Our blog has moved, and is new and improved.

You should be automatically redirected in 3 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Friday, April 25, 2008

More firms hiring diversity managers

Altman Weil has come out with the results of an interesting survey on diversity in law firms. The “Altman Weil Flash Survey on the Diversity Director Position in Large Law Firms” reports that 58 percent of participating law firms have a designated diversity manager or director, up 8 percent from 2007, and 13 percent from fall 2005 when the first diversity flash survey was conducted.

The survey also found that 100 percent of participants report having a diversity committee in their firm, up from 96 percent in the prior year. (The survey canvassed large U.S. law firms in the AmLaw 200 and includes responses from 80 participating firms collected in March and April 2008.)

Here in Minnesota, many law firms are following suit. A lot of the larger firms have already implemented diversity committees, and at least one, Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi, has hired a diversity manager. E. Marie Broussard (at right) joined the firm earlier this year. She spoke with Minnesota Lawyer about the importance of her position in February.

“The most important thing a diversity manager does is call on the conscience of the people in the organization,” she said. “The law is especially resistant to change. My job is to make sure change happens within the people within the organization.”

The importance of developing and promoting diversity within law firms and the legal community in general can’t be overstated, particularly in Minnesota where we have some difficulty attracting and retaining diverse lawyers. The formation of diversity committees and the hiring of diversity managers are clearly positive steps towards those goals.


Peter said...

In the words of Simon Cowell, "Not to be rude (or mean), but..."

"She spoke with Minnesota Lawyer about the importance of her position in February."

What interview subject in any job would tell a reporter about the relative UNimportance of his/her position?

Also, "[t]he law is especially resistant to change." Which law? And why should it change?

Complete this sentence: "Diverse lawyers" is a code word for.....

Again, I am not trying to be mean.

Anonymous said...

The author of this post consistently uses the phrase "diversity" without ever explaining how that phrase is defined. Should we assume that the law firms identified by the post are focusing on racial diversity without any consideration to whether the this type of diversity actually furthers the intended goals of a diversity program. Obviously, diversity comes in many flavors. Not all diversity is good. Not too many organizations are willing to hire a convicted felon simply because doing so will diversify the employee pool. Just what type of diversity are we talking about here?

Mark Cohen, editor said...

I think the speaking about the "importance of her job" is meant as an intro to what comes next -- i.e. "serving as the conscience of the organization" (presumably in terms of diversity issues). I agree the statement about the law being "resistent to change" is in need of some context here -- perhaps a link back to the original article for a fuller explanation might have been a good idea.

As for the meaning of the term "diversity," I suppose you would have to defer to the firms on that. Any firm could define it however it wants. However, as I am sure the commenter is aware, it's pretty clear most are not going to include felons, for example. (Nice attempt at a reductio ad absurdum argument, though.) For most firms, it is going to include the categories protected by state and federal employment laws (i.e. race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation.) I have not heard much about religious recruiting for diversity reasons (anyone?), even though this is also a protected category. And age doesn't seem to get much play when firms talk about diversity (again hear otherwise?)

Anonymous said...

Mark raises an interesting question...are any of the firms actively recruiting based on age or religion in order to diversify? Or, are they focusing on a more limited definition of diversity?

Anonymous said...

I don't know, but RKMC doesn't have too much to say by way of its commitment to diversity. About as close as the firm gets is the following statement: "We believe that the diverse background of our people brings necessary and varied perspectives that enrich our practice of law." http://www.rkmc.com/Statement_of_Commitment.htm. Not too helpful in answering the questions raised by the previous posts.

Anonymous said...

Recruiting on the basis of reliiuos diversity would be a tricky business -- How, for example, do week break it down. By "major" religious group (e.g. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu etc ...) or even further by subgroup (e.g. Christian could break into Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox -- or even further into sub-subgroups -- Seventh Day Adventist, Baptist, Lutheran). .. And what about atheists and agnostics -- would they be party of diversity? It's a slippery slope.

On age, on the other hand, firms seem to go the other way, actively discriminating. In employment ads, they frequently ask for people who graduated in certain years, or for second, third, fourth or fuifth-year associates. There aren't too many fields where employers would get away with that (people who are more experienced or graduated earlier are generally older -- and the firm choses to limit its search to younger and less experienced.) Plus some firms have mandatory retirement ages -- another kind of discrimination on the basis of age.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it is official policy, but rumor has it that RKMC actively recruited red-heads in its class of 2006. Sources with first-hand information suggest that it was part of the firm's goal seeking to diversify. Apparently the diversity committee was not comprised of any red-heads.

Peter said...

One of the things I like about MN Lawyer is that it doesn't shy away from controversy, unlike bar association publications.

Who can forget the coverage of the "shrimp boil" and Twin Cities Diversity in Practice excluding the Maslon firm?

But this story seems to exist on a different plane, as though "diversity" is some intrinsic good that has no controversy associated with it.

Mark Cohen, editor said...

Keep in mind that this is a blog post rather than a "story." The author is expressing an opinion sparked by a previously reported story.

As for whether or not "diversity" is intrinsically good, that would, I suppose, get back to the question about how you are defining that term.

Likewise, whether diversity managers or committees add something to a particular firm depends in large part on how they are used. I do believe the intentions of the firms setting up these initiatives are good -- although, as you point out, not everyone will always agree with each and every policy and how it is implemented. That's OK though -- a diversity of ideas is also good.

Peter said...

"As for whether or not "diversity" is intrinsically good, that would, I suppose, get back to the question about how you are defining that term."

Agreed. That would be worthwhile for one to discuss, whether in a blog post, news story, or op/ed.

Mark Cohen, editor said...

Definitely a well-read topic when we do write specifically on that. It also underlies a number of things even when we don't. For example, the post we had yesterday about UST Law denying volunteer credits for Planned Parenthood work could have been framed as a diversity issue. But what kind and whose?

-- Religious diversity? But would that be the school's right to practice a Catholic mission or the student's right not to?
-- Diversity of Thought? But would that be the student's right to think differently about a social issue or the school?
-- Does diversity require all law schools to be homogoneous in their approaches? Or does diversity require us to allow law schools themselves to be "diverse."

These are tough questions, but that does not mean we should or will shy away from.