Thinking Ahead: Diversity Initiatives At Saul Ewing LLP

Sunday, February 1, 2004 - 00:00

It has been said that "America is not like a blanket - one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt - many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread." Address to Democratic Convention, July 17, 1984 by Reverend Jesse Jackson at www.issues2000.org/celeb/rev_jesse_jackson_principles_+_values.htm. As is clear, America is diverse and becoming increasingly more so each decade.

Indeed, four decades after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. laid down the gauntlet for a more inclusive society in his "I Have A Dream" speech, the United States Supreme Court, in the Michigan Law School case, reaffirmed the need for inclusiveness and recognized that the benefits of ensuring a diverse workforce and society "are not theoretical but real, as major American business have made clear that the skills needed in today's increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints." Grutter v. Bollinger, 123 S.Ct. 2325, 2340 (2003).

Because "thinking ahead" is a core principle at Saul Ewing LLP, the firm recognizes that diversity is our future. As one of the Mid-Atlantic region's preeminent multi-disciplinary law firms serving a broad range of regional, national and international clients across the business spectrum, with more than 240 lawyers, Saul Ewing understands that its competitive market place advantage (including the retention of talent, the quality of legal services offered, and the development and expansion of client relationships) is dependant upon understanding and anticipating "the needs and economic potential of an increasingly diverse workforce and marketplace." Minority Corporate Counsel Association, Creating Pathways to Diversity, A Set of Recommended Practices for Law Firms, at 11 (2001). Hopefully, this article will help guide other law firms and corporate law departments in achieving their diversity initiatives.

For Saul Ewing, the first critical step to achieving our diversity objectives was to gain the support of the senior management of the firm. Fortunately for Saul Ewing, our Managing Partner, Stephen S. Aichele, and Executive Committee embraced diversity as a business priority. The issue of diversity is now discussed regularly at partner and all attorney gatherings. Equally important, the firm created a Diversity Committee. The Committee is populated by firm leaders, namely the chairs of the firm's key standing committees (Evaluation, Hiring, Summer Program and Professional Development). The Committee also has a senior Executive Committee member participating actively. As a third step, the firm teamed with The Athens Group, a preeminent diversity consultant group, to develop and implement policies and procedures to foster and maintain a culture of diversity in its recruitment efforts, mentoring programs, and client and community service initiatives. The formation of Saul Ewing's Diversity Committee underscores the firm's recognition that diversity plays an important role in its long-term well-being. The diversity of thought, opinion and perspective that comes from lawyers and staff of diverse backgrounds, cultures and experiences enriches firm culture and enhances the quality of the legal services provided to the firm's clients. As a result, developing an effective diversity initiative not only impacts the firm's culture, but also the firm's bottom line.

This past year Saul Ewing conducted a diversity needs assessment, which was used to structure and develop a training initiative for its lawyers and staff. Diversity training for lawyers and staff was conducted by its consultant in the spring and fall of this past year. In fact, Saul Ewing is one of but a few firms that have included staff in its diversity training initiative. Informed by the needs assessment and training sessions, Saul Ewing is currently in the process of developing a three-year Diversity Strategic Action Plan that will address diversity on three levels _ structural (policies, programs, mission, business objectives, etc.), cultural (the culture that people perceive the firm to be communicating regardless of the official message) and interpersonal (the day-to-day interactions between partners and associates, partners and partners, associates and associates, attorneys and staff, staff and staff, etc.). Saul Ewing has recognized that an effective diversity initiative depends upon addressing each of these levels simultaneously.

Recruiting, retention and promotion, and the ongoing role that diversity will play within the firm have been key areas that the firm's leadership specifically wanted addressed in its Strategic Action Plan. These critical areas were identified through the expert advice of Dr. Arin N. Reeves of The Athens Group. The achievement of diversity goals has been, and continues to be, of paramount importance to the firm. Its diversity slogan, 'Without diversity, we would all look the same, think the same and act the same,' is meant to underscore that importance and to take the initiative even a step further.

Recruitment Goals

The firm is striving to expand recruiting strategies by comprehensively focusing on diversity recruiting at all levels within the firm. These strategies include law school recruiting, lateral associate recruiting, and lateral partner recruiting. The Diversity Committee will interact and coordinate with the firm committees responsible for recruiting and assist with the development of specific diversity goals.

Saul Ewing has increased its success with law school recruiting in the past few years and will continue to build on that success. In addition to its traditional recruiting practices, the Diversity Committee is considering the implementation of:

• Targeted efforts at increasing relationships with minority law student organizations in key schools for key geographical areas - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; Wilmington, Delaware; Princeton, New Jersey; and Harrisburg and Chesterbrook, Pennsylvania.

• Development of follow-up strategies aimed at attracting minority candidates who choose to go to another law firm, with the goal of being a "firm of choice" for these candidates if they enter the lateral market in the future.

• Further development of its marketing materials specifically highlighting the firm's diversity commitment and initiatives to be included with all recruiting materials.

• Regular training sessions for partners and associates engaged in recruiting to ensure that the firm's commitment to diversity is effectively communicated.

When it comes to lateral associate recruiting, the Diversity Committee is considering initiatives that will increase the firm's focus on consistently prioritizing diversity in its:

• Lateral hiring decisions for associates;

• Relationships with executive recruiters who create candidate pools for the firm's lateral associate needs; and

• Departmental evaluations of diverse lateral associate recruitment.

The Committee is also developing initiatives to increase its focus on consistently prioritizing diversity in its search for lateral partners and is developing strategies to broaden its networking capacity with diverse partners at law firms and other institutions in order to expand its pool of lateral partner candidates.

Retention And Promotion

As part of its strategic plan, the Diversity Committee is also developing strategies to coordinate with the firm's attorney development committee, mentoring program and evaluation committee to ensure that specific attention has been focused on incorporating diversity into each of those areas.

Most importantly, the Committee is considering initiatives and strategies to:

• More effectively communicate firm expectations regarding attorney development and promotion

• Ensure that the partner and associate evaluation process includes a diversity component

• Audit the evaluation process to determine whether there are trends inconsistent with a commitment to diversity

• Review firm forms, written policies, internal/external communications to ensure appropriate inclusion of diversity

• Ongoing internal diversity training initiatives

• Diversity receptions and educational programs

• Ensure that lawyers incorporate the firm's commitment to diversity in their interpersonal, informal and cultural connections both internally and externally

• Incorporate diversity into all aspects of the business (i.e. recruiting, firm correspondence, training, mentoring, evaluations, culture).

Ongoing Diversity Practices

It is anticipated that the Diversity Committee will function as the primary internal source of expertise on diversity and will facilitate internal communication on diversity between all attorneys and staff. To facilitate internal communications, the committee is considering the dissemination of a quarterly newsletter on diversity issues, and enhancing its intranet site to serve as a place where Diversity Committee events are announced, diversity activities are publicized, diversity research is made available, and various attorneys and staff are featured every month for their contributions to the firm's diversity efforts.

The Committee will also, in coordination with the firm's marketing department, function as the primary source of expertise on all external communications on diversity, including appropriate communications with clients and professional organizations that deal with diversity such as the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.

The Diversity Committee also is positioning itself to facilitate business and client development activities for diverse attorneys. The committee plans to implement a process which will allow it to determine the types of support systems the firm can put in place in order to maximize these opportunities for diverse attorneys.

Saul Ewing, consistent with its core principle of "Thinking ahead," has demonstrated not only that it values and embraces diversity, but that it intends to be a leader and trailblazer on the issue of diversity among other Mid-Atlantic law firms.

Ava E. Lias-Booker is a Litigation Partner in the Baltimore office of Saul Ewing LLP and Co-Chair of the firm's Diversity Committee. Joseph F. O'Dea, Jr., a Litigation Parner in the firm's Philadelphia office, is Vice Chair of the firm's Litigation Department and Co-Chair of the Diversity Committee.