Thinking Ahead: Diversity Strategic Plan Rolls Out At Saul Ewing LLP

Tuesday, March 1, 2005 - 01:00

Kenneth A. Murphy and Karen Jackson Vaughn
Saul Ewing LLP

As attorneys we have been trained, indeed conditioned, to analyze complex legal problems from various perspectives before offering what we believe to be the definitive answer or solution. Often, however, many of us fall victim to "analysis paralysis," twisting, turning and observing the problem from every conceivable vantage point, and never moving ahead toward a solution. How best to create, embrace and implement diversity initiatives on an institutional level has proved to be such a problem; one that has vexed most law firms since the "business case" for diversity first was introduced decades ago. Putting thought into action has allowed Saul Ewing LLP to avoid the diversity analytical quagmire to which many other firms have fallen victim.

At Saul Ewing, the seeds for a more diverse, inclusive workplace were planted in mid-2002, when Stephen S. Aichele was elevated to the position of Firm Managing Partner. Diversity was one of his top priorities for the firm so he tapped Joseph F. O'Dea, Jr., a partner in the Philadelphia office, to lead this initiative. Managing Partner Aichele's foresight and leadership in this regard is critical, for experience has proven that an essential element to the success of any law firm diversity initiative is buy-in from the highest levels.

The first movements beyond paralysis resulted in the creation of a Diversity Committee, comprised of firm leaders and management, and chaired by Mr. O'Dea and Ava Lias-Booker, a former partner in the Baltimore office. Similarly, the Athens Group, a well-respected diversity consulting firm, was engaged to help Saul Ewing develop and implement policies and procedures to foster a culture of diversity in the firm's recruitment, mentoring and client development efforts.

In February of 2003, Dr. Arin Reeves of the Athens Group conducted a diversity needs assessment with a view towards gauging current attorney and staff attitudes about diversity and to gain a better understanding of Saul Ewing's recruitment, retention and promotion practices. Through a series of "Diversity Dialogues" with both attorneys and staff, she provided training on the substance of diversity in law firms and solicited feedback from all involved to assess attitudes and concerns that individuals had regarding diversity. (See "Thinking Ahead: Diversity Initiatives At Saul Ewing LLP," The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel , February 2004).

As a result of this work, Dr. Reeves made specific recommendations to the Diversity Committee. The co-chairs of the Committee combined their own research with these recommendations and developed a Strategic Plan for Diversity ("The Plan") which, in essence, contains thirty-five action points. As it developed, the major foci of the Plan became recruiting, retention and promotion, and the ongoing role that diversity will play within the firm.

Moving ahead, the firm converted thought into action by hiring Karen Jackson Vaughn as its Diversity Program Manager. A graduate of Duke University School of Law, Ms. Vaughn previously worked in academia as the Assistant Dean for Career Planning at Temple University Beasley School of Law and devoted most of her law practice years to public interest work through Community Legal Services, Inc. She also was involved in the debate about diversity in law firms through local and national bar association activities and the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).

The creation of this Strategic Plan for Diversity is a significant milestone in Saul Ewing's quest for supporting diversity as a key business objective. The task of implementing this comprehensive document, which tracks in substance recognized diversity best practices, falls upon Ms. Vaughn. The Diversity Committee, which is composed of key decision-makers in the firm - the respective chairs of the Hiring, Evaluation, Career Development, and Summer Program Committees, a representative from the Executive Committee, the firm's Executive Director and chaired by Mr. O'Dea, a senior partner and key opinion leader - as well as diverse partners and associates, continues to set policy and monitor the initiative's progress.

The Plan's thirty-five action points reflect well-established best practices. First and foremost, to embrace the ideal of diversity and communicate to all employees and the world at large that it is a core value of the firm, the Executive Committee adopted a Vision Statement for Diversity which is displayed on the firm's website, as well as in office common areas and reception areas, and included in most materials that are distributed outside of the firm.

Similarly, to ensure that diversity is embraced and promoted at the highest levels within the firm, Saul Ewing's leadership communicates regularly to department chairs, office managing partners, committee chairs and the partnership at large that diversity is a priority.

Given that recruitment, retention and promotion of minority and women attorneys are the hallmarks of this initiative, most of the action steps in the Plan are designed to address these critical issues. The Plan calls for myriad activities across the recruitment continuum. Sponsoring and participating in conferences and other events coordinated by minority law student organizations, working with legal search firms that specialize in the placement of minority attorneys, and enhancing Saul Ewing's profile within established minority attorney networks are but a few of these action items. Since studies show that there is a positive correlation between the number of senior diverse attorneys in a firm and the ability to recruit and retain diverse associates, the recruitment of diverse partners is another priority.

Saul Ewing recognizes that the firm's ability to achieve diversity in the workplace is heavily dependent upon having processes in place which promote retention. For example, the Plan requires the Diversity Committee to support and monitor the effectiveness of the Moving Ahead Program (M.A.P.) as it relates to minority and female associates because it is designed to communicate career milestones to all associates. As we move along with this initiative, it is important to ensure that the diversity message permeates all offices of the firm at all levels. Attorneys and staff members are aware that they may express concerns and constructive ideas about diversity directly to firm management. Saul Ewing seeks a more diverse workforce at the attorney level and in all staff positions. Therefore, the firm looks for staff placement agencies which have access to strong diverse networks.

In order to sustain this effort over time, methods for establishing accountability within key leadership positions and partner ranks have been built into the Plan. Issues surrounding diversity are discussed annually with Department Chairs and Office Managing Partners. Furthermore, the year-end evaluation requires every partner to articulate his or her contribution to the diversity effort.

Saul Ewing shares its commitment to diversity within the office and externally through a variety of communication vehicles. Information regarding this initiative is included in written and Web-based recruiting materials, on the firm's website and Intranet, and on displays in reception and other common areas of offices. One of the conference rooms in the Philadelphia office is dedicated to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and serves as a visible manifestation of our institutional support for diversity. To foster a more inclusive atmosphere, the firm regularly organizes events and functions designed to bring attorneys and staff together. The expectation is that a greater sense of teamwork and appreciation for difference will grow out of these interactions.

Outreach to the community is a priority which allows the firm to spread the word about its diversity efforts and promote camaraderie between attorneys and staff in one fell swoop. One such activity takes place each year on the National Day of Service set aside to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The firm inaugurated this effort on January 17, 2005 by sending thirty-one volunteers from Saul Ewing's offices out into their respective communities to perform service projects. Some helped to paint the interior of local schools, while others worked in soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

The arrival of partner Kenneth A. Murphy was an important first step toward a key goal of the Strategic Plan for Diversity - the successful recruitment of diverse attorneys at the lateral partner level - as effective business generators and mentors of associates. A commercial litigator and former President of the Barristers' Association of Philadelphia (local chapter affiliate of the National Bar Association), Mr. Murphy had been an associate, then partner at Miller Alfano & Raspanti, P.C., since 1991. As his practice and business contacts grew, Mr. Murphy ultimately concluded that he could be most effective, and best served, on a broader business platform, one that afforded him the opportunity to cross-sell the talents and experience of colleagues from other disciplines.

Saul Ewing and Mr. Murphy were introduced by Carter-White & Shaw, a minority-owned attorney placement firm, which specializes in identifying and recruiting diverse attorneys for law firms and corporate legal departments nationwide. Indeed, the Carter-White & Shaw engagement marked the achievement of yet another Plan objective - the development of relationships with recruiters who can assist the firm in identifying talented diverse attorneys for possible lateral hire. Mr. Murphy has represented a number of Fortune 500 companies in the Telecommunications, Energy and Pharmaceutical industries. Primarily a defense attorney, he typically represents clients in employment and business tort matters.

Mr. Murphy regularly attends events sponsored by the National Bar Association, Minority Corporate Counsel Association, and other similar affinity groups, and credits those organizations with facilitating various of his corporate client relationships. He states, "Many of my client contacts are women and/or minority in-house counsel who began their careers at large firms. Consequently, they fully appreciate the challenges to effective business generation that often confront diverse attorneys. This tends to make the initial business development conversations flow more smoothly. Also, many of these folks are employed at corporations that already have embraced diversity as a core value. As a result, I do not spend inordinate amounts of time trying to convince these folks that the firm has facsimile and email capability or that the corporation will not be 'rolling the dice' merely by engaging me and my firm."

Saul Ewing LLP is a multi-disciplinary law firm with more than 260 attorneys located in seven offices throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. The firm provides a full range of legal services to regional, national, and international businesses and nonprofit institutions, individuals, and entrepreneurs. Saul Ewing remains true to one of its core principles, "Thinking Ahead," by wholeheartedly embracing diversity in the workplace. The firm recognizes that not only is it right and appropriate to ensure that its offices reflect and give voice to a wide variety of communities and perspectives, but also that changing demographics in this society and the globalization of law practice demand diversity. The business case is undeniable and requires both immediate and sustained action.

Kenneth A. Murphy is a Partner in the Litigation Department of Saul Ewing LLP in Philadelphia and a member of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. Karen Jackson Vaughn is Diversity Program Manager for Saul Ewing LLP.

Please email the authors at kmurphy@saul.com or kvaughn@saul.com with questions about this article.