X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Pick any of the largest, best-known law firms in Florida’s Broward and Palm Beach counties and you can count the number of Hispanic attorneys on one hand. When you do the same for Miami-Dade’s biggest firms, you’ll need to borrow some digits. Based on a review of law firm Internet sites, the number of Hispanic-surnamed lawyers compared with the total number of lawyers at the West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale offices of the following firms are: Gunster Yoakley, one out of 88; Akerman Senterfitt, two out of 61; Becker & Poliakoff, zero out of 53; Ruden McClosky Smith Schuster & Russell, zero out of 88; Holland & Knight, four out of 59; and Greenberg Traurig, two out of 88. In contrast, Holland’s Miami office has 35 Hispanic-surnamed lawyers out of 108 attorneys, while Greenberg’s Miami office has 35 out of 149. Of course, not all Hispanic lawyers have obviously Hispanic family names. But none of the law firms mentioned above disputed the tallies. “We’re just now starting to see Hispanic movement northward in all professions,” says Carlos Reyes, a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig in Fort Lauderdale who’s one of only two Hispanic attorneys in Greenberg’s northern South Florida outposts. “The legal profession tends to lag behind.” Firm representatives say they haven’t prioritized recruitment of Hispanic attorneys up to now because of the relatively small Hispanic population in Broward and Palm Beach counties, and because they haven’t drawn significant numbers of Hispanic applicants. All this is likely to change with the rapid increase of Hispanic residents, they say. Like nearly everyone interviewed for this article, Rae Chorowski, president of the Broward County Hispanic Bar Association, was caught off guard by the very low number of Hispanic attorneys at major firms in Broward and Palm Beach counties. She calls the figures “shocking.” “I was not aware of those numbers,” says Chorowski, a partner and the sole Hispanic in the three-lawyer firm Chorowski & Greenhawt in Fort Lauderdale. “You’d think that the managing partners would be seeking to hire Hispanics to tap into the Hispanic community. Sad to say, it seems like the larger law firms still have that good-old-boy mentality.” But Palm Beach County Hispanic Bar Association president Rae Franks, a solo practitioner, takes a milder view. She contends that the near absence of Hispanic attorneys in Broward and Palm Beach in major firms is less a matter of discrimination and more that of Hispanic attorneys preferring to practice in Miami-Dade. Hispanic lawyers in the two northern counties also have preferred small firm or solo practice, she says. On the other hand, Franks warns that the big firms will lose lots of future business if they don’t start hiring more Hispanic lawyers. “As the population grows, I’m already finding real estate firms more interested in working with Hispanic attorneys,” she says. “As the community matures and more of us become business owners and managers, law firms without Hispanic attorneys will miss the boat.” Given Miami-Dade’s huge Hispanic population and its strong historical, business and legal ties to Latin America, Hispanic lawyers in Miami-Dade have risen to prominent positions in the legal community, heading some of the largest law offices and holding numerous judicial and elective political posts. Broward and Palm Beach counties, of course, have far fewer Hispanic residents than Miami-Dade. According to the 2000 census, Palm Beach is 12.4 percent Hispanic and Broward is 16.7 percent, while Miami-Dade is 57.3 percent Hispanic. Still, the Latino populations in the two northern counties are growing rapidly. Broward’s grew by more than 75 percent in the 1990s, to just under 200,000. Palm Beach’s Latino community grew by more than 70 percent, to just over 117,000. By comparison, Florida’s statewide Hispanic growth rate was 46 percent, while the national rate was 39 percent. NO ECONOMIC INCENTIVE Law firm representatives in Broward and Palm Beach counties offered a variety of explanations for the dearth of Hispanic attorneys in their offices. Alan Becker, a founding partner at Becker & Poliakoff in Fort Lauderdale, says that for now, his firm has no economic incentive to seek out Hispanic lawyers because of the nature of the firm’s practice. But he expects that to change with the county’s population. “Most of our work is business-oriented,” Becker says. “If we were doing divorce, or criminal cases, or a lot of personal injury, I would say it’s more important. The business community doesn’t necessarily mirror the general population.” When hiring lawyers for his Miami office, Becker says, he makes a “very conscious effort” to find Spanish-speakers, preferably native speakers. In Broward and Palm Beach, he says, “it’s not something that I consciously try to achieve.” He says he’s tried to hire Hispanic attorneys for the firm’s Palm Beach and Broward offices in the past “based on their education and work, not ethnicity or language.” At Ruden McClosky, says David Lane, executive director of the firm’s Fort Lauderdale office, “we don’t discriminate in terms of our hiring, so we can’t go out of our way to hire Hispanics.” Chorowski criticizes that approach. “To say that’s discriminatory is totally disingenuous,” she says. “[Broward law firms] are always advertising for bilingual paralegals and secretaries. There’s no reason they can’t do that for attorneys.” Lane describes his firm’s diversity policy as “informal.” It tries to lure younger minority attorneys by “hiring from the top.” He cites the hiring of former Miami Vice Mayor Armando Lacasa in 1996 to head the firm’s international department in Miami. “[Lacasa] provides an attractive place for Hispanic attorneys to come to.” ‘HAVEN’T SEEN THEM APPLY’ But Ruden McClosky has few Hispanic attorneys outside of Miami-Dade. “Frankly, we haven’t seen them apply,” Lane says. “We hope that will change.” Hispanic applicants have not poured into Gunster Yoakley’s West Palm Beach office, either, says Nora Miller, manager for attorney recruiting and marketing there. “It’s not that we’re not recruiting,” she says. “Most of the Hispanic lawyers apply to our Dade County office.” Miller says that could change, however, as a tighter job market forces Hispanic lawyers to look outside the friendly confines of Miami-Dade. She sees Hispanic law students who grew up in Palm Beach County looking at employment possibilities close to home. For instance, half the students in Gunster’s 2001 summer associate program in Palm Beach and Broward were Hispanic. Valerie Larcombe, West Palm Beach managing shareholder of Akerman Senterfitt, argues that her office’s lack of Hispanic lawyers is mitigated by the firm’s overall diversity. It has 41 Hispanic lawyers statewide out of more than 360 lawyers, and half of the Hispanic attorneys are shareholders. “We practice statewide,” she says. “We don’t practice by location.” Larcombe scoffs at Chorowski’s charge that the major firms lack Hispanic lawyers because of the “old boy network.” She says, “We have quite a few women in this office. And as a female managing shareholder, I think our strides in diversity are comparatively good.” Still, she acknowledges, “we all have work to do in this area.” As proof of her firm’s commitment to diversity, she points to Akerman’s creation of a firm-wide diversity committee under the direction of Tallahassee-based shareholder Joseph Hatchett, former chief judge of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “We really did sit down and say, ‘We need to improve these numbers, Hispanic and others,’ ” Larcombe says. “ I hope other firms in the area have a formal process in place to keep it at the forefront.” “It makes total sense to me to be in Broward or Palm Beach today,” says Greenberg’s Reyes. “It didn’t make sense five years ago.” NOT OPTIMISTIC But some observers are not optimistic that major Broward and Palm Beach law offices will aggressively recruit and promote Hispanic lawyers anytime soon. Janet Mosseri, director of career development at Nova Southeastern University law school, partly blames the dearth of Hispanic partners in Broward and Palm Beach on the lack of good retention programs at many firms. She hears about that problem from Nova Southeastern law alumni. “If there isn’t a hiring problem, there may be a retention problem,” she says. And she doubts the commitment of large firms to their diversity programs. “I don’t see it,” Mosseri says. “I’ve talked to counterparts of mine in South Florida and across the state and it’s not that obvious. We see them interviewing Hispanic students. I just don’t know if it’s that purposeful. I think there’s been more talk than action.”

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.