Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti is the latest firm to add a diversity-focused role to its C-suite, pulling a partner in to fill the position.
Zahid Quraishi has been appointed Riker Danzig’s first chief diversity officer, the firm announced Tuesday. Quraishi, a partner, also leads its white-collar criminal defense and investigations practice, as of this month.
The change adds an executive title to a role Quraishi had already essentially adopted, he said, through his duties as chair of the firm’s diversity committee. Having a designated C-suite position makes it easier for affinity groups, law schools and other organizations looking to promote diversity in the legal profession to identify a point of contact at Riker Danzig, he said. And, he noted, it is important that the person in that position is a partner in the firm.
“Who better to care about that issue than somebody who is fully invested in the company?” he said.
Quraishi joined Riker Danzig in 2013, and was elected as a partner in 2016. A former prosecutor, he returned to private practice after several years as an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of New Jersey, after a brief stint as assistant chief counsel for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Before that, he was a judge advocate in the U.S. Army for four years.
Quraishi said Riker Danzig’s diversity efforts predate his involvement in the diversity committee, and his joining the firm. Its goals, he said, are to recruit and retain diverse attorneys and maintain “a culture of inclusion.”
One of the committee’s current efforts is hosting an upcoming CLE with Deloitte on implicit bias in the workplace, he said.
“Having diverse attorneys at your law firm who are moving up the ranks to partnership is critical,” Quraishi, a diverse lawyer himself, said. “I’m a partner at the law firm, I’m a chair of one of the practice groups. I think that sends a message to folks that you can succeed here.”
A primary goal for Riker Danzig, Quraishi said, is recruiting more diverse lawyers, which requires outreach to affinity groups and law schools. “In order to retain attorneys of diverse backgrounds, you have to already have those attorneys here,” he said.
Riker Danzig co-chairman Brian O’Donnell said in a statement that appointing a chief diversity officer is “an important step” for the firm.
“We believe that Za has the drive and sense of purpose to take us to the next level of building a culture of inclusion,” he said.
Diversity-focused leadership roles have become more common in recent years.
New Jersey based Archer & Greiner implemented its own chief diversity officer position in December, also calling on a partner in the firm to lead the charge. Gibbons named its second chief diversity officer in 2017, tapping attorney Robert Johnson, a director in the firm’s corporate practice. And Lowenstein Sandler last year brought on a new manager of diversity and inclusion, who came from a position at the National Collegiate Athletic Association.