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Plaintiffs firms must cast a wider net in their search for candidates for attorney openings in order to hire more minority attorneys and change the face of the profession, a panel of plaintiffs attorneys said yesterday during a Philadelphia Bar Association Minorities in the Profession Committee meeting.

“You have a sense we’re a club and you can’t break into it,” said Ruben Honik in response to audience comments about the insularity of plaintiffs firms’ hiring process. Honik was a panelist and is a partner with Golomb & Honik and a past president of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association.

Mark Tanner, a partner with Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner & Weinstock and current president of the PTLA, said the plaintiffs firm hiring process is not as thoughtful as it needs to be because plaintiffs firms often do not have formal human resources staff and do not hire summer associates. Instead, lawyers in the area tend to think of someone in their professional or social networks that can be poached from another firm, Tanner said.

Considering that plaintiffs firms’ clients are often minorities, Tanner said a series on minority hiring by plaintiffs firms in The Legal left him wondering “how did a group of us that professes to feel so strongly about equality, justice … end up this way?”

Following The Legal series, published earlier this year, the committee invited six panelists to address the lack of diversity at plaintiffs firms and how this deficit can be changed. The series found that less than 3 percent of the attorneys at Pennsylvania’s largest plaintiffs firms were minorities and that female attorneys only make up 23 percent.

“It’s embarrassing and it’s humiliating and it’s very, very bad,” said Shanin Specter, a partner with Kline & Specter and a co-chair of the PTLA’s diversity committee.

Besides Honik, Specter and Tanner, the panel included Nadeem Bezar, a partner with Colby Gordon; Laura Feldman, a partner with Feldman & Pinto and another co-chair of the diversity committee; and Bernard Smalley, a partner with Anapol Schwartz Weiss Cohen Feldman & Smalley and the other co-chair of the diversity committee.

Tanner said the bar association has begun reaching out to minority bar associations and to area law schools, particularly minority student associations at the law schools. Events are scheduled through 2008, he said.

The bar association also will soon launch a job bank that plaintiffs firms will be able to use to find candidates, some of them populated with resumes gathered through the association’s outreach to the law schools and bar associations, Tanner said. He also asked plaintiffs firms to post their job openings in the bank.

“It’s very cost-efficient for our members. It’s easy to do,” Tanner said.

Feldman said plaintiffs firms must expand their source pool for lateral hires beyond defense firms to include judicial clerks, public defenders and attorneys in U.S. attorney’s offices.

Specter noted that plaintiffs firms are not participating in the law school recruiting process during which many students get their jobs. Employers also should discipline themselves and make the commitment that one of the finalists for any attorney opening must be a minority candidate, Specter said.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve done a lousy job recruiting. We’ve done a non-existent job,” Specter said.

Smalley said he was not shocked about The Legal‘s reporting because he already knew that the number of minorities in plaintiffs firms was low. He noted that except for two minorities, he has hired every other minority that works for his firm.

“If you can represent us, then you can hire us. … It needs to be corrected. It should have been corrected. Looking at my firm, there’s always been an affirmative action policy. If sons and daughter of partners graduate from law school, you affirmatively have a job,” Smalley said to a chorus of rueful laughter.

Feldman expressed optimism that the Philadelphia’s plaintiffs bar will change the face of its members to better reflect the diversity of its clientele. She said she has never seen a group as committed to accomplishing a goal.

“It will never sit on anyone’s desk. It will be implemented,” Feldman said.

“There has to be an attitude change,” Honik said. “What I know in my heart is this association and this bar can do something about this. But it won’t be overnight.”

At the end of the panel, the forging of the widened personal connections needed to crack the “club” as Honik put it, may have begun.

Business cards were exchanged. Hands were shaken. And some attendees immediately accepted Honik’s open invitation to attend PTLA events by planning to attend the association’s judicial candidates’ forum that very night.

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