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Carl Cooper will tell you that he doesn’t play golf. He’ll tell you that, unlike many lawyers who lean toward more “aristocratic activities,” he prefers hoops to polo. And Cooper, who is black, is unreserved about sharing his vision for making predominantly white firms truly embrace a diversified work force. “If they want me to come to the country club, I want to see them at our churches when we have a Martin Luther King Day celebration,” he says. Strong words for a man who just became a partner at Pittsburgh-based Kirkpatrick & Lockhart — and an especially exacting challenge from the firm’s first chief diversity officer. Like other African-American lawyers, Cooper says he has seen talented black lawyers flee big law firms after they’ve been passed over for partnership and ghettoized into certain practice groups. Wayne Budd has seen it too, and he is part of the reason why firms are paying attention to diversity. Budd, the first black general counsel and executive vice president of Boston-based John Hancock Financial Services, has made a point of seeking attorneys of color when he hires outside counsel. “We ask that whenever possible people of color work on our matters,” Budd says. Budd is in good company in the corporate world. More than 60 Fortune 500 companies — including two of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart’s major clients, PPG Industries and E.I du Pont de Nemours and Co. — filed amicus briefs in support of affirmative action programs at the University of Michigan in Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, two cases the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on April 1. Kirkpatrick & Lockhart chairman Peter Kalis says PPG and duPont played a pivotal role in the law firm’s diversity effort, pushing for a racially and ethnically proportional cross-section of law school graduates among their outside counsel. It follows then that Cooper, a 58-year-old University of Pittsburgh School of Law faculty member and former general counsel to the Pittsburgh housing authority, already has peers at a host of major firms. In the last three years, Piper Rudnick; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; and Shearman & Sterling hired diversity directors, whose job duties are similar to Cooper’s, but who are not partners. Budd graduated from Wayne State Law School in Detroit while working full time in the personnel department at the Ford Motor Co. and served as an associate attorney general in the first Bush administration. He sees aggressive affirmative action as a way to ensure that John Hancock receives excellent legal expertise as well as to staunch the flow of minority lawyers from major firms, providing them experience with a lucrative client. “The practical reason for that is to have the best possible lawyers,” Budd says. “A person of color able to traverse through the fields of private practice has to be pretty good just to survive.” DIVERSITY IN THE DISTRICT In the mid-1970s, long before firms and their clients pushed to diversify the ranks of lawyers, a group of black D.C. attorneys was taking the first active steps to diversify major Washington firms. As a young Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn associate, J. Clay Smith Jr. lobbied to hire black summer associates. Smith, who later became the first black lawyer elected president of the Federal Bar Association and is now a Howard University School of Law professor, says he is encouraged that firms have begun to institutionalize what for decades was an ad hoc effort led by minority lawyers busy trying to maintain their practices. As a partner reporting directly to the management committee, Smith says, Cooper is in a position to push for significant changes in the way firms approach diversity. “The plus of it is that he is a partner,” Smith says. “He’ll be able to listen to what’s going on, to influence hiring decisions.” Many of the minority law school graduates whom Smith knew in the late 1960s did not expect to find jobs at major firms. Undeterred and armed with a master’s in law and four years experience as a captain in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, Smith began knocking on the doors of major D.C. firms. “It didn’t ride too well,” Smith says. Some of the interviews felt perfunctory, he says, adding that firms were generally polite, but often unreceptive to hiring a black lawyer. He eventually was hired by Arent Fox, where he spent three years and was mentored by name partner Earl Kintner. The firm then had fewer than five minority lawyers, Smith says. Last year, Arent Fox counted 22 minority associates and five minority partners in its 238-lawyer D.C. office, according to a 2002 Legal Times survey. By comparison, last year Shaw Pittman had 15 minority associates and three minority partners out of 239 attorneys in its D.C. office, and Skadden reported 32 minority associates and one minority partner out of a total of 236 lawyers in its D.C. office. Nationwide, minorities make up 10.1 percent of the attorneys at the largest firms, according to data collected by The National Law Journal for 2001. Broken down by rank, 13.9 percent of all major firm associates are minority lawyers; only 3.9 percent of all partners in the largest law firms are members of a minority group. Critics of traditional law firm culture point to such statistics as evidence that minority lawyers leave private practice earlier and in larger numbers than their white cohorts, because of inadequate mentoring and few opportunities to take on challenging work. Since Smith began his first job search, a stronger “rhetorical” commitment to diversity has taken hold in D.C.’s legal community, says Robert Raben, president of the Hispanic Bar Association of D.C. But there is still little information to help firms understand how to retain minority lawyers, particularly Hispanics. In April, the association will begin gathering data on recruitment and retention of Hispanic attorneys at major D.C. area employers, and later will provide employers with best practices guidelines. “The numbers are so low, it’s difficult to discern meaningful retention trends,” says Raben, noting that the number of qualified Hispanic attorneys is not commensurate with the U.S. Hispanic population. Raben, 39, is a former assistant attorney general for legislative affairs under President Bill Clinton. Today he runs a law and lobbying firm, the Raben Group. He says a good place for firms to start gaining more Hispanic attorneys is to recruit at law schools with traditionally high concentrations of Hispanic students, such as the University of Miami School of Law. BEYOND THE RHETORIC Frank Wu, a 36-year-old Howard University School of Law professor and a former associate at Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco, says firms are not inherently hostile to diversity. But without an employee who is paid to directly manage diversity, firm structures make it difficult to address issues of race. “No one has time to sit down and talk about racial issues. There is no one to bill that time to,” says Wu, who is a visiting professor this year at the University of Michigan Law School. Now, firms see a growing connection between diversity and billable hours. Nixon Peabody has started to market its diversity to minority counsel at Fortune 500 firms and minority-owned corporations. The 560-lawyer firm is organizing teams of minority attorneys across practice groups. Overall, Nixon Peabody has 47 attorneys of color, of whom 10 are partners. Kendal Tyre, a Nixon Peabody partner heading the initiative, says his firm is meeting a market need instead of waiting for prompting from corporate clients. Tyre, 36, hopes the effort will also help the firm retain minorities by ensuring that they work on complex transactions that are significant to the firm. But Tyre, who was a founder and the first president of the Rochester Black Bar Association, is adamant that the success of diversity initiative depends on meaningful financial commitments and the cultivation of relationships with minority leaders and business owners. “It has to be more than a flash in the pan,” says Tyre. But the challenges don’t stop when the minority lawyer sets foot inside the firm. Fatina Purdie, a 29-year-old Howard University School of Law graduate, says there are significant hurdles to diversity beyond successful recruiting efforts. “The problem is that a lot of firms have big, broad ‘we value diversity’ statements,” Purdie says. “But they can’t get individual practice groups to buy in to it.” Purdie was recruited by the labor and employment practice group leader and the diversity director at Holland & Hart, where she is now an associate in the firm’s Denver office. She views the mentorship she received as unusual, adding that some young minority lawyers at other large firms are relegated to designated practice groups and have difficulty finding mentors to help them develop substantive skills in the specialty of their choice. When Purdie interviewed at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart in the fall of 1996, she recalls that one black associate there seemed to be spearheading a push to diversify the firm. “Everyone was nice, but it wasn’t that feeling of, ‘Wow, we need to get on board with this,’ ” says Purdie, who is leaving Holland & Hart to pursue a master’s degree in business and hopes to work in human resources. Kirkpatrick & Lockhart now counts 68 minority lawyers, including five minority partners, among its 700 attorneys, about average for large firms. In 1999, the firm had just over 20 minority lawyers, with no minority partners. Cooper says retention of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart’s minority associates will be one of his biggest tasks. As the former head of the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Opportunities for Minorities Committee, Cooper heard enough minority lawyers tell of being passed over for work on demanding cases to know that the playing field can be bumpy. At Kirkpatrick & Lockhart he will initiate mentoring programs, matching minority associates with senior firm members to ensure that the younger lawyers gain a discrete set of skills in a particular practice area. He will also focus on the firm’s involvement in minority communities. “When we became aware of their decision to hire Cooper, we were gratified by that,” says James Diggs, general counsel of PPG, one of Kirkpatrick’s major clients. “It’s a tremendous step in the right direction.” Kirkpatrick & Lockhart’s Kalis understands diversity as a business imperative, as well as a moral one. He talks about embracing diversity as a strategic function and then a moment later, waxes on about driving cultural change. When Kalis talks about corporate clients, including Diggs, who makes personal phone calls to minority candidates for jobs at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, it is with frank admiration. “You’d have to be a lead pipe idiot,” Kalis says, “not to absorb some of their humanity.”

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