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To the Legal:

We write in response to your recent articles and survey regarding diversity at plaintiffs firms in Pennsylvania. The legal profession as a whole has recognized the glaring failure to create diversity in the practice of law in the wake of historic and pervasive discrimination.

The trial bar associations have taken steps to address the issue – including the creation of committees to consider ways to improve diversity representation in our firms and organizations – but we recognize that we have not gone far enough to achieve results of which we can be proud.

The numbers in your survey showed how pronounced the weakness is, and thus The Legal’s journalism has done us a great service. We are committed to taking steps to help our member firms carefully consider diversity in their hiring practices.

Make no mistake, we have a deep commitment to deal with this issue, but it will take time, in addition to dedication, to make real change. The large corporate firms, which hire significant pools of new attorneys every year, took years to improve their diversity hiring, and we would be disingenuous if we assured you and members of minority communities that we will make this change overnight. Working together and with other regional associations around the state, we must begin now, and we are. Let us outline some of the measures we are taking.

Resolve to Diversity Hiring

First, at our recent meetings, the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association (PaTLA) and the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association (PTLA) unanimously passed resolutions calling for our members to redouble our commitment to diversity hiring. But the resolutions do not stop there.

We are determined to act with more than words, and the mandate of our diversity committees directs them to develop and implement a comprehensive plan with reporting to the boards of governors throughout the year on a regular basis. PaTLA will perform a survey of plaintiffs firms on a periodic basis to determine what success we have made. We know that we must be accountable.

Diversity Committee With Outside Advisers

Second, while PaTLA has had a diversity committee for some years, we are in the process of rebuilding it with new members who can think creatively about ways to meet this challenge. We are inviting people – not just PaTLA members and not solely attorneys – from diverse communities around the state to help us in this effort. Not only will this help us think out of the box, it will also be another measure of accountability.

By way of example, Assistant Dean LeoNora Ruffin from the Career Placement Office of Widener University recently addressed the PTLA board and outlined some strategies for long-term improvement, and our members are interviewing Ruffin’s counterparts at other Pennsylvania law schools in a similar effort to develop a plan that emphasizes real and practical change.

Best Practices Toward Success

Third, it is important that the diversity committees develop a series of best practices for law firms to adopt and guide them in meeting this challenge. For example, a best practice might be a goal that, for any opening, law firms should make every effort to include at least one minority candidate of the three final ones – this is based on the ideal of the Rooney rule instituted in pro football.

Start With Law Students

Fourth, we need to reach out to the law schools in and around Pennsylvania. Here, the effort will be twofold. Our members have to renew relationships with their law schools and create forums where they tell the story of what they do as trial attorneys. That could be at job fairs, participating in trial advocacy programs, providing law school Web sites with information of noteworthy trials around the state that they can attend or events that we create on campus.

In Philadelphia on Sept. 8, there will be a minority job fair for law students, and we intend to have a strong presence there. We are also scheduling speaking engagements within the law schools, to educate and inform students about the life of a trial lawyer, and we have begun the process of working with these schools to advance such programs as targeted minority co-ops, in which minority students earn credit while spending six months working within some of our firms.

Other programs include one-week externships where students will follow individual attorneys through the course of a week to obtain a firsthand look at what we do.

We have a good story to tell to law students. Our attorneys are champions of justice, fighting for some of the most vulnerable people in our society who have been hurt because of negligence or misconduct; challenging companies who put dangerous products on the market or lie to their shareholders; fighting against corporations who take shortcuts that hurt our environment.

If we do a better job telling our story, we believe that more students will consider plaintiffs work as a positive, admirable career track to take.

Model for Intern Programs

Many law firms begin the recruiting process with summer intern programs. Typically, however, plaintiffs firms do not have intern programs and most do not hire right out of law school.

Our organizations will provide our member firms with a model for developing an intern program tailored to plaintiffs firms needs and capacities. The commitment to diversity hiring that all of our member firms should adopt would encourage the recruitment of interns from minority communities.

Perhaps we should target our intern programs at students looking for experience after their first year of law school. The idea would be to give students exposure to the nature of plaintiffs work so they would consider it at some point in their career.

Reach Out to Minority Legal Organizations

Fifth, we have been and will continue reaching out to the minority and ethnic bar associations and ask that they work with us on this important initiative. Similarly, we need to encourage our members to get more involved with minority bar associations and seek leadership positions in them.

We need to establish communities of interest with the many minority, single practitioners in plaintiffs work. Our leadership is committed to becoming more engaged in the Philadelphia Bar Association’s minorities in the profession committee, and plans to participate in a diversity forum sponsored by the bar association this September. This kind of networking will open doors and create opportunities where they haven’t existed in the past.

Role Models in Educational Programs

Sixth, we are committed to making best efforts to include minority attorneys in the educational programs that we run at PaTLA. If young attorneys see role models from their own communities speaking with authority at these programs, they will see that plaintiffs work is something to emulate.

This set of initiatives is just a beginning. We have charged our diversity committees to examine them and develop other ideas as we continue this process. But we hope that these measures and those to come continuously demonstrate our sensitivity to this problem which requires our ongoing vigilance and dedication, as we work to create a new day in building plaintiffs firms that more accurately reflect the quilt of our community.

We have been struck by an irony in facing this test. As trial attorneys, we work hand in hand with people who are seeking civil justice, and they are most often the most vulnerable people in Pennsylvania, many of them from minority communities.

Just as we are dedicated to the causes of our clients, we feel strongly that we must spend considerable energy in diversifying our own firms. We reach out to all sectors of the legal community to help us meet this challenge. Together, we can succeed.

Tim Riley
Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association
Mark Tanner
Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association

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