Crediting a diversity scholarship that once provided his own pathway into the firm, Archer & Greiner’s newly named chief diversity officer put his charge in no uncertain terms: “I have a moral obligation to do this.”
Archer, with its managing partner’s vow to “do whatever it takes” to promote diversity and inclusion at the New Jersey-based firm, named partner Lloyd Freeman on Tuesday to take the lead on those efforts.
“I really want diversity to be woven into the fabric of our law firm,” Freeman said in an interview, adding that the firm “has done a great job in coming up with a number of diversity programs, especially pipeline programs … but never had a person completely charged with this.”
In the new role, Freeman is an ex officio member of the personnel and hiring committees, and is to report to Christopher Gibson, managing partner of the Haddonfield-based firm. Freeman also will frequent management committee and board of directors meetings.
Gibson said firm leaders decided to name a chief diversity officer following “candid conversations” internally with associates and others about the firm’s mentorship and training programs. He credited the firm’s long-standing diversity committee with making significant progress. The committee members are never short on ideas, but follow-through is challenging without a designated chief, he said in an interview.
“Committees are great, and we’ve made great progress, but … there’s kind of a diffusion of responsibility that sometimes happens,” Gibson said.
Freeman said his first initiative is to expand the firm’s “corporate share” summer associate program. Through that program, this past summer, a 1L law student, paid by Archer, spent half the summer at the firm and the other half at Panasonic U.S. headquarters in Newark. The Panasonic partnership will continue, and the firm is on the verge of adding another corporate partner to the program, Freeman said, though he declined to name the corporation since the agreement had yet to be finalized.
Freeman also promised “a little bit of a relaunch” for the firm’s mentorship program, and plans to formulate that relaunch by first meeting and talking with the firm’s diverse attorneys, then bringing input back to firm management and practice group leaders.
Freeman, who was admitted to the bar in 2007 and has spent his full career at Archer, also will continue with his practice in the firm’s commercial litigation group. He acknowledged that balancing both duties will be challenging, but said he wouldn’t consider giving up his law practice.
Gibson said a reduction in billable hours from Freeman is expected given the nature of the new role, but said no concrete requirement or guideline has been set on that front.
“If Lloyd’s practice is becoming an impediment, maybe we bring someone [in] to help” with the practice, Gibson said.
Though he doesn’t anticipate it, Gibson also said a full-time designation for the chief diversity officer role could prove necessary down the line. Time will tell, but in any event, ”putting people in charge” of such functions as personnel and billing has proved more effective than only having committees, and there’s no reason diversity and inclusion would be different, he said.
“We’ll do whatever it takes,” Gibson added. “I want to see the result.”
Results already have come. Gibson said the associate ranks have become more diverse, by gender and race, as a result of the firm’s efforts.
Freeman deserves his share of the credit, it seems.
With Freeman as leader of the summer associate program for the past two years, the summer class is more diverse than in eras past, according to the firm. And Freeman—former president of the Garden State Bar Association, the state’s principal bar group representing African-American attorneys—also launched an affinity group within the firm: L.E.A.D.: Lawyers Encouraging Archer’s Diversity.
The firm began addressing diversity years earlier. Its diversity committee and diversity scholarships began in 1999.
Freeman said he is “living proof” that diversity scholarships work: He is the first minority attorney to ascend from summer associate to partner at the firm.
“I don’t mind being the first, but I don’t want to be the only,” Freeman said.
Freeman, a Kansas City native, came to the East Coast to attend Howard University, where he majored in international business. It wasn’t until late in his senior year, during a business law course taught by an attorney, that he considered going to law school. That idea, and the encouragement to follow through, came from the professor, Sam Paschall, who is now an associate dean at Howard.
Freeman attended Rutgers Law School-Camden, aided by a diversity scholarship funded by Archer. Freeman didn’t know the benefactor at the time, but asked the dean of admissions about it. Freeman ended up reaching out to the firm to thank it, which turned into meetings, lunches, holiday party invitations, and later, his hire as a summer associate. He would later join the firm full time, and made partner last year.
“By the time I interviewed, I was already friends with these folks,” Freeman said. “Now they can’t get rid of me.”