Diversity-Law Firms Recruiting To Meet Your Diversity Goals

Monday, March 1, 2004 - 01:00

By Anthony T. Pierce and Erin L. Springer

The desire to recruit, retain and promote a diverse workforce has been an oft-stated goal of the legal community for years.Like anything, some organizations are good at it and others are not.Those organizations that have achieved success have done so by adopting a persistent commitment with strategies that garner their internal resources to identify and exploit opportunities for success wherever they are found.Innovative ideas have reenergized recruitment programs and launched creative and groundbreaking programs that have changed both the look and culture of legal employers everywhere.

The legal arena is extremely competitive - law students compete for the best jobs and law firms compete for the best candidates and most profitable and challenging work.Throw diversity into the recruiting mix and the legal community changes shape completely.To be attractive to the relatively small percentage of minorities choosing a legal career, an organization must be at the top of its game with regard to the recruitment and retention of minority lawyers.The challenge is how to get from where you are to where you want to be when it comes to diversifying your legal workforce.

Recruiting to meet your diversity goals is a multistep process that requires self-reflection, commitment, knowledge and a willingness to think outside the comfortable confines of traditional recruiting.Implementing a successful recruitment program takes time.Success does not happen overnight, and it necessitates constant reevaluation and change.There are countless resources available for determining "best practices" for diversity recruitment (not all of which apply to every organization); as such, launching a recruitment program for diversity can be an overwhelming task.The following suggestions may help you in finding a starting point for your diversity initiatives.

• Know your history.In order to know where you are going, it is imperative to know where you have been.What is your organization's history when it comes to recruiting minorities?Take the time to learn everything there is to know about past efforts.Find out who has led the charge in the past and how you can tap into their historical knowledge, if possible.

• Know your track record.Look internally - have you always struggled to hire minority lawyers? If so, could the cause be related to the culture of your organization, treatment by management/partners or a negative reputation?If it is the latter, don't run from it; deal with it, whether it is deserved or undeserved.Alternatively, if you have historically done very well in your recruiting efforts, begin to think about how you can improve upon your prior successes.Like any long-term effort, a recruiting plan should adapt to its environment. What worked yesterday may not be successful today.

Minorities within the legal community in any given region are a tightly knit network.As with information regarding a legal success or failure, word travels quickly regarding which organizations are fostering a culture of inclusion, acceptance and professional growth.Knowing how your organization is perceived will give you a starting point for any internal shifts that need to occur in order to make your initiative successful.For example, you may have one or two people within your organization whose working style has been interpreted as unfriendly towards minorities and women.Alternatively, you may learn that your lack of existing diversity is a roadblock to recruiting a more diverse workforce.Regardless of what you learn, you must be committed to promoting change by honestly evaluating your situation and being an advocate for a more diverse workplace.

• Know your goals.A successful recruitment program cannot exist without set goals.Ad hoc programs lead to scattered results, so your initiative must have clear, agreed-upon objectives. It is also important to know your specific hiring needs. Hiring lawyers simply to improve diversity statistics serves no one, so knowing whether you need attorneys with trial experience, transactional attorneys or attorneys with specialized expertise, as well as what experience level you require, will enable you to target your hiring practices.

• Use all available resources.The professionals within your organization can act as ambassadors to get the word out that you are committed to diversity.The formation of a Diversity Committee or Task Force can be very helpful in this regard, as can maintaining an open dialogue with your minority lawyers.The minority attorneys within your organization are a powerful recruiting tool, as they represent your organization's commitment to diversity.You may be surprised to learn that your colleagues have relationships with judges, deans, professors and other professionals who know minorities in the legal community and can assist in making a match with your organization.

• Secure support from the top.The leadership within your organization understands the need to focus on diversity, but may not fully recognize how to substantiate their commitment.Education is the key to management buy-in when it comes to diversity.Provide management with an organized, focused action plan that outlines both the business aspects of promoting diversity as well as the more intangible cultural elements.The business angle can concentrate on any or all of the following:

• who your clients are

• what your clients want (do they even care that you have a diverse team?)

• who their clients are

• how much money has been made or lost as a result of your diversity efforts or lack thereof

• the cost of attrition versus the cost of implementing strong retention programs

• how lack of promotion has cost your organization through attrition.

The cultural aspects of your plan can focus on attorney morale, the impact of attrition on your organization's culture, how attorney satisfaction influences productivity and how your organization's current environment affects (positively or negatively) your external recruitment efforts.

• Secure support from your non-attorney infrastructure.Recruiting for diversity is for the most part a lawyer-driven initiative, but it cannot succeed without support from the non-lawyer staff in your organization.The Recruitment, Human Resources, and Marketing departments all play a role in helping to achieve your diversity goals.These departments most likely provide the first impression of the organization through marketing materials, phone calls, handling the logistics of an interview, etc.Aligning yourself with these departments will give you a level of support that will strengthen your efforts.

• Be involved.Many of your own minority lawyers are almost certainly active with their minority bar association and would be honored if you approached them to see how your organization can better support their involvement.The Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) is a good way for corporations to find diverse talent for in-house positions.

Communicate with the law schools where you recruit and let the deans and career counselors know that you are committed to diversity.Find out how you can be more involved with their minority student populations - many schools welcome sponsors for panels, presentations, mock interview programs and the like.Support feeder organizations with your time and/or financial contributions.In addition to the networking opportunities such contributions provide, sponsoring events with various organizations often results in recognition in programs that are widely circulated throughout the organization's membership.

• Retain your minority lawyers.Attrition of all lawyers can be damaging to an organization's recruiting efforts, but significant departures among your minority lawyers can be particularly harmful.As a retention tool, the importance of mentoring for all lawyers cannot be overstated.Lack of mentoring is a key factor in why lawyers leave jobs, particularly at large organizations.Within your organization, mentoring may occur formally or informally, within specific departments or across offices, or even across genders, races and sexual orientation.The key point with regard to mentoring is that it creates an environment of safety and trust, one in which individuals feel comfortable expressing their ideas, concerns and goals for the future.Mentors who provide meaningful feedback and take an invested interest in their mentee's future with the organization can strongly impact the retention of that individual.The successful mentoring relationship leads to a happier culture, which in turn leads to a more positive image for your organization.

• Make long-term investments.Mentoring is also a successful recruiting tool when used for long-term relationships with potential lawyers.Working with law schools to establish a mentoring program for law students of color is an excellent way of distinguishing yourself among minority student populations.Further, do not pass up opportunities to give guidance to high school or college students interested in pursuing a career in the law.The individuals within your organization have the power to influence a younger student's decision to pursue a legal career - something that may result in a great hire down the road.

There are many steps for formalizing a recruitment plan that will allow your organization to meet its diversity goals, and the list provided here is not meant to be all-inclusive.Whatever steps your organization takes, make sure they are measurable so that the organization can adapt to success and failure appropriately.With the ever-changing marketplace, we all have the power to impact the future of diversity in the legal profession if we just make a plan and follow it.

Anthony T. Pierce is a Partner in the litigation practice of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP in Washington, D.C., and Erin L. Springer is the Legal Recruitment Manager in that office.They may be reached at apierce@ akingump.com or espringer@ akingump.com.