On Sept. 21, the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a luncheon at the Crystal Tea Room in Philadelphia with featured speaker Roderick “Rick” Palmore. Palmore is the executive vice president, general counsel and chief compliance risk management officer, and secretary of General Mills Inc. He is the author of “A Call to Action” and current chairman of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity.
Founded in 2001, the PDLG is a nonprofit corporation consisting of area law firms and law departments committed to increasing the number of attorneys of diverse backgrounds working at law firms and corporations in the Greater Philadelphia region. In collaboration with area law schools, government, professional associations and businesses, the PDLG has developed initiatives and programs that support the success of these lawyers and encourage them to live and practice law in Philadelphia. Among other initiatives, the PDLG has created programs to enhance recruitment and retention of lawyers of diverse backgrounds by law firms and corporations in the Philadelphia region.
The PDLG 1L program targets Philadelphia natives and law students wishing to work in Philadelphia who have overcome substantial obstacles in pursing a legal career, come from a disadvantaged background or from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the Philadelphia legal community, and who have the ability to succeed as part of a traditional legal summer program. Started in 2003, the PDLG 1L program has helped numerous talented, diverse law students obtain summer jobs at Philadelphia-based firms and corporations. The program has grown over the years and is proud to have numerous current Philadelphia lawyers as active alumni. With just 12 participants in 2003, this year there are 34 students working at 30 local employers.
Along with the successful summer program, the PDLG also runs various programs for diverse students to help them succeed while still in law school. The “Law School Boot Camp,” now in its second year, helps incoming law students develop the essential skills necessary to succeed in law school through instruction from law professors, second- and third-year law students and experienced lawyers. There is also a follow-up program on exam skills in November, again taught by law professors and upperclass law students.
In addition to these recruiting initiatives, from the beginning the PDLG has also focused on retention of diverse associates, hosting two conferences devoted to that issue. The first, in 2005, was for senior law firm and law department attorneys and discussed strategies to avoid attrition of diverse associates. The second, in 2007, guided diverse associates on how to best manage their careers so they become valued members of their organizations. The newest PDLG initiative, which will kick off at the 10th anniversary luncheon, will again focus on retention. The PDLG will set up a mentoring program to link diverse associates with law firm rainmakers to help the associates develop and maintain successful law practices.
The PDLG has also run symposiums designed to celebrate diversity in the Philadelphia area legal community. The PDLG hosted luncheons in 2004 and 2006 where practicing attorneys, corporate counsel, law school placement officers and students all gathered and heard keynote addresses by the dean of the Howard University School of Law, Kurt L. Schmoke, (2004) and former Sen. George J. Mitchell (2006).
Through those events, the PDLG succeeded in spreading the message about the success of its programs and also raised sufficient funds to make a contribution to the law school scholarship fund at Howard University and a charity supported by Mitchell. In 2008, the PDLG, along with Temple University and the Philadelphia Bar Association, sponsored a symposium and reception honoring the contributions of the Norris Law Firm and the Liacouras Committee to the diversity of the Philadelphia Bar.
Norris Schmidt Green Harris Higginbotham & Brown was the first African-American law firm in Philadelphia. The Liacouras Committee was appointed by the Philadelphia Bar Association to determine whether Pennsylvania’s bar examination procedures were biased against African-American candidates. Through the recollections of a panel of witnesses to and participants in those events, that program told the story of how certain Philadelphia lawyers came together to change our profession.
With the mission of the PDLG in mind, having Palmore as our featured speaker Sept. 21 is quite fitting. Palmore joined General Mills in 2008 from Sara Lee Corp., where he was executive vice president, general counsel and secretary. In 2004, Palmore authored the “Call to Action: Diversity in the Legal Profession,” urging general counsel to increase diversity by demanding results from their outside counsel as well as within their own law departments.
More than 120 general counsel made the commitment. The initiative has now developed into the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, a partnership between general counsel and law firm managing partners, which was formed in May 2009. Palmore is the chair of the LCLD Board of Directors. His work and dedication has successfully grown “A Call to Action” in the legal profession in full complement to the PDLG’s past, present and future aspirations for the Philadelphia region.
As with any nonprofit organization, the PDLG is only able to celebrate and continue its good works with the dedication and generosity of its member organizations and members of the legal community. We know that the luncheon on Sept. 21 will be a fitting tribute to the hard work and dedication of the PDLG members for the past 10 years and the promise of all the students and lawyers it has helped and will continue to help into the future.
The luncheon will take place at noon Sept. 21 at the Crystal Tea Room, Wanamaker Building, Philadelphia. More information and sponsorship packages ranging from full tables to individual seats are available by going to the luncheon website www.pdlg.blogspot.com. We welcome anyone with an interest in increasing opportunities in the legal profession to join us. •
Barbara R. Rigo is a shareholder with the Philadelphia office of Littler Mendelson. She
focuses her practice on representing management on a wide range of labor and employment matters including trial work on race, gender, age, disability, family and medical leave and national origin discrimination claims and representation of employers in wage and hour class actions. She is also a member of the PDLG Board and co-chair of the 10th anniversary committee.