first_imgRetention efforts are key to firm diversification Retention efforts are key to firm diversificationMark D. Killian Managing Editor A willingness to accept diversity is not enough. Firms also must commit to strong recruitment and retention efforts if the numbers of minority partners are going to increase, according to Jason Murray, president of the Miami Chapter of the Black Lawyers Association. Murray was one of a number of speakers at the recent All Bar Conference on Diversity who said firms must create and foster mentor relationships and pay close attention to work assignments given to their minority lawyers to make them feel they are highly valued by the firm. If minority lawyers aren’t trained and given the opportunity to perform on significant legal matters, they will seek out other firms that will appreciate their talents. “If you don’t open up and receive people and see them for what they bring to you, you are losing out on quality,” said Wilhelmina Tribble, a former public member of the Bar’s Board of Governors. Citing “Women in the Law: Making the Case,” a new study sponsored by the law schools at Columbia, Harvard, Michigan, Yale, and the University of California-Berkeley, Tribble said people of color now make up three percent of partners and 12 percent of associates in U.S. firms, and minority associates are more likely to start and remain at firms where there are other partners of color. “Perception is everything and many minorities won’t even consider going to firms if there are no other minorities,” Tribble said. Ray Carpenter, partner in charge of minority hiring for Holland & Knight, seconded that, saying it took 15 years of making offers to minority graduates in Florida to finally get a minority lawyer to accept an offer to work for the firm. “People don’t go where they do not see somebody who looks like them,” Carpenter said. “And that was what was happening for a lot of years at Holland & Knight.” Carpenter said diversity is distinguished from affirmative action in that it is a choice made by the firm. He said it was firm patriarch Chesterfield Smith who decreed that Holland & Knight should look like the community it serves and also draw talent from that community. Black Lawyers Murray said while women and Hispanics are making inroads toward partnerships, isolation, lack of mentoring, and the lack of challenging job assignments are significant obstacles still faced by black lawyers at major law firms in Miami. Murray said while a recent National Association for Law Placement study found 16.34 percent of partners at major Miami firms are women and the city had the highest percentage of “partners of color” out of 28 cities surveyed across the nation (19.31 percent), most of Miami’s partners of color are Hispanic. Murray said the BLA found only nine black partners out of 1,466 lawyers it surveyed at 35 of Miami’s leading firms. “Miami’s major law firms are unfamiliar with the principles of economic inclusion, fair play, and substantial justice insofar as black lawyers are concerned,” Murray said. “Nine black partners out of about 1,500 lawyers at these major firms,” Murray said. “We said, `Well, there is a problem.’” Murray said to account for so few black partners, either blacks are not being recruited, so they are not in the pool to make partner, or the minority lawyers were leaving the firms, so there is a serious retention problem, or the black associates were being passed over, so there is an advancement problem. Murray, a partner at Carlton Fields, said that if Miami’s top firms are serious about recruiting qualified black lawyers, they must change their recruiting approach by devoting more time to minority job fairs, establishing relationships with student groups like the Black Law Student Association, and recruiting at historically black universities. Firms also must cultivate and mentor black lawyers in order to retain them. Murray said one black associate he spoke with told him while she was highly recruited, she was ready to leave her 40-member firm because of a lack of mentoring and training. “She said, quite frankly, `I don’t believe that there is anyone there who is advancing my interest or is sponsoring me to do well with this firm,’” Murray said. “`When all is said and done I am not getting the high profile cases. I’m not getting to work on significant matters. I am not getting the training that I know I will need in order to get to that next level.’” Another black associate interviewed by Murray said while he and a number of other black lawyers were highly recruited to the firm, management didn’t know what to do with them once they were there. “That firm was managing diversity by trying to deal with conflicts and to make sure everybody in the office was okay at a base level, but they had not gotten to the point where they understood it, appreciated it, valued it, and embraced it,” Murray said, “There came a point when each of these attorneys felt they were not being connected to partners and the partnership ranks. They also did not think they had a significant mentoring opportunity.” Murray added many of those black associates indicated that they did not have the opportunity to participate in certain social networking events and were not given the challenging work assignments they craved. “That teaches a valuable lesson,” Murray said. “Unless you can establish a good relationship with senior lawyers, the best cases are not coming to you. Lawyers tend to give their work to associates they feel comfortable with.” Women Lawyers Tribble said as competition for legal talent increases, and women make up a growing percentage of that talent pool, retaining and advancing women is also essential to staying competitive. The “Making the Case” survey found that upon graduation from law school, more than 70 percent of men and women begin their legal careers in firms. She said of those graduating in the 1970s, only 30 percent of the women are still with firms, as opposed to 51 percent of the men. The study also found 35 percent of women law graduates from the 1980s and 51 percent of women law graduates from the 1990s are still in firms. “As a result, while 50 percent of the men are still in firms, only 40 percent of women are in firms,” she said. With respect to satisfaction with their current employer generally, there is striking parity between the response of white men and white women lawyers, the survey found. “In particular, these groups are equally satisfied with networking and mentoring opportunities,” Tribble said. “However, women of color law graduates. . . report lower satisfaction levels on these indicators, as well as on advancement generally.” According to the survey, while 62 percent of white women law graduates are satisfied with their current employer, only 46 percent of women of color are satisfied. With respect to advancement, 41 percent of white women law graduates are satisfied compared with 30 percent of women of color. Minority women also report lower levels of satisfaction with networking and mentoring components of advancement. Fifty-three percent of white women say they are satisfied compared with only 39 percent of women of color. “Low satisfaction rates registered by women of color law graduates can be explained in part by how they preceive the climate for diversity in their organizations,” Tribble said. “White men and women law graduates do not observe race issues in the same way that people of color do. The greatest gap exists between white men and women of color, but even white women significantly underestimate the importance of race.” The survey found 25 percent of women of color say being a minority hinders advancement opportunities compared with 13 percent of white women and five percent of white men. Thirty-six percent of women of color say many stereotypes about minorities exist in their organization as opposed to 21 percent of white women and 10 percent of white men. Carpenter said firms need to become places where minority lawyers of all stripes can feel that they can achieve their highest level as a lawyer. Carpenter said the general attitude of minority lawyers is: “Get in, get out of the way, give me what I need in order to do my work as a lawyer, and I’ll show you that as a lawyer it does not matter what my color is and you will forget what my color is.” April 1, 2001 Managing Editor Regular Newslast_img

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