s, during Hunt’s tenure, the firm had its first minority lawyer retreat, and when Hunt handed over the mantle to Andrews in 1991, “we had recruited significant numbers of attorneys of color and openly gay attorneys,” Hunt says. By then, 18 percent of McCutchen associates were minorities, earning the firm second place in The National Law Journal’s 1991 list of highest minority representation. McCutchen was also known for its collegial atmosphere, which helped boost the comfort level of minority associates. Raymond Marshall, who is African American, says that when he interviewed for a summer job in 1976, “I instinctively felt I could be comfortable here,” even though the firm had no black attorneys at the time. And McCutchen’s lawyers seemed more at ease discussing racial issues. Marshall recalls his mentor Stephen Grant telling him when he was an asso�ciate, “You’re doing very well, but you should also understand that you don’t fit the profile of a white male from an Ivy League law school.” Marshall says he appreciated Grant’s candor in leveling with him about a potential career hurdle. (Despite not fitting that white male, Ivy League profile, Marshall made partner in 1985.) That candor is still evident at the old McCutchen offices when lawyers discuss the firm’s record on diversity. Monty Agarwal, a South Asian partner in San Francisco, says, “[Bingham McCutchen] has great intentions, commitment, and desire, but it’s hard to implement. I’m still appalled at the attrition rates of lawyers of color.” Associate Marta Palacios says that San Francisco’s minority numbers are skewed disproportionately in favor of Asian Americans. “I am the only [Hispanic] associate in the office,” she says. “For a California office, that’s not very good.” This willingness to admit that the firm falls well short of the ideal and to identify specific failings, rather than lay the blame on the city or the legal industry, speaks to a level of sophistication and experience in dealing with matters of diversity that isn’t always evident among the old Bingham lawyers. Unsurprisingly, McCutchen’s diversity milestones came well before Bingham Dana’s. McCutchen named its first woman partner in 1971; Bingham Dana’s first woman partner didn’t come until 1985. McCutchen brought in its first lateral African American partner in 1981, and made its first homegrown African American partner in 1985. A year later, in 1986, Asian American litigator Charlene “Chuck” Shimada was named the firm’s first female partner of color. Shimada was at a San Francisco Giants game when an announcement flashed across the scoreboard reading: “Congratulations Chuck Shimada, You’re A Partner!” Shimada says, “It was such a wonderful thing for Jim [Hunt] to do.” McCutchen was hardly nirvana�three pioneering minority partners all say they always felt they had to work harder and perform better than their white male peers. But back east, by the mid-1980s Bingham Dana had yet to name a single partner of color. McCutchen also went on to put partners of color in important management positions, including Andrews as chairman in 1991 and Shimada as head of the San Francisco office in 1997. As of 2007, the only Boston-based minority partner to arguably enjoy such a position is Ralph Martin, who heads the 14-lawyer Bingham Consulting Group, a political advisory practice (although not a registered lobbying practice). Neither Martin nor any other partner of color has ever served on Bingham McCutchen’s ten-member management committee. So what did a firm like McCutchen see in Bingham Dana? Did it boil down to a question of business opportunity�and perhaps simple burnout? McCutchen began exploring the idea of a merger in 1996, and met fruitlessly with 40 of the Am Law 100 firms over the next five years, says former chairman James Hunt. The search proved to be too much for McCutchen’s Hunt, who stepped down as chair a year earlier than he had planned, shortly before the merger with Bingham. “We wanted to grow,” says Donn Pickett, who replaced Hunt. “The plan was that our diversity numbers would suffer and then get better.” And after years of discussions with scores of firms, Pickett adds, “we gained a very good sense of what the new firm would look like and what its values would be.” One such litmus test: telling the potential merger partner that a recent class of eight new partners didn’t contain a single straight white male. “Some [firms] were enthusiastic and positive; others just didn’t get it,” Pickett says. Bingham Dana “got it,” say Pickett and other legacy McCutchen partners. They liked the firm’s emphasis on community service and pro bono work. “When I looked at Bingham,” James Hunt says, “I thought, ‘Our search is over.’ ” He agrees that Bingham’s track record on minorities probably could have been better, but says it had done an excellent job on gender and sexual orientation diversity. (Women make up 23 percent of Bingham McCutchen’s partnership today, among the highest in the industry.) More importantly, James Hunt says, “ my sense was that Bingham was committed to creating a truly diverse law firm.” And in fact, in the years immediately before the merger, Bingham had made significant strides in diversity. Although its percentage of minority lawyers was still low�just 8 percent�in six years it had moved up 122 slots on what is now the Diversity Scorecard, from number 228 in 1996 to number 106 in 2002. The Boston office had three African American partners, a Hispanic partner, and a woman partner of color. The 1997 acquisition of Marks & Murase’s Japanese law practice in New York and Los Angeles added four more Asian Americans to the partnership, for a total of eight. Partners from the old Bingham Dana credit the renewed focus on diversity to Zimmerman’s leadership. In fact, all but one of the partners of color from the old firm were elevated or brought in during Zimmerman’s chairmanship, which began in 1995. Sandilands, the firm’s first black partner, says that Zimmerman mentored him when he was in the London office, which Zimmerman then headed, and championed his promotion to partner. Martin says when he met with the chairman in 2002 to discuss job possibilities, Zimmerman raised the issue of diversity unprompted: “He said that prior to his becoming chair, diversity had not been a strong focus of the firm.” Martin says Zimmerman wanted to change that. For his part, Zimmerman, who has the rapid-fire delivery of an extremely busy person, says there was no formative experience that made him sensitive to diversity issues. He uses a rather loose definition of diversity, describing the Bingham Dana of 1982, which had no women or minorities at the time, as “very diverse in terms of background, compared to other big Boston firms.” For this reason, Zimmerman says, he felt very comfortable at the firm as a Jewish midwesterner with no Boston ties. As chairman, Zimmerman says he is committed to creating a culture of openness and respect in which a diversity of ideas can flourish. “You achieve that by bringing in diverse people,” Zimmerman says. “We’re believers in diversity because it provides for a more inclusive, interesting work environment.” On the other hand, when asked how much McCutchen’s diversity record factored into the merger calculus�specifically, the fact that McCutchen had the first African American chairman in The Am Law 100�Zimmerman says, “It was not that important in particular,” since Andrews was no longer chairman. Zimmerman has thrown his weight behind diversifying the firm. At his direction, the firm put together a diversity task force in 2002, prior to the merger with McCutchen. The task force evolved into a permanent 38-member diversity committee headed by Ralph Martin and Julia Frost-Davies, a white female partner. To ensure that management understood that diversity was a priority, Bingham McCutchen hired two consulting firms to conduct a survey of all employees soliciting their attitudes and feelings about color and gender. Pickett, who now serves as vice-chairman of Bingham McCutchen and has long been involved in diversity efforts with the Bar Association of San Francisco, says the survey results offered no surprises for him, but others on the management committee found it revealing. “It got a lot of attention,” Pickett says, although he declined to give details of the survey results. The firm then developed a plan that includes most of the familiar hallmarks of law firm diversity initiatives. The Diversity Action Plan specifies goals, accountability, and timelines developed through an internal evaluation, and incorporating feedback from attorneys and staff. For example, as an intermediate goal, the firm aims to develop a system tomeasure and reward mentoring by partners. Bingham now has a full-time diversity coordinator, annual retreats for attorneys of color and gay and lesbian lawyers (an idea borrowed from McCutchen), and an online diversity forum. On the recruiting front, Bingham has begun interviewing at Howard again, following a two-decade hiatus; sponsors several programs and scholarships for minority law students; and hosts, sponsors, and participates in minority job fairs and other outreach programs. It seems to be working. The year after the merger, the combined firm came in at number 24 on the Diversity Scorecard. By 2006, it was eighteenth, largely through lateral minority hires. The firm’s most recent ranking took a hit following last year’s acquisition of Swidler Berlin, a 115-lawyer Washington, D.C.�based firm that was only 9.4 percent minority; the addition of the Swidler lawyers drove Bingham’s overall percentages from 17.9 percent to 14.6 percent lawyers of color and pushed the firm down to number 45 on the Diversity Scorecard. Pickett says the Washington office is a “top priority” for improving diversity but believes that, with the bigger office, the firm will actually have an easier time attracting minority lawyers. The firmwide institutionalization of diversity initiatives has clearly helped forge bridges across offices and coordinate efforts. Associates in San Francisco and Boston who responded to The American Lawyer’s Midlevel Associates Survey last year gave identical ratings to the firm’s commitment to diversity, although the majority of the responses were from white associates. A minority associate in Boston wrote that “the firm is genuinely although not entirely successfully trying to focus on diversity efforts.” As with all the firms on the Diversity Scorecard, there is room for improvement. Of the 12 associates elevated to partner in 2007, just one�Susan Kim in the Hartford office�is a lawyer of color. Differences between the old Bingham Dana and McCutchen offices endure. San Francisco is still the most diverse office at 21 percent lawyers of color, and Boston still lags behind with 9 percent minority lawyers. (New York and Los Angeles, both products of mergers with other firms, come in at 18 percent and 16 percent, respectively.) According to several minority associates, the merger has yet to dramatically alter either the culture of the separate offices or their own day-to-day experiences there. “I don’t think anything has changed since the merger,” says San Francisco counsel Marta Palacios. She says she joined McCutchen in 1999 because it embraced diversity on many levels, including racial. “That’s still here,” she says. More broadly, San Francisco midlevel associates, both white and nonwhite, continue to describe an office that’s collegial, laid-back, and informal, in keeping with its longtime reputation. “People care about each other here,” says one Asian American male associate. In the Boston office, diversity has taken a bruising through the loss of several key partners. Black corporate partner Sandilands transferred to the Washington, D.C., office in 2003; African American litigator Henry Moniz left in 2004 to become associate general counsel for compliance at Viacom Inc.; and Marijane Benner Browne, who had been the hiring partner, left for Goodwin Procter in 2006. Browne, a white woman who had served as vice-chair of the Boston Lawyers Group, the city’s foremost organization promoting diversity in law firms, had been by all accounts a champion of diversity. Her departure hit associates especially hard. “She was a large part of the reason I came to Bingham,” says Angelique Manning, who left the firm in 2006 after just a year to join Dow Lohnes in Washington, D.C. “When she left, it was a huge loss for Bingham.” Manning says Browne’s departure sent a signal: ” ‘There’s one less person here to look out for me.’ ” The firm has no formal mentoring program for associates of color. Martin, the diversity program cochair, is based in Boston, but is spread “ way too thin,” according to one former assoc-iate. Martin denies that’s the case, although when asked, he couldn’t name the most senior associate of color in Boston. As a result, even with the formal diversity programs in place right now, the experience of associates of color in Boston depends largely on the practice group they work in, says Rylan Rawlins, an African American associate who left the firm last year. Rawlins says he had a very positive experience during his six years at Bingham, but that was due mostly to the lawyers he worked with, including corporate partners Browne and Meerie Joung, an Asian American who is the Boston office’s first�and only�woman partner of color. Julio Vega, the office’s sole Hispanic partner, is also in corporate. In contrast, minority litigation associates “have a tougher path,” Rawlins says: With the loss of two powerful partners of color�Moniz and Martin, who has shifted his practice primarily to managing Bingham Consulting�they have no minority litigation partners to look to. Rawlins’s own departure leaves a five-year gap between the most senior associate of color in Boston�fifth-year Raquel Webster�and partnership. The firm has also yet to bring partners of color into the upper levels of management. Bingham McCutchen’s ten-member management committee, which is composed of the chair, vice-chair, and heads of the major practice areas, has never included a partner of color. (The second-tier firm committee includes one minority lawyer: African American partner Marshall in San Francisco.) Pickett agrees that “we could do better” in that regard. But he says several partners of color, including Marshall and Martin, are strong candidates for moving into top management echelons. He points to the fact that Bingham’s rank in the Diversity Scorecard went from twenty-fourth in 2003 to eighteenth in 2006 as “proof in the pudding” that the merger was the right decision. “I’ve been very pleased with our progress,” says Pickett, “and I’m quite optimistic for the future.”

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