Posted on: 11/2/2011
Chrys A. Martin, Davis Wright Tremaine
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Successful minority recruiting for law firms depends on a variety of factors: geographic location, firm size, substantive practice areas, diversity of the existing attorney work force, pay ranges . . . but, most importantly, the firm's absolute commitment to successfully diversifying its attorney ranks. That commitment must come from the highest levels of the firm – the managing partner, the executive committee and practice group leaders. The firm must visibly show its commitment by having a diversity committee, a well established and well thought out diversity recruiting program, sufficient funds committed to diversity recruiting and visible results.
If you have few or no minority attorneys currently with the firm or a history of high turnover among your minority attorneys, then it will be much more difficult for you to have a successful minority recruiting program in the future. You will have to work hard to overcome those perceived negatives.
Among law firm employers listed in the 2010-2011 NALP Directory of Legal Employers, only 6% of partners were ethnic minorities and 19.53% of associates were minorities. Just 1.95% of partners were minority women and just 10.9% of associates were minority women. The successful recruiting and retention of minority attorneys varies significantly by law firm size and location. Many firms with acceptable diversity, show that diversity in their associates and partners only in certain cities, and they are absent from the ranks of attorneys in other large law firm offices in different cities. These demographics have not changed over the years despite the large increase in the number of minority attorneys attending law school. The change in diversity since 1993, the first year for which NALP maintained comparable information, has only been marginal. In 1993, minorities accounted for 2.55% of partners and women accounted for 12.27% of partners. Partnership ranks are still not diversified significantly.
Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, joined hundreds of other companies in the "call to action" to diversify outside counsel by attempting to require law firms to truly embrace diversity. Assistant General Counsel of Walmart, Miguel Rivera, stated: "Law firms who don't pay attention to their diversity will make survival very difficult." Diversity of attorneys is a very important factor in Walmart's selection of outside counsel.
While aggressive diversity recruiting efforts will not solve the entire problem (retention is still a significant issue for most law firms), it has to be the first place that law firms start. Those efforts need to be focused on both diversifying entry-level ranks as well as lateral hires. However, a commitment to diversity is more than just a desire to diversify the law firm. A firm must provide visible leadership, sufficient funds and have a carefully planned and executed diversity program.
Ten Steps to Diversity Success
Step 1-Leadership from the Top
Diversity leadership must come from the highest levels of a law firm. This means that managing partners, executive committee members and other leaders must also lead diversity efforts. In many firms, those positions are often held by white males. They cannot simply delegate diversity efforts to staff, women or ethnically diverse attorneys in the firm. A senior attorney in a significant leadership position should lead the diversity committee.
Step 2-Befriend Placement Staff
Establish close working relationships with placement directors, professors and deans to convince them your firm is truly committed to diversity and retention of diverse hires. They will help funnel the best candidates to your firm if they believe your diversity desires are honest. Also, create partnership, mentoring or educational opportunities and programs with law students – starting with first or second years.
Step 3-Meaningful Participation with Law Schools
Participate meaningfully in diversity recruiting efforts. Do on campus interviews at law schools with high proportions of diverse students. Attend minority hiring job fairs and diversity events. Become known as a leader for diversity in your community as well as in the legal profession. Accomplish this by involvement in and financial support for a variety of local or regional diversity programs in addition to those in the legal profession.
Step 4-Maintain Hiring Standards
If you lower your hiring standards, you will hire unqualified candidates who will not fare well when compared to your other associates. However, ensure that your hiring standards are valid predictors of success at your firm. Are all of your top performers really in the top 5% of their law school class? Or had a certain GPA or LSAT score? Have your standards validated professionally so that you do not inadvertently screen out those with non-traditional skills and successes. What profile really leads to success at your firm? It will not be the same for every firm.
Step 5-Affinity Groups
Affinity groups within law firms, professional legal associations or the bar can assist diverse attorneys at succeeding in their profession. These groups connect them with other diverse attorneys for support, marketing opportunities, friendship and mentoring. Especially if there are few diverse attorneys and a low ethnic minority population in your city, such groups can aid retention efforts.
Mentoring programs for diverse attorneys need additional elements to help them connect with other diverse attorneys and professionals in the community. When professionals are connected to their communities, it becomes harder to leave for another geographic market. Certain states, with a low number of ethnically diverse professionals, will not be as attractive as more diverse cities elsewhere. So firms in those states have to go the extra mile to be inclusive within not only the firm but within the broader community.
Step 7-Build a Business Case for Diversity
A "business case" for diversity involves understanding that our clients are demanding diversity from their outside counsel and other vendors. Hundreds of the largest U.S. businesses have signed on to the "call to action" and are focused on diversifying their outside counsel. If your firm does not have qualified diverse attorneys at all levels, you will be at a distinct disadvantage in vying for work from companies who are committed to diversity.
Step 8-Market Properly Your Diverse Attorneys
Your diverse attorneys have a marketing advantage with diverse clients and clients committed to diversity. If you have diverse candidates, use this tactic to help them get clients so that they can be successful at your firm and appreciative of the efforts the firm makes to help them succeed. It is harder for a lawyer to leave a firm when the firm has supported and nurtured his or her career. However, do not add diverse attorneys to your pitch team without having a meaningful role for them. This will harm your diversity and your marketing efforts.
Step 9-Retention, Retention, Retention!
Recruitment efforts will not result in diversity success unless you focus at least equally on retention programs. There are many more diverse attorneys graduating law school. So there are increased opportunities to hire diverse candidates. However, they still leave firms and leave the practice of law, at higher rates than non-diverse lawyers. If your firm has a reputation for lack of retention, it will negatively impact recruiting and retention efforts. Encourage retention by supporting participation of diverse attorneys in case and trial work and active positions with firm leadership. It is important for firms to establish retention programs separate from their recruiting efforts, which should improve retention rates. Use a qualified diversity consultant to help build your solid recruiting and retention programs, do not try to do it on your own!
Step 10-Partnering Programs
One way to jump start diversity efforts is to partner with minority and women-owned law firms. Their attorneys may be more connected with diverse candidates and recruiting sources. Such partnerships help a firm qualify for panel counsel programs that favor or require diversity in their outside law firms. They connect you with more diverse attorneys who can provide new inroads into diverse populations.
More detailed information from local resources can help you enhance diversity success. Firms usually cannot develop and succeed in their diversity efforts without the aid of a qualified consultant.
Law firms who have committed leadership and a true passion for diversity WILL succeed. It is harder in a less diverse market like some smaller, more rural states. It is harder for smaller firms with fewer opportunities for new hires or laterals. But, it can be done with creative commitment and education.
Leadership needs to be trained first on diversity concepts to properly lead diversity efforts. Training on diversity issues needs to be routine and ongoing . . . we all have prejudices and bias. There is no way to avoid that, but the key is to recognize that we have them and to overcome those prejudices with education and understanding of, and valuing, our differences.
Chrys Martin is a partner with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, in Portland, Oregan. She focuses her practice on employment law and employee benefits issues. She offers her clients thirty years of extensive experience in complex employment litigation, including wage and hour class actions. Chrys has obtained multiple jury and court trial verdicts and has been named one of "America's Leading Lawyers for Business" in employment by Chambers USA, 2005-2011. Chrys served on the DRI Board of Directors from 1997-2000, served as the Chair of DRI's Law Institute Committee from 2006-2008 and served as the Chair of DRI's Employment Law Committee from 1997-2000. She has also served as the Law Institute Liaison for the DRI Sharing Success Seminars.