Partners say corporate America demands diversity May 15, 2006 Regular News Partners say corporate America demands diversity Mark D. Killian Managing Editor Only 4 percent of partners in the private sector are minorities and more than half of all minority lawyers leave their firms within the first three years — two thirds within four years, according to a report put out by the ABA.“If that is accurate, it is shocking and I don’t understand why,” said Dominic Caparello, who moderated a panel discussion on diversity in hiring at the Bar Diversity Symposium in Orlando in April. “If that is true, we are not doing a very good job of developing those lawyers and promoting those lawyers and motivating those lawyers to stay with us.”Noting that law firms are business economic units and can’t accomplish much if they can’t pay the bills and keep the doors open, Caparello opened the discussion by asking senior partners from some of Florida’s most well-known and large firms: “Does diversity make sense from a business perspective?”Sure it does, said Cesar Alvarez, president and CEO of Greenberg Traurig, because corporate American has embraced diversity for itself and those it does business with.“Major corporations are looking at your diversity numbers when they are looking to hire lawyers and for good reason — they understand the diversity of their own customers and need to show they are representative,” Alvarez said. “They also do it in part because it is the right thing to do.”Mary Solik, a partner with Foley & Lardner, said it has been her firm’s experience that its corporate clients not only want to see the firm’s diversity statistics, “they want to see our diverse attorneys actually working on their files and engaging in the client relationship.”Solik said Foley & Lardner has a full-time diversity partner who reviews each of the firm’s requests for proposals (RFPs) responses and the firm makes sure its firm’s pitches in response to RFPs “include a very diverse team of attorneys.”Carl Schuster, president and managing director of Ruden McClosky, said Wal-Mart’s general counsel recently told a gathering of the National Bar Association his company is now reviewing the diversity of the firms that do legal work for Wal-Mart and “he has indicated that those firms that don’t ‘get it,’ are not going to do any more work for them.”Schuster said one large firm already lost Wal-Mart business “because they did not ‘get it.’”Veta Richardson, executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, said Wal-Mart recently moved $60 million worth of legal business to more diverse firms.“And it is not just a matter of hiring a firm that has diversity within it, but they want people of diversity working on their matters; it is not enough that you have a few African Americans or Hispanics or disabled people, or people of different sexual orientation within your firm; you’ve got to have some of them working on your matter,” Schuster said. “I think corporate America has to take the lead here in the sense of putting the burden on the law firms to do the right thing. There is no doubt that if the pressure is there from our clients, then it will come through to us.”Alvarez acknowledged that when a corporate board wants to defend itself against a takeover they could care less about diversity, but a firm’s diversity can be the deciding factor when a corporation is hiring for myriad other legal needs.Recognizing the pool of minority applicants is shallow, Foley & Lardner gets an early start when it’s time to hire associates, beginning in the first semester of the first year of law school, Solik said. The firm has created a minority scholarship program where the firm offers scholarships at eight to 10 different law schools across the county to students in their first semester.“Not need-based or merit-based,” Solik said. “They are based on the applications submitted and interviews our lawyers conduct at these law schools.”Those students then spend their first summer at the firm and “that program has been very successful,” Solik said.Schuster also said firms should not rely solely on GPAs when looking for associates. “You have to look at personality and you have to look at other factors we attorneys are, besides just nerds,” he said.“I don’t know how many good trial lawyers are people who just sit back in the corners somewhere and simply do all the research,” he said. “The good trial lawyers I know probably could have been on the stage in Hollywood and done a good job.”Schuster said Ruden McClosky also has a program that pays bonuses to its associates who bring new lawyers to the firm.At Greenberg, only key partners interview potential associates. Alvarez said it makes little sense to send a lawyer only two or three years out of law school to do the firm’s hiring because they have yet to developed the skills needed to judge who will be a good lawyer.“Unless you send people who are senior enough with the firm that can make that decision, I’m telling you that interviews go toward asking questions about constitutional law and they don’t get into the personalities of the kids,” Alvarez said. “What kind of heart they have, which ultimately makes you successful.”MCCA’s Richardson agreed, saying many low-level associates can’t accurately assess their own performance, let alone the potential of a student.“If they are interviewing candidates who are minorities — who are highly credentialed, from top law schools and have top grades — there is almost a fear, because everybody knows that not everybody is going to make it to partner.”Richardson also cautioned that if firms send minority lawyers to interview “you still need to make sure they are seasoned enough to make those decisions.”Solik said Foley & Lardner launched a diversity initiative four years ago with the goal that 20 percent of its incoming hires be minorities.“We have far exceeded that goal and we are now moving toward a 40 percent aspirational goal,” Solik said.The bigger struggle is in attrition, she said.“We are monitoring all of our diverse attorneys in their early years to make sure their hours are the same as everybody else’s hours,” Solik said. “If their hours are lower, we are examining why. We are monitoring assignments; we are working with our department chairs to make sure all of our lawyer are getting the same access to good quality work.”The firm also works to ensure its minority lawyers attend events and functions and make sure they are active in the community to help them build business and contacts.