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The Association of the Bar of the City of New York has announced the establishment of a full-time Office of Diversity as part of a broad initiative to increase the presence of minorities in the New York corporate bar, particularly at senior levels. The office will collect diversity statistics from the 73 law firms and corporate legal departments that have signed on to the initiative. The bar group will share the information among peer firms as part of an ongoing program designed to identify best practices. “The Association recognizes that it will be important for all of the Signatories to share information about their successes — as well as their failures — and to be supported in the programs they implement,” the statement reads. The City Bar’s announcement follows the diversity statement issued at the end of last month by the New York County Lawyers’ Association and signed by more than 70 law firms, corporations and bar associations, including the City Bar. Among several proposals, the NYCLA statement specifically endorsed steps already taken by several corporations to measure the hours and fees generated on their matters by minority lawyers at firms. Observers greeted the initiatives by the two local bar groups with guarded optimism but expressed fear that lofty statements might fail to translate into actual progress. “There is a certain amount of skepticism and cynicism about whether firms are really committed to this issue,” said Coudert Brothers partner Darrell S. Gay, one of the initiative’s signatories, and a former chair of the City Bar’s diversity committee. Katherine Frink-Hamlett, a managing director at Meridian Legal Temps and a frequent writer on law firm diversity issues, agreed. “People have been hearing things for a long time,” she said “Now they’re expecting results.” The New York initiatives reflect greater attention to the issue of diversity in the legal profession at the national level. Dennis W. Archer, who became the first black president of the American Bar Association in August, has placed diversity at the top of the group’s agenda and convened a national summit on the issue in October. Whereas earlier bar group efforts focused on the hiring of associates, the focus has shifted to the retention and promotion to partnership of women and minorities. At the October summit in Washington, D.C., Cari M. Dominguez, chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, introduced a study by the agency showing significant progress in diverse hiring at law firms but also identifying a dearth of women and minorities at the partner level. According to the study, women now account for 40 percent of lawyers at larger firms and minorities account for 12.6 percent. But the numbers drop precipitously at partner levels, where white men have five times better odds of making partner than women, four times better than Hispanics and seven times better than blacks or Asians. Representation of women and minorities in law firms also lags behind their presence in law school graduating classes. Both the City Bar and NYCLA initiatives stress retention and promotion of women and minorities. The City Bar sets a 10-year timeline for getting partner and counsel ranks to match the associate classes in terms of diversity. City Bar President E. Leo Milonas said the monitoring function of the new Office of Diversity will help firms and corporate law departments stay the course. “It’s not a matter of people not caring,” he said, “It’s a matter of paying attention.” Frink-Hamlett also said follow-through was often lacking in diversity efforts. “It’s like a diet,” she said. “It’s one thing to sign up for Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, but you have to learn to live with it.” Virtually every major firm in New York has signed on to the city bar’s proposal. Milonas, who is a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop, said the bar association had raised about $60,000 to fund the Office of Diversity from donors including Morgan Stanley, Viacom Inc. and Weil, Gotshal & Manges. A search for a full-time office head will commence after the holidays, he said. Aside from collecting statistics and producing regular reports, the office will also recognize with awards law firms and corporate law departments that have demonstrated notable progress in diversifying their professional staffs. But neither the city bar nor NYCLA have committed to hard numerical targets, as have bar groups in some other cities. The Bar Association of San Francisco, for example, has set a five-year goal, calling on firms to have minorities account for 12 percent of partners by the end of 2005 and 18 percent by 2010. QUANTIFYING PROGRESS Gay said the lack of a more aggressive position was somewhat disappointing because New York firms trail those of other cities in the promotion of minority partners. “I see more minority partners when I visit firms in Chicago or Atlanta,” he said. “In New York, it’s still the case that there’s one black partner.” “This is the mecca of the legal profession, we should be leaders in this,” he added. Gay said he believed greater progress would be driven by corporations who insist that law firms meet diversity goals. NYCLA takes a similar view. The group’s Nov. 25 statement praised past diversity initiatives but said they “were aspirational in nature” and asked signatories to take no real action. “NYCLA has shifted the burden,” the statement continued, “recommending that law firms quantify the results of their diversity activities in terms of concrete hours and dollars, allowing corporate clients to determine how much of their work was provided by minority lawyers.” In the last three years, corporate general counsels, most prominently Charles Morgan of BellSouth, have increasingly asked law firms to provide information about how many hours minority lawyers spent on matters and how much they bill. Roderick Palmore, general counsel of the Sara Lee Corp., has reduced the number of law firms the company uses in part based on the firms’ commitment to diversity. FIRMS ON BOARD There is no shortage of firms willing to show their commitment to diversity. If a handful of firms have not signed the city bar’s statement, Milonas said he attributed that more to bureaucratic slowness than lack of interest. “We’ve seen no negative feedback at all,” he said. Cravath, Swaine & Moore is one of the many New York firms to have signed both the NYCLA and city bar statements. Presiding partner Robert D. Joffe praised such initiatives for calling attention to the issue at all firms. “We’ve set up a committee to see what goals and practices should be introduced here at Cravath,” he said. “It’s clearly the right thing to do.” NYCLA President Michael Miller said he was optimistic about firms’ commitment to the issue. “Diversity is so important because it’s who we are and who we’re going to be tomorrow,” he said. “It’s about whether we’re going to draw on the richness of our society.”

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