Issues & Overview Diversity: A Marathon, Not A Sprint

Sunday, February 1, 2004 - 01:00

Larry D. Perkins
Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP

Within the next few months, every partner, associate and staff member of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in the United States and London will have completed an extensive course of training on diversity. This effort marks the culmination of a pioneering commitment to diversity at Weil Gotshal that began many years ago. Notwithstanding all the progress the firm has made in advancing the cause of diversity, however, and the impact its efforts have had across the profession - its original diversity policy was used as a model by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, and most recently its diversity-based vendor-purchasing program has been the subject of considerable acclaim - Weil Gotshal is convinced these efforts must continue with as much commitment as ever.

As the firm's chairman, Stephen J. Dannhauser, points out, "The task of carrying out diversity must be viewed as a marathon, not a sprint." Mr. Dannhauser, who helped to create a "diversity" culture at the firm more than 10 years ago, is proud of having fostered a climate of inclusion, in which the firm's people value individual and group differences, respect the perspective of others and communicate openly. He recognizes, moreover, that the main adversary in these matters is complacency. "Embracing diversity and inclusion as core values means you are committing to an ongoing endeavor," Mr. Dannhauser has said.

Today, the motivation to adopt greater broad-based diversity within the ranks of the profession is fueled not only by law firms' desire to do the right thing, but also by the needs of their corporate clients, who increasingly expect the makeup of their law firms to be both diverse and inclusive. Significantly, in the past two to three years Weil Gotshal has experienced a tripling of inquiries from corporate clients in regard to diversity.

The need to attract and retain the best minority talent has produced a scramble among firms to recruit among an admittedly small group of law students. As an article elsewhere in this issue of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel reminds us, the pool of minority candidates from the nation's top 25 law schools is approximately 20 percent. Weil Gotshal has opted for a recruiting strategy of expanding its pool of law schools as a way of overcoming the current limits to the minority-candidate base. Recruiting quality students at schools typically referred to as "second-tier" schools is a tactic all firms can easily adopt.

There are obvious benefits to achieving a diverse workforce - benefits not only to the law firms that accomplish successful diversity initiatives, but also to their clients and to the communities in which the firms operate. For instance, a diverse workforce combined with noteworthy diversity initiatives will help attract the best and brightest lawyers and staff to the firm. Additionally, an office environment that emphasizes diversity, inclusion and respect fosters the development, retention and advancement of all personnel - and increases overall productivity.

Other important benefits diversity engenders include bringing a wider array of experiences and solutions to bear on a problem, thereby enhancing the quality of a firm's work product, and bolstering new business development by expanding the network of potential clients.

Clearly, globalization and the increasing complexity of today's business, political and social environments have made diversity a law firm imperative. Even so, one element must be present if the implementation of a diversity initiative is to be successful: There must be commitment at the top. Weil Gotshal is one of only a handful of law firms to have added a diversity manager to its fulltime staff. As that person, I am in a position to affirm that it is the "hands-on" presence of the chairman that has made the most difference in advancing the diversity agenda within the firm.

If there is a second underpinning to the successful attainment of diversity, it is this: Diversity is not just about acceptance of different groups of people; rather, it is about acceptance of a diversity of thoughts, views and approaches as well. This philosophy has guided Weil Gotshal's diversity efforts over the past decade and is a major reason for the firm's continued growth and success.