Year after year, companies worldwide strengthen their efforts to create diverse work environments. Whether it’s education, background, gender, or ethnicity, a diverse team is ideal. Law firms are no different in their wish for diversity, but headlines have proven that race and the law can be a tough case to solve.
It’s a challenge nationwide. Among all employers listed in the 2012-2013 NALP Directory of Legal Employers, just 6.71% of partners were minorities and 2.16% of partners were minority women, although many offices report no minority partners at all.
“What we have found from both a client perspective as well as our own internal perspective is that having diverse ideas and thoughts makes the practice of law better,” says Kim Robinson, Jones Walker partner in Tax & Estates Practice Group. “If you’re going to have diverse practices, it also makes sense to have a diversity of background, education, life experiences, gender, and ethnicity.”
Since the 1930s, Jones Walker has grown to become one of the largest law firms in the United States, with a branch in Baton Rouge. Part of its expansion involves adding minorities to its team.
The practice of law is competitive in nature, and every law firm wants the top students from law schools. If there are only a few top students that happen to be ethnic minorities, then the competition becomes that much more intense.
“The number of graduates from law school every year who are ethnically and racially diverse minorities is relatively small in comparison to other demographic groups; it’s a lot of competition,” says Skip Philips, managing partner for Taylor Porter. “There will always be competition in our world for qualified lawyers, whether they’re in a minority or a majority group.”
Taylor Porter recently marked 100 years of practice, making it one of Louisiana’s oldest firms.
“Frankly, Louisiana turns out such quality lawyers, there’s a lot of competition from out-of-state law firms,” Philips says. “It’s the same limited pool of talent from which to select.”
With four law schools in the state—LSU’s Paul M. Hebert, Tulane, Loyola, and Southern University—there’s competition in- and out-of-state.
One way law firms select their attorneys is by actively recruiting at job fairs and networking events throughout the state and region.
“We’re making sure we’re not limiting ourselves to a single area for recruiting new associates,” Robinson said.
Robinson said Jones Walker recruits by performing on-campus interviews at the four in-state law schools, and attending job fairs, including those for minorities. Similarly, Taylor Porter works with its recruiting and diversity committees to create relationships with law schools and job fairs.
“We work together to identify recruits and diverse applicants on an individual basis locally and nationally,” says Amy Lambert, chairperson for Taylor Porter’s Diversity Committee. “Diversity brings value to a firm, and we’re continuing to look for ways to improve in that area.”
The other side of recruiting is having the capability to offer a workplace where diversity is embraced—it’s the chicken or the egg question.
“We’re evaluating our environment and taking a hard look to make sure that we’re somewhere diverse lawyers want to work,” Robinson said. “When lawyers join us, we want them to stay, so whatever needs to be done to make this a welcoming environment and an environment that all lawyers can succeed in, then that’s what we need to make sure we have in place.”
At times, dusting off the welcome mat might be as simple as letting others know that diversity is celebrated, not shunned.
“I think you have to work at it,” Philips says. “I think the better you do, the better you’re going to do. We want to be recognized as a place where differences are embraced; that we appreciate divergent opinions, cultures and points of view, and I think we’ve done that.”
When recruiting, law firms have to consider their clients, too—some of whom may be across the country, different in ethnicity, education, and area of legal need.
“Expanding the diversity of firms has made the practice of law more interesting and allowed us to provide better service to our clients,” Robinson says.
The trick is finding a candidate that’s got everything, while also fitting the needs of the law firm.
“We always look for capable, young, talented lawyers who we think can help us represent our clients,” Philips says. “So the standard for us is to always be able to render an exceptional legal service to our clients and to hire lawyers who have the potential to do that. We’re not going to distinguish between ethnic minorities solely for the purpose of hiring minorities. Nobody wants that. So we look for quality, high-talent, character, and integrity.”
How the top law firms do it: A look at recruiting initiatives and results at the five top-ranked firms in the Capital Region
African-American partners: 6.1%
African-American attorneys: 9.0%
Hispanic partners: 3%
Hispanic attorneys: 3.6%
Initiatives: Kean Miller Connection, a two-day law school preparatory program for minority college students now in its eighth year. Attorneys for the firm, along with minority in-house counsel, judges, administrative personnel and others provide an intense overview of the law school experience.
Taylor, Porter, Brooks & Philips
African-American partners: 4%
African-American attorneys: 4%
Hispanic partners: 0%
Hispanic attorneys: 1%
Initiatives: The firm recruits at Southern University Law Center and participates in minority job fairs both in and out of state. Taylor Porter also routinely participates in diversity and inclusion seminars, including the Louisiana State Bar Association Annual Conclave on Diversity in the Legal Profession. At the national level, the firm is an active participant in DRI’s Annual Diversity for Success Seminar and Expo.
Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson
African-American partners: 2.33%
African-American attorneys: 1.85%
No. of Hispanic partners: 2.33%
No. of Hispanic attorneys: 3.70%
Initiatives: The firm recruits at traditional minority law schools and engages professional staffing firms with expertise in minority candidates. Breazeale Sachse has also adopted policies and undertaken initiatives to address and be responsive to the unique needs of minorities at all levels of the law office environment. These include training, associate support systems and flexible work schedules.
African-American partners: Would not disclose
African-American attorneys: Would not disclose
Hispanic partners: Would not disclose
Hispanic attorneys: Would not disclose
Initiatives: A Diversity Committee has adopted the goal of fostering a work environment that welcomes different perspectives, backgrounds and life experiences and ensures that an individual’s professional growth, experience or advancement is not limited because of gender, race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability or other similar factor.
African-American partners: 9%
African-American attorneys: 6%
Hispanic partners: 0%
Hispanic attorneys: 2%
Initiatives: The firm actively recruits at the Southeastern Minority Job Fair as well as the Tulane University Diversity Clerkship Program, as well as on campuses throughout the United States, including the Southern University Law Center. Phelps Dunbar also actively supports historically black universities with an annual scholarship to Southern University Law Center, which has recognized the firm for contributing over $100,000.
(Research by Sierra Crump)