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Minority partners made a slight increase in the ranks at large New Jersey law firms this year, while the number of women partners declined slightly, leaving diversity virtually flat, the New Jersey Law Journal‘s annual survey has found. The 18 large firms queried reported 12 partners of black, Hispanic or Asian ethnicity and 126 women partners, compared with 10 minorities and 127 women at 18 firms surveyed last year. The results show that large New Jersey firms still lag behind the national average in the diversity of their partners and associates. In 2002, minorities made up 1.3 percent of the 906 partners at the 18 firms studied, while a nationwide survey of 615 firms by the National Association for Law Placement earlier this year found that 3.7 percent of partners were minorities. Similarly, women accounted for 13.9 percent of New Jersey partnerships, while NALP found that 16.3 percent of partners nationally were women. There are proportionally more minority and women associates than partners at the New Jersey firms studied. Of the total of 1,327, minorities constituted 10.2 percent and women 40.9 percent. But the changes were just as slight as for partners. Minorities increased to 136 in 2002, up from 134 in 2001, while women dropped to 543 in 2002 from 546. Still, it’s the paucity of partners of minority backgrounds that is the most striking. Their proportion has remained at around 1 percent since the Law Journal began its annual survey in 1990. It’s not that firms haven’t taken measures to diversify. The “Law Firm Group” — now 50 firms strong — has held annual job fairs since 1990 to bring minority law students together with hiring partners. Last month, Seton Hall University School of Law announced a partnership with six New Jersey firms to provide scholarships and mentoring to black and Hispanic students, a move designed to attract top minority students to Seton Hall and New Jersey firms. Law firm management consultants say the inertia could be traced to the merely minimal pressure from clients to diversify. Most business clients are not interested in the makeup of the firms that provide legal services, says Joel Rose, of Cherry Hill, N.J. The exceptions, such as firms that serve Asian clients and so recruit Asian-American lawyers, are few and far between. Legal recruiter Arlene Sengstack, president of AV Search Consultants in Bridgewater, says companies in New Jersey, especially in the pharmaceutical industry, are in the midst of a drive to diversify their own staffs. That effort is likely to have an impact on outside counsel the companies select — a trend she says she has observed in other regions of the country. The change will be gradual, though. David Harris, a partner at Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland, N.J., says he has never seen a corporate client choose one law firm over another because of diversity. But some clients do ask about the gender and racial makeup of the firm in requests for proposals. And, like Rose and Sengstack, he says it’s the diversity or ethnicity of the client corporation that propels interest in the makeup of the law firm. “If I’m interfacing with a law department that has seven minority attorneys, and I have none, I’m going to feel uncomfortable, ” says Harris, who was the second black person to make partner in his firm. “ I think that it’s increasing and I think it’s more subtle than overt.” Firms that wish to make more women partners often make special efforts to keep women associates off the notorious “mommy track,” which diverts from partnership women who wish to work fewer hours at the firm in order to raise a family. Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione in Newark, N.J., offers a part-time program in which participating associates — all 10 of whom are women — build credit toward partnership eligibility on a pro-rated basis. For example, an associate who works four days a week for a year gets four-fifths of a year toward the eight years required to become eligible for partnership consideration, says partner Katherin Nukk-Freeman. The firm also has a program called Women’s Initiative, founded seven years ago to help with retention and development of women lawyers. The program runs social programs and events focusing on professional development and substantive law issues, to which all lawyers in the firm are invited. Nukk-Freeman says the Women’s Initiative offers women a chance to take on leadership roles and sends a message that the firm leaders value women’s contributions. Women job applicants “have told us it’s one of the reasons they come to the firm,” Nukk-Freeman says. “I think women who stay with the firm are probably much more valuable as a result.” Sengstack, of the legal-placement service, says such flexible scheduling options help stem the flow of women lawyers to in-house jobs at corporate law departments, where the hours are more amenable to the demands of family life. More husbands today help with the cooking and child rearing, but women still are “managers” of most households, she says. Firms that that offer part-time schedules also may find they draw more qualified women candidates, says Sengstack, who adds that half of recent law school graduates are women. The part-time option “might be a way to attract a candidate who might not otherwise think of them,” she says. Retention problems also reduce the number of ethnic associates on the partnership track, says Harris. He says minorities are prone to the same factors that cause associate attrition generally. These include job dissatisfaction, pay scales and the demands of family life. But when one or two minorities leave the already small pool of associates at a given firm, it can be a red flag for graduating minority law students who may assume, perhaps wrongly, that a firm is unfriendly to nonwhites, says Harris. Harris, a 21-year veteran of his firm who was recently elected to chair the 100-lawyer litigation department, says he never would have lasted so long if it had not been for the advice and mentorship he received from superiors. He says a minority associate is more likely than a white associate to take it personally when called to task for turning in inferior work. Besides mentoring to ensure that associates “stay the course,” the other component to increasing the diversity of partners is to increase the pool of minority associates, Harris says. He says a firm’s current staffing sends a message to future applicants, positive or negative. Harris has heard partners say there are never enough qualified minority applicants, but he rejects that argument. “When you’re recruiting, if you’re just not seeing the right people, you’ve got to make a bigger effort,” Harris says.

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