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When I wrote a column a few weeks ago talking about the importance of diversity and initiatives like our new monthly “Insight on Diversity” feature and our diversity hiring and retention supplement, I was hoping – and expecting – these items would foster more honest and open dialogue. To an extent, they have. I’ve received a number of interesting e-mails and phone calls, from managing partners as well as associates, giving me their take on why there isn’t more diversity in law firms, particularly Philadelphia firms, and what can be done to improve the situation. Unfortunately, I’ve also heard a lot of the same things that were partly responsible for prompting me to add the diversity feature and focus a whole supplement on it in the first place. From firms I heard that while they “are committed to diversity,” the talent pool for diversity lawyers is small to begin with, and most of the top candidates choose New York and Washington, D.C., so that it’s really tough to improve things. After listening to a roundtable on diversity hiring and retention and talking to a number of minority attorneys around town, I’m confident in saying that many minority attorneys would respond to that comment like this: “It’s ‘bullshit.’” That’s not my word. But it is a word I’ve heard a lot lately and that got ample use at the roundtable we held. I’m not here to stand on a soapbox and preach. One of the reasons we’re doing some of these initiatives here at the paper is because we haven’t measured up the way we’d like to when it comes to covering diversity. We also have to acknowledge old perceptions about the paper that we need to change and that can only be changed by action. So I’m the last person to try to claim any moral high ground on this issue. What I will do, though, is tell you what I’m seeing and hearing from both management and rank-and-file lawyers about diversity. I don’t question the sincerity of the firms or their managing partners. I’ve sat with them and seen genuine concern and angst in their faces when the subject of diversity comes up. I believe them when they tell me diversity is important to them and that they aren’t satisfied with their progress. I believe the firms are trying. But that’s not the issue. The issue is that many minority lawyers don’t believe that. The issue is that whatever measures the firms are taking now, they aren’t working. If the firms really want to improve, they need to think about coming up with something new. And they certainly need to find a way to better communicate with their existing minority attorneys as well as those at other law firms and in law school that they value diversity and understand it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s something that will make the firm stronger. I used the word “unfortunately” earlier because I was hoping more firms would think outside the box. I was hoping more managing partners would do what Managing Shareholder Peter R. Spirgel from Flaster Greenberg did and write a newspaper piece asking minority attorneys for advice on what they can do to make their firms more attractive to minorities and what initiatives can be instituted in order to ensure more minority lawyers succeed at the firms. I also used the word “unfortunately” because I also heard from a number of minority lawyers – as I have for months now – who have said the firms just don’t get it or don’t care. That shows there’s a real disconnect. If you’re really trying to improve in a particular area, and the very people you’re trying to reach don’t think you’re doing enough, and in fact don’t think you’re even interested in fixing the problem, well then – firms are staring at a bigger problem in this area. America is a diverse country, made rich and vibrant and so wonderfully unpredictable and democratic because of that diversity. Law firms, like the rest of American society, are going to follow suit. It’s just a matter of when and whether they’re going to lead that change themselves or be dragged there kicking and screaming. How are law firms supposed to reverse their fortunes when it comes to diversity? I’ve heard from a number of people that the biggest problem isn’t recruitment; it’s retention and promotion, something that was echoed during the roundtable. People have also told me that what it ultimately comes down to is that firm management “has to really give a damn” about the issue and demonstrate it. So what’s the answer? I don’t pretend to know. Several minority attorneys have pointed out to me that the problems surrounding retention and promotion are ones affecting white associates as well as those of color, so maybe it’s a larger business model/cultural issue that firms need to examine more closely. There’s no silver bullet here. But in the absence of an easy solution, people can experiment and take chances. They can try to set up pipelines at law schools to bring in more candidates. They can set benchmarks for development and interaction with partners. Firms can instruct their leaders that given the financial investment in associates – particularly minorities and women – it is the duty of partners and practice leaders to help develop them, not just for the sake of the associates, but for the whole firm. Firms can hold “clear the air” sessions to let attorneys express what’s working and what’s not working at the firms and address problems out in the open. All of those things might not work either. But in trying something new, some successes might be attained. And no matter what, people can talk and be honest with each other and try to reach a common ground to change the status quo. HANK GREZLAK is the editor-in-chief of The Legal Intelligencer . He may be contacted at 215- 557-2486, or by e-mail at [email protected].

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