Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals
ALFDP’s Board of Directors at the group’s Fall Conference, New York City, November 18, 2008. From left to right: Sylvia James (Secretary), Alphonzo Grant Jr. (Member-at-Large), Theresa Cropper (President Emeritus), Anna L. Brown (President), and Helise Harrington (Treasurer). (Not pictured: Lovita Tandy, Member-at-Large.)
The Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals (ALFDP) was established in January of 2006 to respond to the demands of diversity experts searching for a forum to fellowship, share their experiences, and advance the inclusion efforts of their respective firms. Their ranks swelled to the point that formally creating an association was a natural outgrowth. The association’s mission is to act as a catalyst for the advancement of heterogeneity in the legal profession.
Membership in the organization is open to attorneys and professionals tasked with implementing a law firm’s diversity program, and whose positions place them at the forefront of increasing inclusiveness in the legal profession. Its members continue to expand the field of law firm diversity management, and develop best practices in the field.
Increasingly, law firms have established high-level internal positions to chart the course of their firms’ diversity efforts. This trend is reflected in the responses firms have provided as part of the annual Vault/MCCA Guide to Law Firm Diversity Programs. Each year for the past five years, Vault and MCCA have surveyed the nation’s top law firms regarding their diversity initiatives, the leadership of those initiatives, and the firms’ plans to increase the hiring and retention of a diverse staff. As of 2006 (as documented in the 2007 edition of the Guide), approximately 18% of responding firms (34 of 193) reported having a diversity officer. Two years later, according to the 2009 edition of the Guide, that percentage has grown to nearly 34% (95 of 277). When focusing on large national law firms (excluding the small regional firms that also participated in this year’s survey), the increase is more dramatic: almost 50% (88 of 178) of large law firms reported that they have hired a full-time professional to implement their diversity program.
At the organization’s inception, the position of diversity professional was new. Only limited resources were available to help professionals such as Theresa Cropper, the director of diversity and professional development at Perkins Coie, make the most of their positions and influence. “Four years ago, there were only ten of us,” Cropper recalls. “Now, firms employ more than seventy diversity professionals. As the numbers grew, it accelerated the need for an organization to serve our needs.” Cropper, along with others similarly tasked, was looking for an organization where they could share their ideas, successes, and failures. Because one did not exist, they created one. Cropper was one of the founders of the organization and today holds the title of president emeritus.
The current president of the organization is Anna L. Brown, special attorney/director of diversity at Shearman & Sterling. In addition to Cropper, members of the board of directors include Lovita Tandy of King & Spalding, Helise Harrington of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, Alphonzo Grant of Sullivan & Cromwell, and Sylvia James of Baker Botts.
Members of ALFDP attending the Fall Conference in New York City, November 18, 2008.
“The purpose of ALFDP was to provide a support network to those like me to share information,” notes Cropper. “We wanted to encourage each other and incentivize law firms to professionalize the [diversity expert] position. We created a network where we could discuss the successes and challenges in our profession, and provide some respite from our challenging work.” In Cropper’s opinion, serving as a diversity manager is the best job in any law firm, and the association helped her and other members meet the job’s challenges: “We are the community and culture keepers at our respective firms. Diversity professionals create this barrier reef around the firm’s culture. We grow it, protect it, and encourage it. We help ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.”
Lovita Tandy, chair of King & Spalding’s diversity committee, where she is a partner, agrees. “The association has been a great resource for collaboration and resource sharing. It serves to measure advancements at law firms. The organization is the foremost authority on deeper level issues on what it takes to create and sustain diversity in a law firm.”
ALFDP is a growing organization that is run by its members, who have full-time jobs at their firms. These volunteers maintain the association’s Web site, organize and run its meetings, conduct webinars, and maintain a list serve where members can share ideas and best practices. “The list serve—which includes all members—serves as a day-to-day resource,” explains Cropper. “It brings together a collection of professionals with varying experiences, who exchange ideas on what works to enhance diversity and what does not.”
Association members also meet periodically (at least yearly) to network and work closely with other organizations, particularly MCCA. In fact, organization members express widespread gratitude for everything MCCA has done to support and help grow the association. “Veta Richardson [MCCA’s executive director] is our godmother,” Cropper shares with a laugh. “She has allowed us to piggy-back on [MCCA’s] meetings, and has encouraged our growth and development.”
The organization is planning for its 2009 spring meeting, and plans to conduct a fall conference in November. ALFDP encourages law firm diversity leaders to reach out to its current leadership to join and get involved.
ALFDP’s leaders hope to continue to grow and hire staff to free up time to do even more. “In ten years, we hope to be the definitive source of diversity information for law firms,” explains Cropper. “We want to be at the forefront on cutting-edge research showing what diversity programs work and how firms can implement them. In ten years, we will know which hiring programs work, what mentoring programs work, and who has figured out how to stem attrition.”
In 2008, ALFDP and MCCA teamed up to sponsor a survey conducted by the Flourishing Company, a national consulting firm, to explore inclusion efforts and the role of diversity professionals at law firms.1 Nearly half of the law firms appearing in the AmLaw 200 list (Incisive Media’s ranking of America’s top 200 revenue-grossing law firms) responded. The study concluded that large law firms are relying increasingly on diversity professionals; furthermore, the formal creation of this role in law firms is becoming the norm rather than the exception, as reflected by the fact that 78% of the responding law firms reported having a diversity professional. Most of these positions were created within the last three years. All but one of the law firms reported having a diversity committee (and that outlier reported plans to create a committee during 2008). Tandy believes that the survey “shows that firms, and the profession as a whole, are trending toward more diversity, not less. One of the main reasons is that entering law school classes are more diverse.”
As more firms hire professionals to head up their diversity efforts, ALFDP will serve an ever-increasing role in law firms’ efforts to diversify their ranks. Large and mid-level firms should consider hiring full-time diversity professionals or designating a partner as diversity chair, and encouraging that person to join ALFDP and network with others who have experienced first-hand what works, and what does not, when it comes to inclusion and diversity. Finding new and successful ways of recruiting and retaining attorneys from different races, nationalities, and backgrounds can become a group effort by getting involved with the association. DB
- The Executive Summary of the 2008 Diversity Professional Survey may be found online at alfdp.com/clientimages/42560/ 2008finaldiversityprofessionalsurveyexecutivesummary052308.doc. The full study will be released by MCCA.
Francisco Ramos Jr., Esq., is a freelance writer and partner at the Miami-based offices of Clarke Silvergate Campbell.
From the March/April 2009 issue of Diversity & The Bar®