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Corporate counsel and law firm leaders agree they are frustrated about the slow improvement in diversity efforts within the law firm world, but to where that frustration should be directed is a different story. It was the two law firm representatives on the “Law Firms and Corporate Counsel” panel of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Minority Bar Committee second annual Diversity Summit who disagreed on where the buck stops. James J. Barnes, managing partner of the Pittsburgh office of Reed Smith, said partners need to be evaluated on how they mentor minority associates and have that evaluation affect their compensation. Gregory B. Williams, diversity committee chairman at Fox Rothschild, said “it’s all well and good” for partners to be evaluated on mentoring, but no firm will throw out a partner who is bringing in $5 million in business over diversity issues. Williams said the onus has to be on corporate clients to request certain minority attorneys for matters and make sure they are doing meaningful work on those matters. To most effectively and quickly improve diversity in law firms, firms and corporations need to work together, he said. Corporations should call female or minority attorneys and pass work through them, he said. Barnes said firms have let partners go for abuses of firm values, and if diversity were a core value, firms would let those partners go regardless of a book of business. JoAnne Bober, former head of the mergers and acquisitions practice at Jones Day and current general counsel for JCPenney, said diversity efforts need to be addressed well before partners can even be evaluated on their mentoring of the minority attorneys. “I don’t accept the fact that it’s the client’s responsibility to effect the law firms,” she said. When two equally qualified attorneys enter a firm, one a black female and the other a white male, they are each equally capable of meeting the expectations of that rainmaking partner who could help their career along, Bober said. If the rainmaking partner is a white male, which is generally the case, he would tend to start working with the white male associate � even with the best intentions for the success of the black female associate, she said. If the black female is given the opportunity to work with the rainmaker even a year later, she might not have the advantage of knowing how the rainmaker prefers a memo written, for example, and he would assume she was not as qualified as the white male, Bober said. Firms need to give associates quality assignments from the first 90 days to six months they are there and could even dedicate a partner to assign associates work, she said. Law schools can also play their part in improving diversity by offering a course on the business of law firms to teach firm politics and economics, Bober said. Robert M. Talley, general counsel at Johnson Matthey Inc., was willing to put some responsibility on corporations. As customers, corporations need to convey to their law firm suppliers what they expect to see, he said. “Who you are as you’re visually presented is how you are perceived,” he said earlier in the panel discussion. “It speaks loudly in terms of who you are and what you are.” Diversity isn’t just a visual presentation, however, but a business issue that can become a budget item just like billable hours, he said. General counsel often argue with law firms over controlling billable hours, he said, but they can expect firms to control turnover just as much. Turnover is highest among minority and women attorneys, and it is a cost to corporations, Talley said. Bober said law firms are built on attrition, and turnovers are essential to keep a limited number of partners. She said firms wouldn’t change their economic model to improve diversity, which is why assignments and law school courses are important. Thomas Gean, divisional general counsel for legal compliance at Wal-Mart, said corporations understand the importance of diversity because of the immediate economic impact. He said he isn’t so sure law firms understand. Wal-Mart’s mantra, Gean said, is “don’t confuse efforts with results.” He said his company has terminated four firms for not complying with its diversity requirements. The company also transferred 40 of its relationship partners at its top 100 firms to minority and female attorneys, which equated to $60 million in work, he said. That program is expanding beyond the 100 firms and requires law firms to offer five possible relationship partners. That group must include at least one women and one minority. The top three are chosen and they go to Arkansas to meet with company officials and are eventually narrowed down to one, Gean said. Wal-Mart is the customer in these instances, he said, and they expect firms to comply with diversity requirements and give minority attorneys quality work. While Bober applauded Wal-Mart’s efforts, she said her $2 million a year budget for outside legal services isn’t going to persuade any firm to hire or fire certain attorneys. In her 27 years of practice, there has only been “incremental change” in the number of women and minorities in law firms and corporate departments and Bober said she is losing patience. What Firms Can Do Although they disagreed as to who should take the lead in promoting diversity, Williams and Barnes had some similar thoughts on where law firms should stand on the issue. Williams agreed that diversity has to be a core value of a firm and treated as a business issue. He said firms need to discuss, manage and monitor diversity as they would any other business issue. It is important to have a member of the diversity committee involved in the mentoring program and give them influence in the assignments and partner promotions processes, Williams said. The busy partners who often have the most to teach could receive billable hour credits for mentoring as well, he said. “Once the business case is made � law firms need to step up and perform,” Barnes said. “I firmly believe you get what you measure.” Reed Smith, he said, has an annual diversity retreat that brings in clients and mentors and gives the attorneys a chance to express their experiences in the firm. The managing partner and executive committee are also in attendance, Barnes said, to show the dedication to diversity from the highest levels of firm leadership. White & Williams diversity committee chairman Wesley R. Payne IV moderated the panel. In a written statement on the changes in minority hiring and retention practices since the first diversity summit, Payne said reports showed about a 2 percent increase in the number of minorities among the nation’s largest law firms. “Attorneys of color and women still do not have full access to the higher echelons of practice and their promotions within firms and corporate legal departments have not occurred at the same rate as white males,” Payne said in the update.

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