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New Jersey’s bellwether law firms are keeping pace with the national norm in hiring and retaining women and minority lawyers, a Law Journal survey shows. Women constitute 40.3 percent of associates in 20 large New Jersey firms. That figure is in sync with a study by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, which found that women comprised 40 percent of associates in the private sector nationwide in 2002. Lawyers of African-American, Hispanic and Asian ethnicity make up 11.1 percent of associates at the surveyed New Jersey firms, as compared with the EEOC’s finding of 13.5 percent nationally. The New Jersey figure is about double that recorded in the Law Journal‘s 1993 survey, when minorities constituted 5.2 percent of all associates at the largest firms. Partnership, however, remains a difficult goal to attain. Women make up 14.3 percent of partners at the surveyed New Jersey firms and minorities comprise 1.7 percent. Both of those numbers show only incremental growth over the prior year. The EEOC study, which extrapolated partnership percentages from sampling data, likewise found the low rates problematic. They say the data suggest that “the most pressing equal employment issue in large national law firms is no longer hiring but conditions of employment, especially promotion to partnership.” The study finds that women and people of color have lower odds of being partners than white males. “While we should certainly be proud of the progress women and people of color have made in joining the ranks of legal professionals, we must also be mindful of how far we have to go,” said EEOC Chair Cari Dominguez, announcing the findings in a speech to a national conference of the American Bar Association on Oct. 22. The EEOC study also found that: � Minority lawyers are likely to be associated with firms in the top 10 legal markets and in firms ranked in the top 100 on the basis of prestige and/or earnings. � Large, nationally known law firms with multiple offices generally have a higher proportion of women and minorities than other types of law firms. � Law firm characteristics such as size, number of offices, locations, prestige and earnings rankings appear to have more effect on the proportion of minority lawyers than women lawyers. Two New Jersey law firms bear out the EEOC’s findings in microcosm. The local New Jersey offices of 975-lawyer Reed Smith showed the most diversity among partners and were near the top in diversity among associates. Of 28 partners in the firm’s New Jersey offices, seven, or 25 percent, are women and two, or 7.1 percent, are minorities. Many of the firm’s clients, like E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. and Ahold USA Inc., parent of the Stop & Shop supermarkets, have strong diversity initiatives and expect their legal counsel to do the same, says New Jersey managing partner Steven Picco. A potential client’s inquiry about the demographics of a law firm’s attorneys is “not an uncommon question in large pitches right now,” he says. “I’d like to sit here and tell you it’s pure altruism, but it also makes sense on pure business grounds,” adds Picco. “The face of corporate America is becoming much more diverse. We have to reflect the diverse makeup of our clients.” At the other end of the diversity scale is Porzio, Bromberg & Newman of Morristown, with no minority partners and only two minorities among its 57 associates. But as it gears up for an expansion that includes hiring 20 new attorneys and 20 paralegals by February, the firm has decided to try harder for a diverse work force. Partner Vito Gagliardi Jr. chairs an 11-member diversity committee formed this year with the goal of decreasing turnover among lawyers and staff. The panel, comprised of lawyers, secretaries, paralegals and administration, will be attuned to such characteristics as age and professional background in addition to race and gender. For example, an attorney who studied law in her 40s might not feel comfortable working alongside fellow associates in their mid-20s. “There are a great many ways to keep people of varying backgrounds comfortable at work,” Gagliardi says. “One of them is to promote social opportunities of various types, so they can discover they have things in common.” Porzio Bromberg’s softball and basketball teams have been augmented by a yoga class and an after-work running club to promote camaraderie. Dominguez, in her speech to the ABA, identified other ways for firms to boost their hiring and retention of women and minorities, namely, by placing a greater focus on diversity in the recruitment and hiring process; increasing mentoring and training opportunities; providing more management authority at the partner level; offering family-friendly policies and flexible work options; and addressing the pervasive problem of attrition. Attrition strikes more at the heart of the low partnership rate among women and minorities, according to a report by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association entitled “The Myth of the Meritocracy.” The study, released last May, found that 73 percent of women and 86 percent of minority women leave their first firm before the seventh year of their career, as opposed to 68 percent of white males. The MCCA concluded that minority lawyers are held to a higher standard than white counterparts when firms make partnership decisions. For example, the report said 18 percent of partners at leading New York firms attended law school at Harvard or Yale, compared with 47 percent of African-American partners at those firms. The MCCA study recommended that large law firms recruit at a broader range of schools and widen their search for associates beyond traditional indicators of potential, such as the top 10 percent of the class, law review and moot court. A proponent of that method is The Law Firm Group, a coalition of New Jersey legal employers founded in 1990 to improve minority recruitment. It holds fairs at Seton Hall and Rutgers-Newark law schools and conducts mentorship activities for lawyers to talk with law students about careers. This year the group is expanding its mentorship program to reach minority law students in the beginning of their law school education rather than towards the end, says its chair, Deputy Attorney General James Flanagan III. Flanagan, formerly of Newark’s Tompkins, McGuire, Wachenfeld & Barry in Newark, also convinced his new boss, Attorney General Peter Harvey, that the state should increase its minority recruitment efforts through the Law Firm Group. Mentoring, or a lack of it, is one of the biggest determinants of an associate’s success in a large firm, says Desha Jackson, president of the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey. Minority associates leave their firms before making partner for the same reasons facing all associates: lack of mentoring, lack of challenging assignments, family responsibilities, and better opportunities in-house or at a government agency, says Jackson, who studied the issue as a member of the State Bar Association’s Diversity in the Profession Committee. While diversity initiatives like the Law Firm Group are laudable, simple mathematics is slowing the progress of minorities in law firms, says Jackson. Large firms recruit at only a small number of law schools, and within those schools they may interview only the top 10 percent of the class, she says. “There is a sense out there that law firms are opening up. However, I’ve had opportunities to speak with students with regard to the issue, and it’s not helping the majority of students,” she says. “All employers in our legal field across New Jersey need to look for well-rounded individuals. What it’s going to depend on is, what is well-rounded?”

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