Diversity: A Hallmark Of Distinction At Kelley Drye & Warren

Thursday, February 23, 2012 - 16:17
Sarah L. Reid

Sarah L. Reid

Editor: You have chaired Kelley Drye's Diversity and Inclusion Committee since 2003. Have your diversity efforts been successful?

Reid: Yes, I believe we have been successful. Our commitment to diversity has been recognized in the industry. Multicultural Law magazine ranked Kelley Drye #31 on their list of Top 100 Law Firms for Diversity in 2011, and we are ranked in the top 40 on the Diversity Scorecard list published by The American Lawyer. Kelley Drye's jump in 2011 was the biggest gain in the Diversity Scorecard rankings of any firm. In addition, our percentages of minority attorneys and women attorneys are higher than those of our peer law firms, according to the NALP 2011 Women & Minorities report and the most recent New York City Bar Association's Diversity Benchmarking Report.

Editor: Are you pleased with these results?

Reid: Very. That doesn't mean we are going to rest on our laurels. We are going to continue building on these successes. For example, we have been building momentum in our recruiting efforts over the past few years. Of the 25 lateral associate hires since 2010, 12 have been women, and nine have been minorities. Of the seven lateral partner hires made since then, two are women and two are from underrepresented groups. Also, looking forward, our incoming class for 2012 is exceptionally diverse – we have nine first-year associates joining us, of whom seven are women and four are minorities.

Editor: Please tell our readers about some of the initiatives in promoting diversity within the firm.

Reid: Our main goal for all our employees is to promote a feeling of inclusion. Some of our associates serving on the Diversity Committee are now offering “Diversity Office Hours” for associates to discuss diversity issues, solicit feedback and increase dialogue. It is important to provide an environment where associates can share their thoughts and be heard. Indeed, Paul McCurdy, our new chairman, and Jim Kirk, our managing partner, have been meeting and talking with all our associates firmwide to foster dialogue and promote inclusion. We also ran several development workshops for our women associates as part of our Women at KDW initiatives. As a result, we will implement one of the suggested ideas, a “book series.” In this program, our women associates will read business books written by women. The first book focuses on creating and promoting successful strategies and deals with issues relating to self-awareness. They will then meet to discuss the reading with the help of a facilitator. We believe this will not only build community, but it will also aid in the self-awareness and development of our women associates. Furthermore, we are more closely aligning our pro bono activities with our overall strategic diversity plan and continuing to conduct training sessions for our associates.

Additionally, providing adequate work/life programs is important to our diversity and inclusion efforts. We have implemented flexible working arrangements and adopted a gender-neutral parental leave policy that includes adoptions. Some 14 percent of our attorneys have flexible working arrangements, such as part-time work. Retention rates for these attorneys are high; they are able to successfully balance their practice with outside responsibilities and interests. We have also partnered with NAFE, the National Association of Female Executives, which is a division of Working Mother Media, and with Flex-time Lawyers in their efforts to collect data and provide tools to law firms to improve and promote the status of women in their firms.

And, we revamped our diversity administrator position, increasing its level of responsibilities and increased the diversity in our administrative staff.

Editor: Why is it important to have a rich array of talented lawyers with varied backgrounds in reaching out to clients?

Reid: Among other things, diversity is a business imperative. The U.S. population grows more diverse each year, and our demographics are rapidly changing. The way we conduct business has also changed, as business is now a globalized phenomenon. Tapping into and harnessing individual talent across the spectrum of diverse possibilities – race, gender, language, religion, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation – helps us better represent our clients, improves the quality of our decision making and leads to the identification of more strategic business opportunities.

In what we hope will be one of many partnerships with our clients, we hosted a series of meetings with two in-house counsel and several of our women and minority associates. The goal of the meeting was to allow the clients to interact with associates who might potentially work on their matters, building client relationships and fostering business development opportunities. The associates also shared their life and work experiences at Kelley Drye.

Editor: What are your tools for recruiting diverse attorneys whom we normally think of as women, people of color and LGBT attorneys?

Reid: In the recruitment of new associates, we rely heavily upon referrals from other Kelley Drye attorneys and interview programs offered through university career services offices. In our efforts geared specifically toward the recruitment of diverse associates, we provide an annual summer associate position for a first-year law student through the NYC Bar Diversity Fellowship Program. Our attorneys actively engage in law school and community outreach through participation in programs like the Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE)-sponsored legal clinics and the Practicing Attorneys for Law Students (PALS) annual Mock Interview/Resume Review Program. Many of our attorneys serve as mentors to PALS law students as well.

Through our DC office, we host an annual “Kelley Drye Mock Interview Week,” which helps minority students at DC-area law schools practice their interviewing skills and prepare for the fall recruiting season. And, as part of the on-campus interview program, the DC office participates in the Mid-Atlantic Black Law Students Association Job Fair.

In addition to these efforts, the firm sponsors various affinity organizations at many of the law schools from which we actively recruit. We also extend invitations to our summer associates to any internal and external events geared toward diversity during the course of the summer program.

With respect to lateral recruiting, Kelley Drye partners with diverse associations and participates in minority job fairs. In addition, the firm hires recruiters to identify diverse candidates.

Editor: What are the elements that constitute a well-rounded diversity and inclusion program?

Reid: There are several components, all working in tandem. I sit on the executive committee of the firm, and having conversations at the senior level about shaping a vision and strategy is fundamentally important. Communicating this vision and our policies at all levels to our partners, associates, staff and clients is essential, as is the research required to establish baseline data as a foundation for planning and identifying “best-in-class” practices. An organizational infrastructure has to be created to facilitate action plans, and these plans have to be implemented and operationalized. Finally, tools must be put in place for the measurement of progress. Some of the tools traditionally used to measure success include diversity-specific surveys, peer reviews, performance reviews and ratings, promotion and hiring rates, and external recognition and awards.

Clearly, within the scope of shaping a strategy, one has to include elements of training and education, and address issues surrounding firm culture, recruitment, retention and development.

Editor: Are there changes or new programs that Kelley Drye plans to work on in 2012? 

Reid: We will continue with our key programs and will continue to build and strengthen our relationships in various communities.  With Paul McCurdy on board as our new chairman, we will continue to demonstrate leadership in support of diversity both at the firm and to our clients and will provide sustained support for the long term by continuing to focus on diversity as a strategic initiative.

Looking ahead, we will likely expand our in-house “Diversity Speaker Series” and plan to bring to the firm various speakers of differing backgrounds to share their experiences with us. At our next firmwide Diversity Committee meeting, for instance, we will be joined by Kevin Clayton, president of Axxis Consulting. Axxis Consulting is a change management consulting firm with many years of experience in creating and implementing diversity and inclusion strategies. We will also work closely with each of our offices to provide for optimum training and development of our associates.

Editor: What advice would you give a minority law school graduate as to how to go about selecting a law firm that would assure him or her of a successful career in the law?

Reid: There are probably many things to look for depending on the individual, but perhaps the most important criterion is to choose a firm with a demonstrated commitment to valuing and supporting its associates to become the best he or she can be. Is there one model for success at a firm, or are there many? If there is only one model, is that model comfortable for you? At Kelley Drye, we welcome individuals with different backgrounds, experiences and ideas, and the makeup of our partners reflects that fact. In highly visible positions of leadership, for example, with two of our nationally recognized, major legal areas, the heads of our bankruptcy department and litigation practice group are both Hispanic and actively support diversity efforts in the legal profession. Fostering diversity allows us to best serve our clients and promotes a culture of openness, of which we can be proud.

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

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