Nixon Peabody’s San Francisco office has gone green to build some goodwill.

The law firm’s four new levels in Embarcadero One use ultra-low-flow faucets, energy-saving lighting and dual-flush toilets. The flooring is made from aging unproductive walnut trees, while countertops consist of recycled plastic bottles and glass chips. Seventy-five percent of the construction waste was recycled.

Those are just a handful of the characteristics necessary to be deemed worthy by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design system � a national benchmark for green design. Nixon Peabody lawyers say theirs is one of the first large law firms in the country to design office space aimed at meeting that criteria.

At first, the idea was “pretty grassroots,” said San Francisco Managing Partner Paul Schrier, who admits he doubted its viability. But when the law firm decided to move from the Embarcadero Two building to Embarcadero One in April, it seemed like good timing for a change.

“It was about the same time our green practice was gearing up, and we thought it made sense to walk the talk,” said counsel Andrea Cohen, who represents emerging technology companies in the clean technologies sector. “We wanted to show people we weren’t only building a practice but also practicing that practice.”

Going green increased the total cost for the new floors by about 1.5 percent, including the documentation necessary for the certification � which they expect to receive this summer.

“I thought it was going to cost an arm and leg,” but it didn’t, Schrier said. “I was skeptical that it would look really cheap, but it looks great.”

“We have a stunning office space that’s the picture of good design � it’s open and light and airy and completely free of toxic chemical smells,” Cohen added.

Clients � especially those in the firm’s “clean tech” practice � have taken notice. In fact, Nixon Peabody got selected from among several firms for one job since “the client felt our practice was consistent with what they were doing,” Cohen said.

“Yes, it does take some work,” she said. “But if people put their minds to it, others can reduce their carbon footprint as well. The goodwill it engenders is well worth the extra effort.”

Kellie Schmitt


The grades are in on workforce diversity, and if this were school, the state’s largest law firms would barely be passing.

Berkeley’s Greenlining Institute released a report card Thursday summarizing how the legal profession has fared in hiring and promoting attorneys of various ethnic backgrounds.

And the numbers are not encouraging.

The report comes in two parts, one highlighting the percentage of minority associates recently employed at each firm, the other showing the percentage of minority partners.

Each is broken down by race, so it becomes easy to see that Cooley Godward Kronish appears to employ no African-American partners, while Gordon & Rees; Jones Day; Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; and DLA Piper each only employ one African-American partner. Accordingly, Greenlining gave those firms “D’s” and “F’s” in that category.

The only “A” in this category went to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. The firm appears to employ three African-American partners out of 52 partners in California, or 5.76 percent (based on a curve, an “A” went to firms that had 5 percent or more of their partners in the cate-gory).

Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis; Sedgwick and Gibson, Dunn scraped the bottom with less than 1 percent of their total number of partners being Asian-American. They each received an “F-.” In that category, the best grade went to Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. The firm appears to employ 136 partners in California, 14 of whom are Asian-American, or 10.29 percent.

A bit of hope for Allen Matkins, though: It appears to have the highest share of Latino associates, 9.4 percent, while Bingham McCutchen has the highest percentage of African-American associates, 6.91 percent.

Of the 20 firms surveyed, only three appear to employ at least one Native American partner, and only six have at least one Native American associate.

Whitty Somvichian, a partner in Cooley’s litigation department, said part of the problem for the firm is that the pipeline is limited and the outreach programs and diversity affairs the firm attends are not enough. “The challenge becomes, how do you go beyond the immediate recruiting efforts targeted at the law schools,” he said.

Skadden’s Jose Allen, an African-American who has been a partner in the San Francisco office for 17 years, said Skadden was among the first firms to hire a full-time diversity manager. Despite its “A,” Allen said, “We’d love to do better.”

Greenlining’s senior legal counsel Thalia Gonzalez, who pulled the numbers from a directory maintained by the legal employment nonprofit NALP, said firms have an uphill battle.

“I’m not making conclusions about who’s doing a good job and who isn’t doing a good job,” Gonzalez said. “I think the data speaks for itself.”

The numbers come straight from the firms themselves, and can be accessed online at the NALP directory. The report card is avail-able under “publications” at www.greenlining.org.

Petra Pasternak