Diversity - Law Firms Diversity And Inclusiveness: At The Heart Of A Firm's Values

Tuesday, February 1, 2005 - 01:00
Ralph B. Levy

Editor: Mr. Levy, would you tell our readers something about your professional background?

Levy: I am a transplanted northerner. I grew up in Westchester County, New York. Following undergraduate studies at Lehigh University, I went on to the University of Pennsylvania Law School and graduated in 1970. I joined King & Spalding as an associate in 1974, after a tour of duty as a military lawyer in the U. S. Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps. At that time the firm's only office was in Atlanta. I became a partner in 1979. Except for seven years serving as Managing Partner of the firm, from 1993 to 1999, I have been engaged in business litigation.

Editor: The fact that the King & Spalding Diversity Committee is led by a former Managing Partner is evidence, I think, of the importance the firm places on diversity. For starters, would you tell us how this concept has evolved over the years you have been at the firm?

Levy: Sensitivity to the subject of diversity comes fairly easy to me because I was one of the first Jewish lawyers to join King & Spalding. I have always been very appreciative of the opportunities that the firm and Atlanta provided to me and my family. The fact that I could join a firm that was an established Atlanta institution without the "credentials" of background or experience, and knowing virtually no one in the city, and then rise to its leadership in less than 20 years, says a great deal about its openness.

About the time I was completing my tenure as Managing Partner, the corporate community here and elsewhere was beginning a very serious dialogue on the subject of diversity. It seemed to me that there was a need to address some unfinished personal business in this regard, and I asked Walt Driver, who had succeeded me as Managing Partner, to establish a diversity committee. He has been a strong supporter of this initiative from the beginning, and I think his support reflects the longstanding commitment of the firm to reward merit irrespective of origin.

Editor: How is the committee structured? Who are its members and what constituencies does it seek to represent?

Levy: The committee has both partner and associate representatives from all of our domestic offices, and that representation includes both women and minorities. Importantly, the firm's Policy Committee appoints two of its members to serve as liaison members of the Diversity Committee. This not only sends an important message to the firm about our commitment to diversity, but it also ensures direct communication between two of the firm's important committees on the issues that each considers crucial. The Diversity Committee also includes the firm's Director of Professional Development, which reflects the close connection between the professional development function and lawyer retention, which has become a challenging diversity issue for the entire profession.

Editor: How does diversity figure in King & Spalding's recruiting efforts at the law schools and with young lateral hires?

Levy: It figures significantly, and therefore we have worked to improve coordination between the Diversity Committee and the Hiring Committees throughout the firm. This past year, 54% of our offers to summer associates were made to women, and 19% were made to minorities. We seek out diverse talent at all the law school campuses we visit, and we make a special effort to recruit at Howard Law School, for example. Our lateral hiring is also diverse, not only with respect to younger lawyers but also at the partner level. In 2004 alone we recruited laterally a significant number of female and minority partners, counsel, and associates. Today well over 50 percent of the people in law school, and perhaps an even higher percentage of the law review editorial staffs, are women. We are increasingly conscious of such a statistic. At the same time we have been recognized by The American Lawyer as fourth in the nation among large law firm peers for our number of African American partners. This helps us in our recruiting efforts, but today the competition is stiff.

Editor: I think what you are saying is that embracing diversity is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense.

Levy: Absolutely. While it is true that an increasing number of lawyers believe that diversity should be promoted for its own sake, the business case - continued access to human capital for future growth in the face of changing demographics, maximizing the return from the cost of hiring a diverse lawyer staff, and alignment with the values espoused by clients - constitutes a very strong argument.

Editor: What about the firm's sponsorship of a number of minority and women's professional associations and groups?

Levy: We were among the first firms in the nation to sign up for a $30,000 minority law school scholarship under the auspices of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. We committed to raise $75,000 this year for the Atlanta Women's Foundation, and the firm committed $50,000 to the American Institute for Managing Diversity. We donate to a variety of similar associations and causes.

Editor: Once you have the people you want through the door, how do you go about retaining them? What are the things that the firm does to promote a continuing diversity on the inside?

Levy: The entire profession is struggling with how to turn their hiring successes into longer-term relationships. I read recently about a national study that indicated that the retention rate for African American female associates at eight years from date of hire is zero. It is hard to get worse than that. The statistic is very troubling for many reasons, including that today there are more African American female law graduates than males. Expanding the pipeline and associate retention are key issues for the future, in my view.

At King & Spalding we have a mentoring program for our associates. Each new associate is assigned a mid-level associate and a partner as mentors. We believe that all of our associates should have access to training and to work experience that will allow them to utilize their capabilities to the greatest extent possible. This does not mean that everyone is going to want to stay, but we are hopeful that the system we have in place will enable everyone - whether they stay or not - to say that they enjoyed significant professional benefits from their time with King & Spalding. We use confidential exit interviews as a reality check on this.

In terms of career development, our training program - which we call King & Spalding University - will be expanding from traditional classroom style continuing legal education offerings to more individualized programming which responds to the person's needs, whether self-assessed or on the basis of a group leader's assessment. We are also going to open our own day care facility in Atlanta to make life easier for our lawyers. There is more to be done, to be sure, and those of us who think about the diversity agenda are open to new ideas.

Editor: Is the firm involved with any bar association initiatives that seek to promote diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace?

Levy: Yes. A good number of our lawyers serve in leadership roles in minority bar associations, associations of women lawyers, associations of gay and lesbian lawyers and other affinity groups. I serve on the governing board of the Atlanta Legal Diversity Consortium, which was formed to serve as an umbrella organization to support diversity initiatives in the profession in Atlanta, and I also serve as chairman of a multi-firm steering committee which is working with the American Institute for Managing Diversity to create a forum to teach strategic diversity management skills to law firm leaders.

Editor: What about clients? How does the firm's attitude with respect to diversity resonate with them?

Levy: We are most grateful to the clients who have expressed an interest in increasing diversity in the profession and in our firm in particular. They have provided a useful and welcome stimulus for action. We believe that they understand we are not only in sympathy with their efforts but working hard to achieve progress. In my personal view, the firm's rationale for diversity needs to evolve beyond client encouragement to a more internally-driven business case. I believe that the external case initiated by our clients can be significantly enhanced by considering the future sources of human capital to sustain growth and the waste that is implicit in a continued mismatch between hiring successes and retention failures.

Editor: Would you tell us something about the connection between values such as diversity and inclusiveness and firm morale?

Levy: Obviously compensation and other tangible benefits are important in evaluating the morale of a firm. Nevertheless, people take very seriously intangible concerns associated with the choice of employment. We all want to take pride in our firm, and we are gratified when we are able to identify ourselves in connection with a firm which is associated with positive values such as diversity and inclusiveness. That association not only enhances the firm's public image, it also contributes to a positive perception of us individually and contributes to a presumption of personal credibility. Firm morale derives from a long history of attention to external values, including dedication to client service, a commitment to legal excellence and an adherence to public service. Firm morale is also affected by internal values, such as collegiality and team orientation. Diversity and inclusiveness have a role to play in the life of a firm in both of these arenas, and if they are genuine attributes of the firm's culture and personality, they will serve to reinforce each other.

Editor: King & Spalding is in a leadership role here. A great deal has been accomplished in recent years, but there is always room for improvement. In your opinion, what remains to be done?

Levy: I used to say that the title Managing Partner was an oxymoron. A large law firm partnership is difficult to manage. The organizational structure is horizontal, and few important decisions are made without all of the partners having a say. For this reason, it is important for senior management to convince the firm - and to reinforce the message on a continuing basis - that diversity is not a passing fad or a box to check, but rather represents a journey that the firm is committed to travel over many years. In addition, we need to include in peer review evaluations whether we are individually contributing to, or detracting from, progress along that journey. If diversity and inclusiveness are to be core values of the firm, we need to act accordingly. To that end, our Policy Committee recently announced to all of our lawyers that our practice group leaders will be held accountable in assisting the firm advance the diversity agenda. Finally, we are in the enviable position of being perceived as leaders of the profession. We must live up to that perception.

Editor: Is there anything you would like to add?

Levy: We must insist on incremental progress on a regular and ongoing basis, but we also have to be patient. There is a long road ahead before diversity no longer needs to be discussed. I believe it is a road that is well worth traveling.

Please email the interviewee at rlevy@kslaw.com with questions about this interview.