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Achieving “diversity” has long been talked about at large law firms as the right thing to do. They may not have a choice. Corporate counsel are becoming increasingly insistent that more women, people of color and members of other traditionally underrepresented groups staff their cases. The need to diversify has become so compelling that at least a half-dozen major U.S. law firms have hired full-time diversity managers to address the recruiting, training, retention and promotion of attorneys from demographic groups that do not usually see the corner office. Some firms have handed the job to lawyers who work exclusively to improve the firm’s diversity profile; others have hired nonlawyers. Some firms without full-time diversity directors have designated lawyers to divide time between diversity issues and servicing clients. Duties vary, but diversity directors focus on three main areas: recruitment, retention and promotion. That can mean anything from arranging cocktail parties for minority recruits to establishing in-house mentor programs to keep associates from getting lost in the race to make partner. Anna Brown, diversity-management attorney at Shearman & Sterling of New York for two years, said one goal is to weave diversity into the tapestry of the firm. She has teamed with Denise Green, the firm’s only black partner and co-chairwoman of Shearman’s diversity committee, to spread the word. In practical terms, instituting diversity meant a meeting of Shearman’s entire partnership at a November 2000 dinner to acclimate them to the idea. It did not hurt that General Electric, a key client and diversity booster, was there to describe its own efforts in-house, Brown and Grant said. The pair also visited with attorneys in each of the firm’s practice groups to enlist support. Since then, Brown has developed diversity-awareness programs for the firm’s associates, and has set up a diversity Web page, among other marketing efforts. Diversity directors often have an additional assignment: responding to increasingly frequent and pointed inquiries from corporate clients who demand numbers rather than promises to prove that women and people of color are working on their files. Charles R. Morgan, general counsel at BellSouth Corp., is definitely keeping score. “I’m saying to them that I want women and I want minorities working on BellSouth matters, and I don’t want them to be No. 5 on a five-man team,” said Morgan, adding, “The law firms know that we have the numbers, and that we are measuring.” So far, general counsel from more than 500 corporations have signed onto Morgan’s “Statement of Principle,” which states: “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.” Roderick A. Palmore, general counsel at Sara Lee Corp. in Chicago, has upped the ante. Counsel who dwell in the bottom third of a three-tier quality and diversity ranking system have 12 months to shape up, or lose the company’s business. Law firms are getting the message. “If you’re alive and working for a law firm, you have to be aware that it’s coming,” said Carl Cooper, who became chief diversity officer at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart in February. Cooper, who is also an attorney, said that having someone in his position is “excellent for your bottom line.” CLIENTS ARE ASKING “We are finding that more and more clients are asking about diversity as a precursor to getting work and pitching,” said Larry D. Harris, co-chairman of Piper Rudnick’s Diversity Committee and a partner in the firm’s Washington office. Among the additional firms that have a full-time diversity guru on board: New York’s Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Denver’s Holland & Hart; and McKenna Long & Aldridge. Will diversity czars make a difference? Veta Richardson, executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) in Washington, is not holding her breath just yet. “Time and results will tell,” she said. “If it exists as a Band-Aid … something to report that you have done,” she said, “it will fail.” Richardson ticks off success factors: serious support by the firm’s management; allocation of resources to get the job done; and following through on recommendations, some of which might shake up the firm’s culture. “Are you willing to tell a rainmaking partner to expand the pool of people he works with?” Richardson asked, explaining that an MCCA survey of the nation’s top 250 law firms included reports that certain partners do not hand off key assignments to women and minority attorneys. Another issue: alienation, especially for minority associates, who may rarely see a non-white sitting in a partner’s chair. According to 2002 data compiled by the National Association of Law Placement (NALP) in Washington, only 3.71 percent of all partners nationwide are persons of color; 16.3 percent are women. The numbers improve as one moves down the food chain: 14.27 percent of all associates are minority group members, 42.42 percent are women, and those figures spike to 19.92 percent and 48.22 percent for summer associates. Meanwhile, women and minorities are making strides in corporate legal departments, and are becoming some of the players calling the shots. According to 2003 data compiled by the MCCA, women account for 13 percent of general counsel at Fortune 500 companies; minorities represent 6 percent of general counsel. ROLE MODELS Without mentors and role models, minority associates at big firms think, “I’m not going to make it, there’s nobody looking out for my career,” said Karen Harris, Chicago-based director of diversity at Piper Rudnick, and a former practicing attorney at the firm. She took her post one year ago, after the firm concluded, “We really needed one person who could focus on these various issues,” she said. Diversity directors confront the root problem of defining diversity in the first place, but all are aware of the categories used by NALP to track diversity among law firm attorneys at every level: men, women, black, Hispanic, Native American/Alaskan, Asian/Pacific Islander, multiracial, disabled and gay/lesbian. The push to boost numbers came from the upper echelons of Skadden Arps, said Wallace Schwartz, a partner in the firm’s New York office and the former firmwide hiring partner. Edwin Bowman, Skadden Arps’ diversity manager, trains summer clerks and associates to be more sensitive to diversity issues, stressing that the idea is not to mold everyone into a neat corporate form. “We’re not trying to take the cookie-cutter approach.” Bowman said, “We’re not trying to make a bunch of clones.”

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