Talent Comes In Many Forms

Monday, January 31, 2011 - 01:00

Editor: As chair of Kelley Drye's Diversity and Inclusion Committee, please tell us about your current activities and future goals.

Reid: 2010 was a great year for us because we reached an important milestone - we elected five new partners last June, three of whom are women and one is Hispanic, and all of them came up through the ranks. Three of the partners are in New York and two are in Washington. What this tells me as chair of the Diversity and Inclusion committee is that the commitment and effort the firm and the committee have made in the past several years to groom new talent from our diverse associates has paid off. We're successfully cultivating talented, diverse associates who are choosing to make their careers at Kelley Drye.

Editor: From the broadest perspective, how does a law firm excel in diversity?

Reid: The key is recognizing that legal talent comes in many forms. For larger law firms to succeed, they must nurture talent in its multiplicity of forms and offer people opportunities to excel. From a business point of view, the firm excels when it has diverse attorneys who can flexibly respond to clients' goals. This offers particular advantages with multinational clients, where understanding different cultures and ways of conducting business is critical.

Editor: Why is community outreach important for a law firm?

Reid: Community involvement has always been very important to Kelley Drye. We support several pipeline programs and internships and volunteer for several organizations, one of which is Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders or SAGE. Community outreach is also very important in a long-term strategy to encourage students at the high school level to look at law as a possible profession. It should be part of an overall commitment by law firms to demonstrate that we can be viable employers for people in various communities. We can see the difference in the lives of the interns who come into the office from our Cristo Rey Corporate Work Study, Inner-City Scholarship Job Opportunities, and Thurgood Marshall Summer Law Internship Programs. They work here, they are mentored and they see that this is a world that they contribute to, feel comfortable in, and hopefully will return to someday to become part of our team.

Editor: What are the key factors in developing a diversity policy?

Reid: Obviously, the commitment has to come from the firm's executive management. It is also very important to have a diversity administrator/coordinator in place to help implement a firm's programs and goals. The diversity policy should be relatively straightforward, with execution being the key.

Execution should take place on four different fronts: (1) you have to partner with clients, for example, by being responsive to their needs in their diversity surveys; (2) next is the retention focus, which includes making sure that the best legal talent is recognized and properly mentored; (3) third is the recruiting focus, which includes making certain that you are recruiting diverse candidates; (4) and finally community outreach is all-important. A critical job for the chair or any member of a diversity and inclusion committee is to ensure that everyone is included.

Editor: Is it part of a lawyer's ethical duty to be inclusive in representing all clients?

Reid: As lawyers, we are not supposed to take into account anything other than the clients' needs and an obligation to zealously represent them. The law aspires to always be color-, gender- and ethnic-blind, but sadly that aspiration isn't always met. The legal profession, based on the statistics, lags behind in proportionally reflecting our country's diverse population, which can hinder our ideals of equal representation.

Editor: How does Kelley Drye recruit and retain attorneys of diverse backgrounds?

Reid: We try to maintain good contacts with the various schools where we recruit, and we talk to their placement staff to let them know that Kelley Drye is a welcoming place. We participate in the New York City Bar Diversity Fellowship Program, which places minority first-year students in summer associate positions. In addition to having our attorneys attend job fairs targeting minority law students, attorneys in our Washington D.C. office also coordinate and participate in the D.C. Road Show, where African-American attorneys go "on the road" to various law schools to encourage minority law students to consider law firm practice.

Editor: Please tell us about Kelley Drye's "generational differences" program and community outreach initiatives. What are some success stories?

Reid: The generational differences program was a form of diversity training. It has been a great success because it has intrigued equally our partners and our associates, shedding light on how technology has changed the way the people in different generations communicate and interact with each other.

A facilitator separately conducted interviews and surveyed both partners and associates. Subsequently, the groups met together with the facilitator, who led a discussion on differences in communication styles. The program pointed out how sometimes associates misunderstood partners' expectations because people in different generations communicated information differently. I highly recommend this program. We found the discussions among the partners and the associates were very constructive. The associates were happy to be part of this dialogue, and the partners also found it helpful.

Editor: Are large corporations leading the way in response to a more global marketplace, and are you seeing more diversity in the higher echelons of companies you represent?

Reid: The answer to both those questions is definitely yes. We receive a request from one of our clients every few weeks asking us to break down our diversity statistics, including that of our vendors. We have put in place software to help us monitor these statistics. We've received an increased number of calls by leading general counsel around the country asking about not only the number of diverse lawyers representing them on their matters but also about diversity in the leadership of the firm.

Editor: In your last interview you mentioned you had embarked on a program with your vendors. Please tell us how that is developing.

Reid: We have established a relationship with a software company whose function is to cull our entire vendor database and identify certified minority-, women-, and LGBT-owned vendors. This allowed our accounting department to develop a database to record the minority-owned and women-owned businesses whom we hire. Consequently, we are gaining a better understanding of the breakdown of our vendors with respect to diversity. While this data is helpful in making us more aware of our vendors, we have not made a concerted effort to seek out minority vendors to replace other vendors. Whenever a vendor is recommended, we carefully consider its abilities and the needs of the firm and our clients.

Editor: As a litigator, are you seeing more diversity in the courtroom?

Reid: For some time now there have been many women in the courtroom, especially since women lawyers often took government jobs out of law school or early in their careers. More recently, I have noticed increased diversity in the judiciary. Although strides have been made with people of color in the courtroom, we need to maintain a steadfast commitment to having the various kinds of diversity in our country fairly reflected in the officers and attorneys who populate our courts.

Editor: How has globalization affected law firms' diversity policies?

Reid: Globalization has affected law firms as more clients demand that lawyers think in global terms. To the extent that firms have offices abroad, as we do in Brussels, or work with an independent affiliated office, as we do in India, you realize that to compete in this world you have to understand different cultures and different ways of communicating. In the case of our India practice, it is helpful to have Indian partners who are admitted in both the U.S. and India, who know both the cultures and serve as valuable resources to all of us.

Editor: Will there come a day when diversity policies become standardized? Do you think they will ever disappear?

Reid: I think the mission can become standardized. Individual policies are always going to be a little different because firms differ. I think it should be a goal that ultimately these programs will disappear with the recognition that legal talent comes in many different packages. The need for training and development of personnel and the need to recognize such talent will always be with us.

Editor: What are the tangible benefits of diversity?

Reid: Diversity makes for a much more open and creative firm, resulting in more energy and ability to compete. Can you quantify it? I don't think you can exactly quantify the benefits, except we know it ultimately leads to more business. When a client sees someone with shared commonalities who offers a creative solution to a problem and understands the context in which the problem evolved, the client is more comfortable with that counselor.

Editor: What advice do you have for women? For the LGBT community? For people of color?

Reid: I think people of color, women and members of the LGBT group generally face more challenges. I do have some relatively simple advice for all associates. It is important to stay true to your own fundamental character. I'm a commercial litigator, and when I was starting out, there were not a lot of women role models for me, but my solution was to observe how men acted in a courtroom and apply some of their skills to my own actions. Of the men whom I watched, I was particularly impressed by my father who utterly dominated a courtroom because he was always the last to speak and he was always right. His model became the base for my courtroom persona. I could never out-shout or out-act someone, but I was able to develop my own strength, my own persona and ultimately my own courtroom presence. The other thing that I would add is the importance of not letting your preconceptions of your employer prevent you from having the life you want. I was the first woman partner at the firm, and I had my first child the year before I came up for partner. I knew that people said that having a child could be a deterrent to partnership, but I decided I had to be myself and get on with that side of my life. The firm didn't even blink, and I made partner on time. It turned out that what people said wasn't true then, let alone now. My advice is to be yourself without subterfuge or apology.

Please email the interviewee at sreid@kelleydrye.com with questions about this interview.