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Former 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Joseph Hatchett challenged South Florida’s biggest law firms at a luncheon last week to step up their efforts to increase their numbers of African-American partners. But Cesar Alvarez, president of Miami-based Greenberg Traurig, who attended the event, said that his firm and others were hampered in their minority recruiting efforts by anti-affirmative action court rulings and by the state’s small pool of black attorneys. Meanwhile, Jason Murray, a shareholder in the Miami office of Carlton Fields who is president of the Black Lawyers Association of Dade County, promised that his group is stepping up its scrutiny of minority hiring practices at public agencies as well as private law firms. Last August, the black lawyers group released a study that found there are just nine black partners in the Miami offices of major law firms, a net gain of only four over a 10-year period. Since then, the group has focused on increasing the number of African-American partners in South Florida. In February, the association formed a coalition with the Cuban-American Bar Association in Miami-Dade to help boost overall minority hiring at law firms in the area. Hatchett, who’s now a partner at Akerman Senterfitt in Tallahassee and who oversees minority hiring for the firm, spoke to nearly 60 influential lawyers and firm partners at last week’s luncheon, which was sponsored by the black lawyers group. The attendees at the Hyatt Regency Miami event included Alvarez; Luis Perez, managing partner of Akerman Senterfitt; Charlie Schuette, president of Akerman; and Jay Shapiro, managing partner of Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadef & Sitterson. Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Miami-Dade county attorney’s office also participated. At the luncheon Hatchett disapprovingly cited recent statistics showing only 12 black partners out of a total of about 1,500 black lawyers practicing in Miami-Dade. He said those numbers need to go up significantly. “Our local legal employers need to get together to talk about how that can be accomplished,” said Hatchett, an African-American who left the bench in 1999 to head Akerman’s appellate section. “Something needs to be done, because everyone’s goal should be to have a diverse workplace.” STRATEGY CONSENSUS The Thursday luncheon was a warm-up to a closed-door, brainstorming breakfast the next day, dubbed an economic inclusion summit, which was attended by members of the black lawyers group and local managing partners. That breakfast had a somewhat smaller turnout of about 35 lawyers, including managing partners and recruiters from Greenberg Traurig, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, Kluger Peretz Kaplan & Berlin, Holland & Knight, Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton, and Morgan Lewis & Bockius. Also attending were Florida Bar president Herman Russomanno and Dade County Bar Association president Ervin Gonzalez. During the four-hour session, Murray said, the attendees broke into three groups, two of which discussed recruiting issues while the third worked on an idea developed by Alvarez of Greenberg Traurig. Alvarez had recommended that the black lawyers group, with the help of local law firms, work to expand the pool of black job candidates in South Florida by marketing the area to students at historically black law schools around the country. Akerman’s Perez also suggested having big firms in Miami hold periodic receptions for minority attorneys for networking purposes. Ultimately, the breakfast attendees agreed on several strategies. First, the Black Lawyers Association will begin work on a diversity mission statement, which all major firms in Miami-Dade will be invited to sign. After that is completed in about a month, the firms and the association will develop an action plan to implement the mission statement. At the breakfast session, one of the speakers was Abbe Bunt, a legal recruiter at Howard Williams & Rahiam in Miami, who has worked with the Professional Opportunity Program at the University of Miami. That program places black law students in clerkships and internships around South Florida. Bunt said that while a law firm may feel uncomfortable directly asking its recruiters to hire by race, it can direct them to develop a larger pool of minority candidates from which to choose. To help firms do this, Murray made available a packet of r�sum�s of black lawyers who are about to enter the market. Several law firms expressed interest in inspecting the r�sum�s, said Murray, who expressed satisfaction with the results of the breakfast session and the responses he received. “It was good to finally be rolling up our sleeves and getting down to business,” he said. DOING WELL VERSUS DOING GOOD In his talk, Hatchett stressed that hiring and promoting more black lawyers isn’t just a matter of social and moral responsibility. It also offers tangible financial benefits for big firms. He held up a letter signed by the chief legal officers from 65 of the nation’s leading corporations. In the letter, the corporate attorneys stated, “We expect the law firms which represent our companies to work actively to promote diversity within their workplace.” The letter further stated, “In making our respective decisions concerning selection of outside counsel, we will give significant weight to a firm’s commitment and progress in this area. The companies that signed the letter included BellSouth, Bank of America, Delta Air Lines, AT&T and J.C. Penney. “Corporate America likes diverse law firms,” Hatchett said. “It’s not only the responsible thing to do, but it makes good business sense.” Law firms shouldn’t see this as making amends for historical wrongs against African-Americans, or meeting arbitrary numerical hiring and promotion targets, Hatchett said. What he suggested instead was a top-to-bottom change in the way firms hire, train and promote black lawyers. And he had several specific suggestions. First, he recommended that law firms draft a mission statement describing the role that diversity should play in their goals and strategies. Next, firms should consider creating a diversity committee charged with developing ways to increase diversity in the law firm and among the partners. The committee could report directly to either the managing partner or the shareholders as a group. REACH OUT TO BLACK SCHOOLS During recruiting season, Hatchett recommended that firms look beyond the top five law schools they have gone to in the past, and also send their headhunters to historically black universities with respected law schools, such as Howard University in Washington, D.C., and North Carolina Central University in Durham. “Too many times firms assume that they should only recruit from 12 certain law schools and not hire anyone except those who make law review,” said Hatchett, who served on the committee that picked Orlando as the site for the new Florida A&M University law school. The old hiring practices are based on outdated, incomplete ideas about what it takes to be a good lawyer, he said. He compared this to the notion that all police officers need to be physically strong. In reality, cops also need to be effective goodwill ambassadors to the community and to be able to deal sensitively with children and with touchy family situations. “They don’t only deal with bank robbers,” Hatchett said. When firms succeed in identifying good black lawyers, Hatchett said, they should consider bringing these individuals into the firm early so they can work as interns while still in law school. Currently, many black lawyers feel isolated within law firms after they are hired, he said. Often, they feel excluded from the firm’s social functions, perceive that their bonuses are smaller, and generally sense that no one cares about their careers. He said hiring black law students for internships helps form a social bond with the firm. Early training also can help them learn more quickly how to originate new business for the firm. “If you don’t make that commitment early on, retaining black lawyers becomes increasingly difficult,” Hatchett said. LEGAL IMPEDIMENTS During the question and answer session after Hatchett’s talk, one audience member, Assistant U.S. Attorney Terrence Ayala, suggested that one big problem in recruiting minority lawyers is that headhunters generally lack ties to minority communities. He asked Cesar Alvarez about the role that headhunters play at his firm. Alvarez replied that it is problematic legally for law firms to have their headhunters explicitly make race a factor in recruiting and hiring. He says his recruiters are expected to seek out the best possible candidates, regardless of race, sex or ethnicity. It’s also difficult to recruit black lawyers because the pool of black lawyers in Florida is small, Alvarez said. Just 2 percent of the Florida Bar’s 65,000 lawyers are black. Other audience members who work for the U.S. Attorney and the Miami-Dade county attorney said their agencies have the same problems recruiting and promoting black lawyers faced by private law firms. But Murray promised that the Black Lawyers Association will soon publish statistics on the number of African-American lawyers in public agencies, just as his group has done for private law firms. “We’re not going to let the public sector escape,” he warned.

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