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In any given month, a law firm leader or administrator typically is invited to a variety of programs and seminars on the topic of diversity and inclusion. Hundreds of consultants advertise their unique ability to crack the seemingly unsolvable code of diversity. Panel discussions seem to take place on a weekly basis addressing what large law firms can do to better attract and retain ethnically and racially diverse attorneys, as well as women and gay, lesbian and bisexual attorneys. All members of these groups can be considered, for law firm purposes, “diverse attorneys.” What do the experts who counsel large law firms suggest? Generally, the options include enhanced orientation programs, mentoring programs, organized assignment and delegation processes, diversity training, career planning, feedback training and affinity groups. If one were to put an umbrella title over all of these proposed solutions, it would be “professional development.” Organization and consultants advising law firms on diversity and inclusion issues should recognize that professional development is an inherent (and valuable) part of law firm management. When one looks at the relevant data, a correlation becomes apparent: Aligning professional development and diversity goals results in higher retention. Problems of increased attrition among ethnically diverse (and female) attorneys can be alleviated if law firms take professional development seriously and begin to adopt professional development and talent-management best practices. Few law firms recognized “professional development” or “talent management” 20 years ago, but that has changed. Most large firms now have extensive professional development programs that assist attorneys, paralegals and other timekeepers in developing skills that will help them succeed. Typically, these encompass substantive legal training, writing assistance, mentoring programs, feedback, leadership techniques, management skills and business-development training. In many cases, professional-development programs create competencies around which training is designed. This trend toward formalized professional-development programs at large law firms represents an investment that is paying off: Entry-level associates appear to be staying longer at their first jobs. The NALP Foundation for Law Career Research and Education, in a study released last year, revealed that for the law school class of 1998, approximately 20% departed their law firm at or near the end of their second year of employment. NALP Foundation, Keeping the Keepers II: Mobility and Management of Associates: Entry Level and Lateral Hiring and Attrition 1998-2003 (2004). Paula Patton, executive director of The NALP Foundation, has reported that entry-level attorneys are more likely to make their first move at the end of their third year of employment � staying 30% longer at their first firms. Paula Patton, Address at Professional Development Consortium Winter Conference, February 2007. Attrition data support the general proposition that professional development programs are doing their job: helping attorneys succeed and helping law firms retain those successful attorneys. The question, then, becomes whether professional development is helping diverse and female attorneys. Are these programs and job functions helping these groups be successful? Are they reducing attrition within these groups? What the evidence shows Although the data are somewhat preliminary, there are many reasons to believe that alignment and support of professional development in law firms have helped and will continue to help law firms achieve their diversity goals. The data show a clear pattern of women and minorities historically lacking assistance with professional development and, not surprisingly, job satisfaction, as compared to nonminority males at the same firms. According to the NALP Foundation’s study of more than 2,000 law firm associates, minority associates were significantly more likely than nonminorities to report that they never received informal feedback. Consistently, minority associates also were the least likely to report receiving feedback five or more times per month. On average, 18% of associates reported that they received feedback five or more times per month, but only 13% of minority associates did. NALP Foundation, How Associate Evaluations Measure Up (2006). In a 2004 NALP Foundation study, associate satisfaction data demonstrate a similar pattern. Of the various ethnic groups, whites were most satisfied with the intellectual challenge and opportunities, and least satisfied with their control over the amount of work they received. NALP Foundation, After the JD (2004). Elsewhere, the American Bar Association Commission on Women engaged the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago to examine why retention rates for whites are so much higher than those for women of color, and why attrition rates for women of color are higher than those for men of color and white women. The complete study was recently released), and the data are consistent with the NALP Foundation’s research. The commission found the retention rate for women of color at law firms was much lower (53%) than that of white men (72%). The study found that women of color felt they were excluded from networking opportunities (66%, compared to 4% of white men); 44% of women of color reported having been denied desirable assignments (compared to 2% of white men); and 43% of women of color reported having limited access to client development opportunities, excluding situations in which their race or gender would be advantageous to the firm. Finally, women of color reported difficulty in achieving billable hours expectations and obtaining key assignments in their group. Markedly different experiences Given those data, it is not surprising that nearly 40% of white associates reported to the NALP Foundation that they expected to stay more than five years at their current firm (reporting three years after law school graduation), while fewer than 20% of Asians, Hispanics or African-Americans reported that they expected to stay more than five years. In fact, blacks and Asians were the two groups most likely to report that they were already looking for another position. It also is not surprising that more than 40% of men expected to stay more than five years, compared to a little more than 30% of women. The conclusions are easy to draw: Whites and men are more likely to report a consistent workload, regular feedback and intellectual challenge in their work. Those are the same groups that are more interested in staying at their firms. Providing a consistent workload, ensuring regular feedback and assessing and maintaining intellectual growth lie within the control of each firm’s practice group, working closely with the professional development function within the firm. Professional development can help law firms boost retention in a variety of ways, especially for women and minorities. How are firms addressing the feedback gleaned from surveys such as NALP’s and the ABA commission’s? First, firms perform surveys and assessments to identify areas for improvement. Many firms find exit interviews helpful in identifying reasons for departure. For example, if a firm spots a pattern in which minority associates in their exit interviews report difficulty in obtaining challenging work, a summary of exit-interview surveys might recommend a change in the work-assignment system. Additionally, the partners might need coaching on management or feedback techniques. Some attorneys may give feedback arbitrarily, but systems and training help partners provide feedback to all attorneys with whom they work. Making this feedback systematic puts the focus on inclusion and gives all attorneys a fair shot at success. Formal professional development departments can offer a significant advantage for diverse attorneys. In addition to providing formal training to all new attorneys � which provides junior associates the ability to “hit the ground running” � professional-development departments are able to focus on inclusion. Inclusion means attorneys are practicing law on a level playing field. After all, what good is hitting the ground running if one is on a field with a steep incline? Formal mentoring and assignment programs customized for individual law firms provide all attorneys the maximum development opportunity possible. While minority and women attorneys have complained that they miss out on key assignments and mentoring, professional-development functions have created processes through which all attorneys are included. Allegations of unconscious bias likely would disappear if a fair and equitable system ensured that all new attorneys had equal opportunities to get in on big deals or cases. Likewise, pairing rainmakers with ethnically diverse attorneys allows mentors the opportunity to invest in someone who may not be the automatic choice, but who still is a great legal talent. The likelihood an African-American female associate will stay at a firm for five years seems likely to increase dramatically when she is paired with a senior, perhaps white, rainmaking partner, especially when that partner is judged a success if that female associate succeeds (or a failure if that female associate leaves). Moreover, the succession planning that occurs from a client-development standpoint is invaluable for the firm. One might notice that the solutions recommended here are not simply training sessions for ethnically diverse or female attorneys; rather, they are best practices for the entire industry. Unfortunately, not all diversity and inclusion strategies are aligned with, and linked to, a firm’s professional development strategy. In a 2007 Altman Weil study of diversity managers and directors at large law firms, fewer than 40% of diversity managers/directors or partners were involved with their respective firm’s professional-development committees, although 100% of those surveyed indicated they played a role in developing and implementing strategic goals for diversity. Altman Weil, Flash Survey on the Diversity Manager Position in Large Law Firms (2007). In a written statement accompanying the survey, Altman Weil’s Virginia Grant Essendoh said, “While most firms have mentoring programs, apparently, they are not linking them with their diversity initiatives. This is a missed opportunity to improve job satisfaction and retention efforts for women and minority lawyers.” Some simple solutions Significant improvements in retention and satisfaction for diverse attorneys are unlikely until law firms start linking professional development with diversity initiatives. The good news is that this alignment can be achieved rather easily. The following are some simple solutions to align professional development with diversity initiatives: • Professional-development personnel should sit on a firm’s diversity committee. • Diversity committee members and staff should sit on a firm’s professional-development committee. • Long- and short-term written plans for each function should be created together and in consultation with one another. • Benchmark surveys should always look for patterns or disparities by race, gender, ethnicity and level of seniority. • Strategies should be implemented in tandem by both job functions. With the right people assisting with diversity and professional-development strategies, law firms should be able to stem the tide of departures and create law firm partnerships that more closely reflect the classes in law schools around the country. Jennifer L. Bluestein is director of professional development in the Chicago office of Baker & McKenzie. In her role, she is involved in attorney recruiting, retention, development, performance management and diversity/inclusion.

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