Ten diversity organizations and initiatives you should know about
On page one of John Grisham's bestseller, The Firm, it says of a new associate hire:
“McDeere was a male, and there were no women in the firm... He was white, and the firm had never hired a black.”
We're pretty confident that no (or at least, very few) lawyers today would identify with John Grisham's fictional law firm from a quarter-century ago... but while great strides have been made toward increasing diversity in the legal profession, the picture is far from rosy. Many firms today invest heavily in promoting diversity; here are ten of the organizations and initiatives that are helping them do that, and recognizing their efforts where it's due.
"Our clients and their customers are increasingly diverse, and it is their view that their lawyers can provide the best and most innovative solutions by pulling together diverse teams with differing perspectives."
Marci Eisenstein, Schiff Hardin's first female managing partner. Read our full interview here.
Diversity organizations for women
Working Mother / Flex Time Best Law Firms for Women – truth be told, most of the largest BigLaw firms feature somewhere in these annual rankings, which they then proudly announce in the diversity pages of their website (and in a press release). If you can't find Working Mother mentioned anywhere when you're trawling a firm's website, then you should ask why. The survey assesses criteria including the number of female equity and non-equity partners, the percentage of lawyers working reduced schedules, women's affinity groups, and customized training.
National Women's Law Center – established for over 40 years and with a staff of 70, this campaigning organization provides research and advocacy in support of women and girls' rights. Among the many law firm sponsors are: Latham, Paul, Weiss, Skadden, Sullivan & Cromwell, Weil, Hogan Lovells, Mayer Brown, Reed Smith and Baker & McKenzie.
Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF) focuses on providing leadership coaching, networking opportunities and other support to women in the biggest law firms and corporate law departments. Sponsors include MoFo, Skadden, Milbank, Proskauer, Simpson Thacher, O'Melveny & Myers, Jenner & Block, Finnegan, Venable, Goodwin Procter, Pillsbury, K&L Gates and Paul Hastings.
Ms JD – founded in 2006 by a group of law students from various law schools, Ms JD focuses on helping female law students and early career lawyers achieve success. With campus chapters around the country, it provides an online forum, annual conference, writers' program, scholarships, and a global education fund to help women in developing countries pursue a legal career. Current board members include lawyers from Latham & Watkins, Freshfields and Hunton & Williams.
"As it relates to young women of color... I advise them that their number one job is to become the best lawyers they can be. I advise them not to be side tracked by firm committees (such as diversity) when they are new lawyers. I advise them to get as much exposure to as many people as possible. I advise them to get immediate feedback on their work. I advise them to know what their reputation is (perceived or actual) at all times within their organization."
Paulette Brown, the first black woman president of the American Bar Association. Read our full interview here.
Diversity organizations for ethnic minorities
African American History Month – February each year (designated Black History Month by every President since 1976) provides a great opportunity for law firms to celebrate the history, achievements and central place in society of African Americans. They might host events and dinners, invite in speakers, display artwork, screen movies, organize CLEs tied into the theme (e.g. notable civil rights cases), or whatever else their imaginations inspire them to do. A few years ago, for example, King & Spalding attorneys helped establish the Black College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, GA, which launched in conjunction with Black History Month.
The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund – founded in 1940 by Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African American Supreme Court Justice. The legal arm of the NAACP exists “to achieve racial justice, equality, and an inclusive society.” Most BigLaw firms have relationships with the organization to varying degrees. In 2011, Skadden was the first recipient of the LDF's law firm of the year award in recognition of its contributions to diversity and public service. Fried Frank, meanwhile, actively seeks to recruit minority candidates through its 'Fried Frank Fellowship' in collaboration with the LDF.
"Nice guys can, in fact, finish first (or at least near the front of the pack), while still caring about collegiality, pro bono and diversity."
Keith Wetmore, former MoFo chairman and first openly gay BigLaw chairman. Read our full interview here.
Other diversity organizations
National LGBT Bar Association – many firms have forged links with the LGBT Bar, which provides members with numerous benefits including newsletters, networking opportunities, a jobs board, and participation in committees and working groups. There is a student division too which, among other things, offers writing competitions and leadership awards. The annual Lavender Law Career Fair is the biggest LGBT legal career fair out there.
Practicing Attorneys for Law Students Program – available to students at the 13 law schools in the New York City area, PALS provides free mentoring and other support to minority law students and early career attorneys (click here for the list of schools). Firms involved include Debevoise, Chadbourne, Perkins Coie, Weil, Skadden and Sidley Austin.
National Association of Law Students with Disabilities (NALSD) – this coalition of law students provides career support, networking opportunities and other advice to students with disabilities.
The Diversity & Flexibility Alliance – this think tank helps law firms and corporations improve organizational efficiency through promoting diversity and flexible working. Members include Finnegan, Hogan Lovells, Squire Patton Boggs, Wiley Rein, Kaye Scholer, Crowell & Moring, DLA Piper, Perkins Coie and Fried Frank.