Diversity As A Senior Executive's Mission: Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP

Sunday, February 1, 2004 - 01:00
Carl G. Cooper

Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP ("K&L") may be the only law firm in the country whose managing board never meets without an officer present whose exclusive mission is the promotion of diversity goals. In the July/August 2003 issue of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association's publication Diversity & The Bar, K&L was featured in an article entitled "Above the Cut: Law Firms Raise the Bar". The article identified four law firms in the United States, including K&L, which "are stepping outside the norm, displaying an unprecedented level of commitment and new strategies for achieving diversity." K&L was recognized as the first major law firm to appoint a Management Committee-level Chief Diversity Officer ("CDO"). The idea of a CDO is a concept whose time has come.

The process that eventually led to my appointment began in the late 1990s, when, recognizing the critical importance of promoting, achieving, and maintaining a diverse and open workforce, K&L conducted an intensive self-evaluation, including diversity sensitivity training for its employees. After studying the results and developing goals for itself, K&L established a firmwide Diversity Committee. The Committee is composed of one representative from each of K&L's ten offices, and a partner who is a member of the firm's Management Committee chairs it. The Committee focuses on three major objectives: (i) expanding recruiting activities; (ii) developing a firmwide mentoring program that includes gender and race-specific innovations to enhance retention of these two groups' members; and (iii) promoting the law firm among minority constituencies as well as promoting awareness of K&L's diversity initiatives in the wider community.

My appointment last year as K&L's CDO followed these developments in a step described by Jim Diggs, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of PPG Industries, Inc. as "groundbreaking." My mission is twofold: (1) to effect positive and demonstrable change within the firm in the direction of greater diversity and sensitivity; and (2) to serve as a change agent in the profession at large so that diversity goals become a living reality among major law firms and their corporate clients.

As K&L's CDO, it is my duty to open and maintain direct lines of communication with all groups within the firm to ensure that the interests and perspectives of all K&L attorneys and employees are considered in firm decisions. It is my responsibility to articulate those interests and perspectives within the deliberations of the firm's Management Committee and to work with individuals and groups at K&L, however they may define themselves - by gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious faith, age, disability or otherwise - to better enable the firm to meet their reasonable needs and aspirations. My responsibilities are firmwide and include the collection, organization, and management of knowledge concerning diversity at K&L in a form that is readily available to the firm and its personnel. Importantly, I report directly to the Chair of the Management Committee.

Many large firms currently treat diversity as a commodity, either assigning responsibility for diversity to human resources, or sometimes adding it to the duties of a hard-pressed senior-level partner who will often be able to do little more than track the numbers of minorities, women, or others they have in their ranks, and in time declare victory or defeat accordingly.

K&L has a different approach to diversity. Diversity is not a commodity, but rather it is a value that adds to the quality of the environment of a law firm or any other organization. Diversity permeates a firm's culture, creating a dynamic and enriched organization. The numbers of different people who come is not what is most important, but rather, it is whether the attitude and quality of work provided by its workforce has improved. I believe diversity will be reflected not in how many different people come, but in how many different people stay and become partners and members of the firm's committees and management team. My role is to ensure that every employee, not just minority, women, partners, or associates, has an opportunity to develop to their full potential and to give them a voice at the management table.

Since diversity became a "Top of Mind" issue for K&L, I have been delighted to see the many ways in which minority and women attorneys have become increasingly engaged here. They have taken on leadership roles that currently include service on the Management Committee and senior practice leadership positions in fields as disparate as mergers and acquisitions, employment, entertainment, and life sciences. Moreover, minority and women attorneys at K&L have also been taking on leadership roles in community organizations whose missions embrace diversity goals, in bar and other professional organizations with diversity and gender agendas, and in recruitment and networking activities aimed at minorities and women attorneys.

We have also launched a series of initiatives at the firm, each carefully designed to contribute to our diversity goals. For example, working with our recruitment and development team, we recently designed and launched a firmwide mentoring initiative, and as part of this, retained a consultant expert in diversity and mentoring training to visit each of K&L's offices across the country to conduct training sessions for all lawyers in order to ensure that the firm's commitment to mentoring is effectively implemented.

On the recruitment front, K&L participates in minority job fairs and intensely recruits highly-qualified minority candidates during on-campus interviews at targeted law schools around the country. K&L also recruits experienced minority attorneys. We believe we are becoming increasingly attractive to minority lawyers. In recent months, for example, 15 minority attorneys (including three partners) and an additional 45 women attorneys (including four partners) have joined the firm. K&L has made it a strategic priority that these numbers continue to increase within all of its offices at all levels.

K&L has partnered with like-minded corporate clients on the diversity front. On July 24, 2003, K&L's New York office hosted the first Corporate Counsel Roundtable discussion on Diversity for the Corporate Legal Times newspaper. The "Dream Team" assembled included Jim Diggs, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of PPG Industries, Inc., Stacey J. Mobley, Vice President and General Counsel, DuPont, Kenneth C. Frazier, General Counsel, Merck & Co. Inc., Roderick A. Palmore, General Counsel, Sara Lee Corporation, Don Liu, Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary, IKON, and Michele Coleman Mayes, General Counsel, Pitney Bowes, Inc.

One of the main questions posed to the panelists was, "given your businesses and your interest in promoting diversity, do you agree with the business necessity/argument/justification for diversity?" Without hesitation, each of the General Counsels responded that diversity is a necessity, as well as the right thing to do. Diversity means "inclusion," and that is good for the bottom line and is simply good business practice.

When asked how the corporations accomplished their objective of inclusion, their responses were varied and challenging. Ken Frazier jumped right in to explain how far Merck had gone in requiring very clear numerical goals for overall representation and representation at each level of their legal department. Don Liu of IKON remarked that his corporation had a "goal", or "target," without numerical percentages attached and most of the other panelists agreed that having a goal/target without numbers was the preferred route to take in accomplishing their diversity objectives. The panelists talked about how these goals translate into selections of outside counsel and they all agreed that diversity within law firms was a consideration.

Michele Coleman Mayes of Pitney Bowes indicated that her newly adopted policy of "tracking the number of hours that minority outside counsel have worked on cases" is a means of ensuring minority participation on their corporate matters. Sara Lee's new policy, as outlined by Rick Palmore, involves ranking their partner law firms into three categories. The bottom group has a "one-year lease on life" with Sara Lee to bring their numbers up to an acceptable level or be dropped from the list of law firms used by the company. At the top of the list are the law firms who have good numbers and they will receive more business. The middle group will continue to get work. If they want more, however, they have to improve their track record. Stacey Mobley of DuPont noted that his company took this process a step further. DuPont hosts an annual minority conference and a women's conference to which DuPont's law firms are encouraged, indeed expected, to send their women and minority attorneys to. Those firms that respond by increasing their numbers are rewarded with more business from DuPont.

For minority lawyers, the "window of opportunity" is open. As minorities in majority firms, minority lawyers have a unique opportunity to demonstrate the perspective they bring to the legal environment by building business with the diverse clients law firms serve. Minority lawyers in non-law firm settings have equal opportunity to bring perspective to the cases and matters with which they become involved. Moreover, the critical role of all minority lawyers is assuring that more than one point of view is considered in any decision-making process.

At K&L, we realize that diversity is a process as well as a result. It cannot happen solely by mandate from the top down, nor by virtue of discontent from the bottom up. In short, it is expansive, encompassing, and enriching in its aspiration and application. This is truly a humbling yet remarkable undertaking for our firm, as our character will be measured not by what we do for the majority among us, but by how we assist and empower those least able to voice their concerns.

Carl G. Cooper is the Chief Diversity Officer for Kirpatrick & Lockhart LLP, where he works with the firm's Management Committee and other firm personnel to design and implement an agenda for K&L that promotes, achieves and maintains a diverse workplace. Prior to joining K&L, Mr. Cooper served as General Counsel of the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. He can be reached at (412) 355-6512 or ccooper@kl.com.