Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP: The Right Thing To Do

Sunday, February 1, 2004 - 01:00
Stephen J. Dannhauser

Editor: Would each of you provide our readers with something of your background and experience?

I am the Chairman of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, and Larry Perkins is our Diversity Manager. We brought Larry into the firm a number of years ago because we felt, given our commitment to this initiative, we could not accomplish all of our objectives unless we had somebody focusing on it on a full-time basis.

Perkins: I retired from the U.S. Army as a Colonel after some 22 years of service. I was stationed at West Point as an Instructor and Director of the Academy's Center of Enhanced Performance when I received a call from Weil Gotshal.

Dannhauser: One of the things that we observed was the fact that the military had made great strides in terms of diversity, particularly with respect to recruiting and retention.

Editor: Would you provide us with some of the history of Weil Gotshal, with a focus on its celebrated commitment to advancing opportunities for women and minorities?

I've been at the firm since the mid-'70s. From the day I arrived it was clear that the firm had a strong commitment to making a difference in the communities in which we operated, to giving back through our pro bono or public service work. We had also been involved, through the efforts of Ira Millstein, in bar association and other initiatives related to diversity - that approach has continued without interruption to this day. I happen to be a member of the City Bar Association's Committee to Enhance Diversity in the Profession. Larry Perkins attends many of those meetings and is a driving force in that group's efforts.

Perkins: One of the things that attracted me to Weil Gotshal was the commitment at the top from the Chairman and the Management Committee. In this business you really have leverage if a person like Steve Dannhauser, a leader in the firm, is pushing this agenda forward with you.

Dannhauser: Without opportunities to participate in the bidding process, it seemed to us that advances by minority- and women-owned businesses would be episodic at best. In our case, we looked at our purchasing habits and we looked at our suppliers. In the late '80s and early '90s we established rules that required a bidding process in connection with any material purchase of supplies and services. We opened that process up to minority- and women-owned companies, and we made certain that our purchasing people understood our commitment to this effort and the need to support it. Heading the process up is just one of the duties Larry assumed when he joined the firm. Getting to these minority- and women-owned enterprises has been a challenge, but we are making progress, with the help of organizations such as the National Minority Business Council and the National Minority Supplier Development Council and, of course, with Larry's guidance. We still have a ways to go on this, but we are light years ahead of where we were ten years ago.

Perkins: Weil Gotshal is one of the few law firms with a supplier diversity program, and it is extensive enough to occupy about a third of my time. In addition to the suppliers' program, I am focusing upon eliminating barriers or perceptions of barriers in the recruiting and retention of all attorneys and our staff personnel, as well as developing diversity training and other programs such as mentoring. These three prongs to the program are interconnected, and each provides leverage with respect to the other two. Additionally, I work for the firm's Director of Associate Relations, who also supervises our Director of Professional Development and Training. Taken together, this all enables the firm to work on the culture and climate necessary to eliminate many negative perceptions and barriers to advancement for our firm.
I should add that Steve has made all three of these aspects of the diversity program part of the firm's overall strategic vision, and something that affects everyone in the firm. Both lawyers and support staff regularly report to Steve and our Management Committee on progress in these areas.

Editor: Recruiting is absolutely crucial for the firm's future. How do you go about competing for these highly qualified and sought after minority law school graduates?

We attempt to make our case with every student, irrespective of the student's ethnic background. In the case of minorities it requires a great effort. We show them that the firm is a good environment to work in and that our career development, pro bono, community involvement and mentoring programs are top notch. You understand that there is a very small pool of minority candidates. The top 25 law schools in the country have between 18% to 20% minority representation. Of that, African Americans represent about 5% to 7%, Hispanic /Latinos represent 4% to 6% and the majority group is our Asian American students. As you can imagine, the competition for the minority candidates is really fierce because we're all competing for the "best of the best." One of our strong recruiting strategies is to expand our pool of schools, if you will, go for quality students at some the schools typically referred to as second tier schools.

Editor: Have you found your strategy effective? Are you getting the young lawyers that you want?

Yes, we are, but not enough of them. We want larger piece of the pie. We are not satisfied.

Dannhauser: This is an ongoing endeavor. It requires a great deal of hands-on effort on Larry's part and the people involved in our hiring programs. We do have a certain momentum here: when you are recruiting, your record speaks for itself. Many of these students spend summers with us, so they have a very clear sense of the working environment at Weil Gotshal, and of the institutional efforts we are making to enhance their careers. Everyone understands that an environment that is perceived as hospitable has a positive impact on the decisions they make; one that is perceived as non-inclusive has an impact as well.

Perkins: As I previously mentioned, one of the things I work on with our Director of Associate Relations is the climate of the firm. To attract, and then retain, a diverse work force, it is essential that the firm be perceived as having, and indeed have, an inclusive work environment.

Diversity training is one of the key factors to the right climate. Weil Gotshal launched its training initiative some 18 months ago on a firm-wide basis and at three levels: that of support staff, that of the associates and that of the partners. This is underway at all of our U.S. offices, and, early in January, I will be in London, which is our European headquarters, to conduct diversity training there. Later this year we will expand that training to our other European offices. This represents an enormous commitment of time and money on the part of the firm. Additionally, we are the only law firm that is participating in a European initiative to develop and implement a European Supply Diversity Program.

Editor: Our publication promotes law firm diversity as a way of aligning the firm with the goals of corporate counsel. Can you tell us whether your diversity policies have found favor with the firm's corporate clients?

The clients are much more focused today on diversity than ever before. I would like to think that many of the programs we have put into place came about not only because our clients expect our firm's makeup to be diverse and inclusive, but also because we were trying to do the right thing. I can assure you that clients are focused on these issues, and that their inquiries with respect to diversity make a difference. Firms pay attention to the desires of their clients. If key clients want to know about the percentage of minority attorneys that have worked on a particular matter or about the efforts a firm has undertaken in the diversity arena - whether in recruiting or retention - the firm's leadership is likely to be very attentive and very conscious of the image it must project in order to meet the expectations of such clients. All of this is a very good sign. People in the legal departments of major corporations are asking questions about progress on the diversity front - questions that were not asked l5 years ago. If firms wish to attract or retain the business of such clients, the answers to those questions better be good. I am glad to say that we at Weil Gotshal believe we have a very good story to tell.

Perkins: The inquiries from our corporate clients have tripled since I've joined the firm. We are proud to share with them what we have accomplished in this area to date. I think we are ahead of the curve. Among all of the New York law firms, there are only four or five full-time diversity managers. We all know each other, and we share our experiences on a regular basis. I feel very good, going into a meeting with my peers from these other firms, about what we are doing at Weil Gotshal.

Editor: You have both alluded to the fact that the firm was one of the very first to adopt a formal diversity policy. Could you tell us how this served as a model for the City Bar Association?

In 1991, the Association adopted its first Statement of Goals for increasing minority representation. At that time, each of the signatories agreed to an annual hiring goal of at least 10 % minority lawyers. Our Ira Millstein, one of the firm's senior partners, was involved in the Committee to Enhance Diversity in the Profession at the Association. As part of this initiative, Weil Gotshal drafted its diversity policy, which was then submitted to the committee and became a model for the City Bar Association to share with other firms. Subsequently, we became the first firm in New York to conduct firm-wide diversity training based on that policy. A few years later the Association called upon the signatories to increase the rate at which women and minorities are retained, promoted and represented in leadership positions in law firms and law departments. In November of this year we again signed the Association's new Statement on Diversity.

Dannhauser: We think it is important that the entire firm participate in this initiative, meaning every office and all of our practices. At our recent annual partners' meeting our Diversity Chairperson, Andrea Bernstein, and Larry made presentations to the entire partnership, including our European partners. If we are to be successful in attaining our diversity goals - and we are convinced that we will succeed - everyone within the Weil Gotshal family must embrace this effort.

Editor: What would a day of diversity training consist of?

For starters, we wanted to know whether there were any obstacles, real or perceived, to advancement within the firm.

Perkins: The key words are "real or perceived" because so many times what is perceived does not reflect reality, yet perceptions need to be addressed because they are someone's reality. The programs we developed for partners, for associates and for staff were tailored for the audience. In the case of partners, it consists of eight hours of training on such things as how to provide feedback, how to coach associates, how to overcome barriers - or perceptions of barriers - communication tools, and awareness on stereotypes within the profession and our firm. A particular emphasis is placed on mentoring and coaching, which is I believe is very important when it comes to women and minorities as well as all of our attorneys and staff. What we have found is that the things that effect the development of under represented groups effect others as well. So our inclusion policy drives us to develop policies and programs that are inclusive to everyone.

Editor: What about the future? This has been a very successful initiative for Weil Gotshal. Will there ever be a time when a program like yours is simply unnecessary?

I would hope so, but I suspect we are always going to have to work on these issues. People come to us from a great variety of backgrounds, and all together we are a very diverse group. Given that degree of complexity, I think it is going to continue to be important for us to work at our diversity goals. In addition to being the right thing to do, it enables us to work together in a more cooperative spirit, with more collegiality and cordiality. And it makes us so much more attractive to young people just starting out in their careers.