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Realizing that earlier attempts they made to diversify their legal staffs didn’t go far enough, many firms are heating up their efforts to recruit — and keep — minorities. So they’ve regrouped, joined forces with other firms, and generally redoubled their efforts. Here’s how you can make their ambitions match yours. START EARLY In Philadelphia last spring, a dozen firms came together to create the nonprofit Philadelphia Law Diversity Group, charged with improving minority hiring citywide. One of its first planned programs: a 1L summer internship modeled on those already held in New York and Denver. Such a program will give recipients a summer job at member firms and participation in programwide meetings dealing with skills development and legal issues. “Students would gain a credential they might not otherwise have, and both the students and the firms will have the chance to get to know each other,” explains Lois Kimbol, a partner at Philadelphia’s Dechert working to bring the program to fruition. (Ironically, due to concerns about legality, selection will be race neutral; students will be chosen in part by an essay they write detailing a significant obstacle they have overcome.) Some law firms are dipping down even further, linking up with students before they enter law school. Mississippi’s Butler Snow, for example, recently began a mentoring program for pre-law students at two predominantly minority local colleges. HEAD FOR THE FAIR Minority job fairs have become an important recruitment vehicle for firms. “Attendance by firms at minority fairs has increased incredibly,” says Reginald Green, director of career services at South Texas College of Law in Houston, which has a 25 percent minority enrollment. In the two fairs his university supports, he says, participating firms have doubled in number, to 60, in the last few years. BE SURE THEY KNOW YOUR STATUS If you’re granted an interview, a firm will surely see that you are a member of a minority group. But by just looking at your resume, they may not be able to. To take advantage of their increased efforts at diversifying, tip them off subtly by, say, mentioning membership in a group like the National Black Law Students Association or the Hispanic National Bar Association. WORK THE NETWORK Former members of minority student associations, now associates at the firms you want to reach, are ideal vehicles for getting your foot in. Contact such alumni on your own and attend programs sponsored by these groups on campus. Don’t forget the vast web of alumni contacts at your career services department. “Sometimes we get a better reception when we call a person in a firm first and pave the way for a student’s subsequent communication,” South Texas’ Green says. DO YOUR HOMEWORK It’s not only whether a firm wants you that’s important, but whether you’ll be comfortable there as a person of color. To get a sense for the climate, check their NALP sheet for the number of minority associates and their Web site for the depth of their diversity programs. Most important, hiring partners say, talk to minority attorneys in the firms where you interview. “The old thinking was that interviewees should see only people who are really positive about the firm,” says Kevin Dennis, partner and member of the diversity committee of Boston’s Goodwin Procter. “But now we know it’s important for students of color to sit with attorneys of color to get honest answers to the issues that concern them.” At Goodwin, minority students on their second round of interviews typically meet with two minority attorneys of the four they see. HOW HIGH IS THE COMMITMENT? When evaluating a potential firm, it’s critical to make sure that support for diversity springs from the top. One sign to watch for, says Deborah Buell, partner and chair of the committee on diversity issues at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton: the amount of institutional resources spent on diversity. “At Cleary we not only have a standing diversity committee, we have retained a diversity consultant in the last year to help us learn from what others are doing,” she says. It’s also important to assess whether firm partners are comfortable talking about past efforts that haven’t worked, Buell believes; the ability to acknowledge past failures leads to future success. WALK THE TIGHTROPE CAREFULLY If you’re looking to work at a mainstream firm, take care not to come off as too much of a political militant, some career planners advise. For example, if your black student association worked on a political NAACP lawsuit, you might want to omit the case from your resume. Most firms these days do want attorneys to help them rock the boat a bit to make it be more conducive to people of color, but they may still shy away from a person they fear might try to overturn it. PERSIST, PERSIST, PERSIST “The problem for anybody in getting into a big law firm is getting the interview,” Goodwin’s Dennis observes. Attend every event a firm you’re considering holds on campus — even if the topic bores you. Politely approach the firm representative to introduce yourself. If for any reason you don’t get an on-campus interview, don’t take the rejection personally. In many cases, the school, not the firm, chooses some of the candidates. Dennis advises sending your resume to the heads of the hiring and the diversity committees. “Doing this on your own won’t guarantee you an interview,” he cautions, “but it certainly marks you as someone willing to take the extra step.”

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