With the goal of implementing changes related to diversity and inclusion within their ranks, more than 150 people—most representing law firms of all sizes—converged on the North Haven campus of Quinnipiac University School of Law Wednesday.
Many of the lawyers in attendance said their firms had diversity initiatives in place even before the Connecticut Bar Association, which sponsored the third annual summit, instituted its five-year pledge plan. To date, 35 participants, most of whom were present at the summit, have signed on and committed to taking the pledge regarding diversity and inclusion. There are goals for each year, including retention and recruitment in the fourth year and retaining talent in the fifth.
The summit featured speakers talking about the success of the pledge as well as out-of-the-box ways to address recruitment and retention.
One highlight of the summit was hearing from Judith Katz and Frederick Miller, both consultants with Troy, New York-based The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group.
Katz, executive vice president of the group, said recruitment as a strategy for diversity is important, but not altogether sufficient.
“There needs to be a focus by the organization on retention and there has to be a culture within the organization to work to keep talent,” Katz said, adding that strategies for retention could include strong mentoring initiatives and giving diverse candidates important work. “People want meaningful work,” she said. “Is the talent engaged in meaningful, and not repetitive and menial, work?”
In addition, Katz noted, the legal profession has traditionally consisted of white males. That is beginning to change, she said. Summits such as the one held this week can only help, she added.
“You need to go from a traditional population of white men to a very diverse population with different needs and experiences,” Katz said.
Timothy Grady, a partner at Halloran & Sage’s Hartford office, said his firm, like many others in the state and throughout the country, “are historically [composed of] white males. We need to look at ourselves and do better.”
Of the approximate 100 attorneys at the firm, Grady said only about 15 are nonwhite.
Halloran & Sage, Grady noted, now has a recruitment committee and, he said, “there has been a complete culture change” at the firm. A member of the pledge plan, the firm tries to attract more diverse candidates to become attorneys by, among other things, going to recruiting fairs at law schools.
The summit also included the release of tentative data on demographic trends related to the pledge plan. Cecil Thomas, co-chairman of the bar’s diversity and inclusion committee and staff attorney for the Greater Hartford Legal Aid, talked about the statistics. He declined to give specific data because he said those numbers are incomplete and could very well change from now until January when more specific data will be available. Releasing specific numbers now, he said, could be misleading or misconstrued.
Initial data, Thomas said, revealed that private firms employing 25 or more lawyers in Connecticut have made significant strides in achieving gender equity among associates. When comparing the state’s gender diversity data to national trends, Connecticut performs slightly above the national average for associates, and for women representation among all partners, Thomas said.
The review, however, of racial and ethnic diversity, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability data revealed that Connecticut’s legal community still needs to make significant progress to achieve meaningful diversity and inclusion, Thomas said.
Quinnipiac University School of Law Dean Jennifer Brown said she’s proud to have hosted the summit in all three years. With regard to the university working to attract diverse students, Brown told the Connecticut Law Tribune that “our admissions staff goes to admission fairs at colleges in communities that have diverse candidates. We have also increased our visits to historically black colleges and universities, where we can speak to students who might have an interest in attending our law school.”
As executive director of CBA since February, Keith J. Soressi said he believes the summit was a success.
“It’s important we educate and walk away with a game plan that individuals have for the community, their law firms or their associations,” Soressi said, adding, “Everyone has implicit biases and that is where education comes in. The first step in doing better is recognizing those biases.”