See also: Consider These Tips When Building a Diversity Program
(L to R): Hank Adorno of Adorno & Yoss, Thomas Poindexter of Winston & Strawn, Stanley B. Stallworth of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, and Nam Paik of Baker & McKenzie
From law departments boasting hundreds of attorneys to firms where two lawyers split the duties, supporters of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association are drawn together by their strong commitment to diversity. But where does this dedication derive from? For some law firms, a senior partner's enthusiasm was the initial inspiration. For others, it was young associates who were determined that minority attorneys feel comfortable and at home in the firm. Often, a law department's goal of outsourcing work to diverse lawyers prompted its firms to begin a program.
Recently, Diversity & the Bar® talked to partners at six law firms—Adorno & Yoss, Baker & McKenzie, Howrey Simon Arnold & White, Morgan Lewis, Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, and Winston & Strawn — about the roots of their diversity programs, and where they plan to go with their successes.
Thomas C. Poindexter, a partner at the 150-year-old law firm Winston & Strawn, is chairman of the firm's diversity committee. Poindexter explained the diversity committee evolved from the firm's Women's Initiatives. A key objective of the diversity committee is to bring more women and minority lawyers into the firm.
"I don't care why you do it," Poindexter stressed. "Whether you do it for moral reasons —'It's the right thing to do'— or to satisfy a client, so long as you support the overall goal of increasing the number of women and minorities at the firm," Poindexter continued.
Poindexter said he's wary of relying solely on statistics to prove that a firm's commitment to diversity is working.
"I don't think numbers indicate everything," he offered. "You can't just 'bean count.' The minority attorney must be part of the makeup and thought process of the firm. At Winston, we're making significant progress in doing that, although we have a long way to go," said Poindexter.
There is no mystery as to why law firms are seeking diversity. Nam Paik of Baker & McKenzie also said, "It's the right thing to do," but pointed out that his firm's corporate clients wanted diverse legal teams that mirror the global marketplace. Baker & McKenzie has 68 offices in 38 countries, and a staff of more than 8,000. According to Paik, 14.2 percent of its U.S. lawyers are minorities, which is higher than the national average of 11.7 percent.
"Even so, we recognize that we need to improve. Diversity is important to a law firm to reflect an ever-changing work force," Paik emphasized. "It makes a firm that much stronger. Clients are demanding that we become diverse. It makes absolute business sense," said Paik.
Even though it is a minority-owned firm, it made business sense for Adorno & Yoss, a Florida-based firm with offices in California, Georgia, and Maryland to emphasize the diversity of its staff.
"The firm is diverse in all components of the society that it serves," Founding President Hank Adorno stated. "Its ownership is Hispanic and African American, and 42 percent of its professionals are women," Adorno said. "'Other' groups in our firm would include majority lawyers. We mirror the community that we serve."
Howrey Simon Arnold & White further defines the need for diversity with this statement on its website: "Our firm," it states, "should reflect the diversity that exists in the global and local environments in which Howrey operates and… we should promote that diversity."
Sidley Austin Brown & Wood purports that its diverse culture brings value to its client relationships because Sidley serves ". . . an extensive range of clients who reflect the diversity of communities in which we live. Each lawyer brings a unique perspective to join with others and to devise creative responses to our clients' most daunting challenges."
Christopher Reynolds of Morgan Lewis concurs. "We mirror the wishes of our clients. They tell us that their ability to be competitive depends on a variety of perspectives enabling them to penetrate markets," Reynolds said. "We have the same desire to provide a rich mix of perspective, both to our clients and our firm. An homogenous approach cannot guarantee this broad range of perspective," Reynolds stated.
"We are competing in the marketplace," Adorno advised. Within a minority firm homogeneity takes a back seat to diversity. At Adorno & Yoss, for example, although the uninformed may refer to the firm as Spanish and African American, within it, however, are Cuban, Mexican, Guatemalan, Argentine, and Caribbean lawyers.
"We are directed by our clients," Adorno said. "Corporate America is moving to fewer law firms that cover greater distances. That caused the firm to expand into other urban cities."
Adorno referred to the recent merger effected by Adorno & Yoss with Alvarado Smith & Sanchez, said by Adorno "to be the largest Latino law firm in California," and with Brown & Sheehan, an African-American firm located in Baltimore.
"Diversity in a law firm can't be done undercover," Reynolds emphasized. "If it is not communicated as a firm value, it won't happen."
"A law firm can't succeed in making diversity a priority without the support of management," Paik acknowledged. "Diversity at Baker & McKenzie starts with the executive committee and our chairman Christine Lagarde. We also have managing partners who are supportive. Through this support we are able to take our diversity efforts to a regional level," Paik continued.
The concern about diversity stems from management and is bolstered with effort. A plan must be put into practice. Change comes from the top down.
Adding Effort to Concern
Although important, concern means nothing without effort. A concrete program must evolve that puts action behind words. Of course, the firm's primary idea of diverse associates and partners loses some of its aura of idealism as specificity is added. The firms profiled here began their diversity programs with a concept informed by both moral and utilitarian views.
Sidley's diversity program began more than a decade ago with task forces for the recruitment of minorities and women. Recognizing the need for more focused attention on diversity matters, in 2001, the firm's leadership established two firmwide committees — the Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity and the Committee on the Retention and Promotion of Women.
"The two firmwide committees on diversity have increased awareness within the firm with respect to issues relating to diversity, and have assisted the firm in broadening the scope of its diversity initiatives and in creating a more inclusive workplace environment," said Stanley B. Stallworth, a partner in Sidley's Chicago office. "As of April," Stallworth offered, "in our domestic offices, the total number of lawyers at Sidley was 1,347 — including 48 African Americans, 24 Hispanics, two American Indians, and 97 Asians, for a total of 171 lawyers of diverse racial backgrounds. As of that date, the firm had 461 women attorneys."
Howrey's diversity program also began with a task force, according to Patricia Butler, the partner who heads the firmwide diversity efforts.
"We started off with a two-year initiative," Butler said. "We went into subcommittees: recruitment and retention. The goal was to ensure that attorneys have all of the tools they needed. There are subcommittees for Recruitment and Retention, Business Development/Marketing, Liaisons with Bar Associations and Internal Firm Activities," Butler added.
Last spring, Winston & Strawn published a Diversity Charter that laid out the firm's diversity goals, and Sidley produced a 24-page brochure that describes Sidley's diversity programs and highlights its racially diverse attorneys.
With these tools in hand, the law firm has a picture of its diversity efforts that it can use to recruit attorneys into the firm.
Recruiting and Retaining Minority Lawyers
"Our Outreach Recruitment Program, initiated in 2000, identifies certain law schools that have a high percentage of diverse candidates – for example, Howard, Southern, Texas Southern, and the University of Miami — and our lawyers frequently recruit on those campuses," said Stallworth. These schools, he explained, were added to the select law schools from which Sidley regularly recruits.
Sidley, as well as Adorno & Yoss, Baker & McKenzie, Howrey Simon Arnold & White, Morgan Lewis, and Winston & Strawn, all recruit from the top law schools in the country. To reach minority students, they also participate in minority-focused job fairs. This two-pronged approach has helped their firms cast as wide a net as possible in order to capture the broadest number of diverse attorneys.
"Our summer associate program is our main recruitment tool," said Howrey's Patricia Butler. This program, also known as boot camp, includes a two-week trial training experience to provide summer associates with greater insight into the firm's work.
"The program is designed to give law students a better understanding of the work that we do. The law students spend three weeks in the office and two weeks doing a mock trial. Students from any and all law schools in the country can apply to the program. There are approximately 20 students in the D.C. office – I am not sure of the numbers in the other offices."
Since both law firms and diverse students are finite, there is fierce competition in recruiting minority students. Several of the firms offer scholarships to diverse students. Sidley, for example, annually offers the Wiley A. Branton Scholarship to the top first-year student at Howard University Law School, and Sidley recently established a $100,000 endowment at Howard to assist with a speaker series relating to matters of diversity. Branton, a former dean of the Howard University Law School, was a civil rights attorney and a partner at Sidley. Reynolds reported that Morgan Lewis has a scholarship program with the minority law student organizations at University of Pennsylvania Law School and other law schools to fund the purchase of law books for financially disadvantaged students of color. The point is not only to help defray a significant cost for the economically disadvantaged, but also to let them know who gave the assistance, thereby building early name recognition for the firm.
"There is a strong relationship between our Washington office and Howard University Law School," Reynolds stated. "In addition, our Summer Associate Program has as diverse a pool as possible. All in all, good diversity measures tend to be good human resources programs."
Adorno & Yoss, the nation's largest minority-owned law firm, is in the hunt for minority lawyers, too. The Florida-based firm is 18 years old and has 185 attorneys.
"When we interview a minority attorney, we do it with the same enthusiasm as with all of our other lawyers," said Adorno. "We work with The University of Miami and other law schools in the area. Like other firms, ours identifies law candidates for our summer program. The students clerk for us four to six weeks. Our lawyers are active in the National Bar Association and the Cuban American Bar Association, as well as the American Bar Association," said Adorno.
Assuming the success of firms' recruitment ploys — summer fellowship programs, funds for textbooks, scholarships, job fairs, interviews — it is likely that at least some diverse students accepted employment at these firms. But retaining the diverse associates and advancing them to partner is just as important.
All six firms profiled offered a structured mentoring program to all of their associates. At Howrey, the Attorney Advisor Program is structured to provide associates with mentors who assist them with professional development at the firm. Howrey's Professional Development Program helps associates develop their skills. "We have a Diversity Committee that is a firm operating committee," Butler stated. "One of the things that the Diversity Committee has instituted is a seminar series on business development."
The firm makes a point to pay attention to diversity issues and has instituted seminars within their firm to help their lawyers in business development.
According to Poindexter, Winston & Strawn has "just formalized a mentoring program that demands accountability from both the mentor and the associate. Later this summer, Winston also is initiating diversity training for all attorneys at the firm."
At Sidley, all associates are assigned a mentor from their practice group. Supplemental to the primary mentoring program, in certain of the firm's offices, the racially diverse and female partners have established a "Circle of Friends" mentoring program where small groups of partners are paired with groups of associates for mentoring on matters of importance to women and diverse attorneys, including socialization, retention, promotion, and work-life balance.
In spite of these programs, when a minority attorney leaves the firm, it is important to understand why. Racial discomfort at the attorney's firm may have had nothing to do with the departure. An analysis of why the attorney left is imperative. The firm cannot assume racial or ethnic discomfort.
No matter what the origin, diversity for these law firms is a top priority. As diverse attorneys find a home at Adorno & Yoss, Baker & McKenzie, Howrey Simon Arnold & White, Morgan Lewis, Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, and Winston & Strawn, so will these firms find themselves among the most successful and profitable law firms in the nation.
Phil W. Petrie is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, Georgia.
From the July/August 2004 issue of Diversity & The Bar®