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Early in her career at Littler Mendelson’s Atlanta office, Dionysia Johnson-Massie knew she wanted to raise a family. She also knew that women like her still faced an age-old bias: At many firms, she says, lawyers wanting to have children often were not considered “partnership material.” But at Littler Mendelson, she found a firm that responded to her need for a balanced life. An African-American woman with one child and a baby on the way, Johnson-Massie embodies the strides that many Atlanta firms have made to diversify their ranks of partners and associates, recognizing quality-of-life issues can be the best attractors and retainers of women and minorities. Johnson-Massie said she felt comfortable in beginning her family about a year and a half before her partnership vote, partly because, when she was hired, the firm’s local managing shareholder was a woman with three young children. That “signaled something important,” she recalls. “Women with children could succeed within the firm based on their inherent abilities and not be hindered by an arcane view that women with children would not be focused enough to be excellent managers within the firm.” While Johnson-Massie was successful in her partnership quest — about two years after she joined the firm — her experience may not be typical for a lawyer of color. A just-released national survey by the National Association for Law Placement indicates a slight increase in minority hiring and promoting at Atlanta law firms in 2004, but the proportions of minorities and women at many law firms fall short of their comparative numbers among law school graduating classes. Of the 43,115 law degrees awarded in the United States in 2002, the latest year for which statistics are available from the American Bar Association, 48 percent went to women, 18 percent to minorities. Comparatively, 42 percent of the 41,222 law degrees in 1992 were awarded to women and 12 percent to minorities. In 1982, women earned only 32.4 percent of the law degrees awarded, and minorities less than 8 percent. “I think it’s important in 2004 to ask questions that are different from those that I asked in ’93 when I came out of law school,” Johnson-Massie said. “As a firm, you have to ask yourself harder questions. Not simply, ‘What do our numbers look like?’ but also, ‘When we can’t retain people, what is it about this environment that’s not appealing?’” NALP, which gathers information for legal career planning and recruitment, surveyed more than 38 legal employers in Atlanta last year and found that women represent: � 16.8 percent of partners � 43.8 percent of associates and � 49 percent of summer associates. Nationwide, women make up slightly more than 17 percent of partners. Among associates, women are fairly consistent with the 43.4 percent national average. At the same Atlanta firms, minorities make up: � 5.3 percent of partners, � 13.6 percent of associates and � almost 20 percent of summer associates. The numbers do show improvement, albeit slight, over the previous year when 3.8 percent of Atlanta’s partners were of color. And in 1999, less than 2 percent of the city’s law partners were minorities. Nationwide, minorities make up 4.3 percent of partners, so Atlanta does a slightly better job than the nation in promoting minorities to partner. But Atlanta reported fewer minority associates than the national average of just over 15 percent. Most of the Atlanta firms surveyed have few, if any, Hispanic lawyers, despite the dramatic growth in the Latino population in the metro area during the past decade. Among the five largest local firms surveyed, Alston & Bird has the highest percentage of female partners — 1.5 percent. King & Spalding leads in minority partners — 6.8 percent. Women and minorities are better represented among associates at the firms surveyed. At Alston & Bird, for instance, women make up 44.8 percent of the 241 associates; minorities make up 14.1 percent. At Jackson Lewis, 88 of 173 associates — 50.9 percent — were women, and 25 associates, or 14.5 percent, were minorities. Half of Jones Day’s 90 associates in Atlanta are women, and 19 percent are minorities. RECRUITMENT, RETENTION AND RAINMAKING Some firms are taking significant steps to boost both the hiring and the retention of minority and female lawyers. “Atlanta is a very diverse city,” says Jennifer Gotch, director of recruitment for Alston & Bird’s local office, and vice president of the Atlanta Legal Recruitment Association. A well-diversified lawyer pool is one of the best rainmaking investments a firm can make, she says. “It’s very competitive,” she says. “But it’s important to keep diversity as a high priority.” Gotch points as an example to a corporate practice associate with strong ties to the Chinese community. “She has done so much in attracting clients,” Gotch says. “It’s a win-win situation.” Recruiting women to the firm in recent years has become easier, she says, as resumes have “gone through the roof.” And most schools report there are more women in the top percentiles of their classes, she adds. That should yield partnership parity in the coming years. Gotch is optimistic that minority partners will make the same partnership strides in the years to come, predicting a subsequent domino effect in attracting more lawyers of color to the firm. Once hired, quality-of-life issues — like shortened billable hour requirements — are the firm’s best retention tool, Gotch says. Recognizing that work-balance issues like family leave time fall heavily on women in the firm, Alston & Bird makes accommodations for its lawyers that Gotch says yield better than average retention rates. The Southeast Minority Job Fair Consortium is a good place to meet and interview job candidates, she says. Gotch also recommends to firms seeking diverse hires: Stay involved in the academic communities and the career services departments; keep in touch with potential hires; and keep a finger on the pulse of professional organizations and attend speakers’ events. To identify good candidates early in their educations, the Atlanta office of McGuireWoods sponsors an internship program at Spelman College for academically superior third- and fourth-year students considering legal careers. Almost all have gone on to law school. One, Lori M. Lynch, is now an associate in the firm’s Atlanta office. “The internship absolutely has guided my development,” says Lynch of her decision to become a lawyer. “People were vested in my development along the way.” Lynch says interning helped her decide to attend law school, and it gave her a formal connection to the firm. Lynch returned to McGuireWoods as a summer associate while attending law school at the University of Southern California. When she graduated, she wanted to return to the South, where her family lives, and she found herself again at McGuireWoods. “That connection here was really valuable,” she said. McGuireWoods has been recognized for its efforts to promote diversity in the legal profession. In 1999, the firm, along with Kilpatrick Stockton and Holland & Knight, were the first to be honored by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. The association created the awards to honor Thomas L. Sager, vice president and assistant general counsel at DuPont, recognizing his work to promote diversity in the legal profession. The success of the internship program has McGuireWoods considering the launch of similar programs to help produce more minority lawyers, said Fred T. Isaf, the firm’s local managing partner. Nationally, the firm has adopted diversity in its strategic plan, with formal recruitment and training programs. But locally, Isaf acknowledges the competition from other firms can make the mission challenging. According to the NALP survey, one of 12 partners in McGuireWoods Atlanta office is a woman; two are African American. Three of its 10 associates are women and three are of color. The women and minority partners of the future likely will come from lateral hires, Isaf says. “We’re in a growth mode.” To attract top women and minority associates, the firm allows part-time practice. Part-timers in other offices have not been precluded from partnership, Isaf says, adding he would consider making a part-time hire. Gary E. Thomas was one of the first African-Americans to join Fisher & Phillips 14 years ago. Now a partner, he says he flourished because the firm made a commitment to diversity, creating an African-American business practice group. Lawyers in the group share their experiences and market themselves at seminars that target small to midsize companies owned by African-Americans. The firm has a similar group for Latino lawyers, he says. The diversity commitment has kept him at Fisher & Phillips, Thomas says. “Being able to find a firm that’s open to, supports and understands diversity is very important,” he says. “It helps you in a nurturing sort of way to develop and grow your practice as an attorney and helps you have a career.” Finding “commonality” with other attorneys is important, Thomas says. “Overall, men and women of color face similar issues coming in the door.” Connecting with non-minority lawyers, even at their own firms, can be a challenge for African-Americans, Johnson-Massie says. Lawyers, especially those on a partnership track, spend so much time in their offices and in their own neighborhoods that they rarely get to know people who are of a different race or gender, she says. “Just because there are people of color in the firm doesn’t mean it’s diverse,” she says. “Young lawyers need to take a firm’s diversity into account.” Special Sections Editor Mary Smith Judd assisted in the reporting and writing of this story.

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