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The first generation of diversity leaders at two of Pittsburgh’s largest firms has moved on during the last month. Carl Cooper was one of the first chief diversity officers of any large firm when he took the position at K&L Gates in January 2003. He left the firm last week to start his own consultancy, working with other firms on similar issues. K&L Gates Chairman Peter J. Kalis said the firm is currently searching to fill Cooper’s position. Cathy Bissoon left Reed Smith’s Pittsburgh office for Cohen & Grigsby during mid-April, leaving open the role of director of diversity, a position she had held since 2001. Reed Smith said yesterday that it has appointed Washington, D.C.-based partner Tyree P. Jones Jr. as its new director of diversity. Jones is of counsel in the firm’s labor and employment practice and has been working on diversity issues for more than 20 years, in part through his involvement with the Bar Association of San Francisco’s two-decades long Goals and Timetables for Minority Hiring and Advancement report and project. In his new position, Jones will also head up the firm’s diversity committee and report to Reed Smith Chairman Gregory B. Jordan and other firm leadership. Jones said he would maintain his practice while spending time on his new role. His work in employment law “dovetails” into his new role as director of diversity because much of his practice deals with equal access to quality work, Jones said. Prior to joining Reed Smith in 2003, Jones had founded the Interactive Law Group in 1998 and had also practiced in San Francisco with Bronson Bronson & McKinnon and Brobeck Phleger & Harrison. One of his biggest goals as director of diversity, he said, is to focus on retention through providing equal access. He said access to quality work is a key component of the decision process when an attorney is contemplating leaving a firm. Both Reed Smith and K&L Gates said the work of Bissoon and Cooper, respectively, has created significant change within their firms. Reed Smith had six minority partners in 2001, and today it has 30. The number of minority lawyers overall has grown from 38 in 2001 to 158 in 2007 – or about 10 percent of the firm’s 1,500 lawyers. The firm said it has also increased the number of minority attorneys in leadership positions, including on its executive committee, as office managing partners and in firmwide practice leadership positions. Kalis called Cooper a “path-breaker” and said the firm’s “metrics in terms of diverse lawyers have improved dramatically.” Cooper was traveling this week and unavailable for comment for this article. Kalis said the firm’s two recent mergers – with Seattle-based Preston Gates & Ellis and London-based Nicholson Graham – have clouded those numbers a bit. Taking those additions out of the equation, Kalis said the firm saw a “really substantial upward bend in the curve” when it came to minority representation among its attorney ranks. Reed Smith has also had two large-scale mergers this year, but Jones said that hasn’t skewed the firm’s diversity numbers. The mergers hadn’t posed any challenges that were unique to the diversity goals of any international firm, he said. Learning about and assessing the diversity issues found in the firm’s new international offices will be a big part of his work, Jones said. Both Reed Smith and K&L Gates’ diversity initiatives encompass attorneys with disabilities, gay and lesbian lawyers as well as attorneys of color and women. Reed Smith has established a fellowship program in several of its offices that provides summer work and scholarship funding for minority law students who have faced economic, social or personal adversity. Cooper’s charge when taking his role at K&L Gates was to drive change within the firm and in the legal culture in general, Kalis said. “He fulfilled both of those missions extraordinarily well,” he said. When Cooper started in 2003, he was afraid of flying, Kalis said, but that didn’t stop him from being “relentless” in spreading his message around the country. In 2003, Kalis said there were few firms if any who had a chief diversity officer that reported directly to the chairman, as Cooper did. He said some firms had diversity partners who also practiced, but few had full-time diversity officers. That has changed over the past four years, Kalis said, with probably more than two-thirds of AmLaw 100 firms that have people dedicated solely to diversity issues. Virginia Grant Essandoh of Altman Weil said two-thirds might be a bit generous in terms of full-time diversity officers. In a survey completed earlier this year by Altman Weil and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, the group found that the country’s largest 200 firms were implementing a diversity manager role more frequently – up to 50 percent for the latest survey. About 61 percent of diversity managers work full time, and about 67 percent report to the firm chairperson or managing partner. Essandoh said it is important for the positions to be full time and critical for firms to have the position report directly to firm leadership. “It sends a poor message if the position’s not reported to the executive or managing committee of the firm,” she said. Essandoh said she was surprised to hear of Cooper’s departure. The role of a diversity officer in any firm is a challenging one, and people often question why it would need to be full time, she said. They often don’t understand how much there is to be done, Essandoh said. Cooper has been active in the profession and very involved with the American Bar Association’s Pipeline Diversity projects, she said. The project focuses on encouraging and equipping minority students to pursue a law career, according to the ABA’s Web site.

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