Meeting The Diversity Challenge With All The Right Stuff

Wednesday, March 1, 2006 - 00:00

Editor: Ms. Bennett, you have been a part of the diversity initiative at
Lowenstein since your arrival at the firm. For starters, would you tell us
something about the culture at Lowenstein and the particular importance of
diversity in that culture?

Bennett: The firm has always valued diversity. From the time of its
founding in the 1960s, a commitment to diversity has been one of those core
values that defined Lowenstein Sandler. We were actively recruiting, working to
retain and promoting minority attorneys long before most firms recognized how
important this is - important to their success, in addition to being the right
thing to do - and the firm today is a result of those early efforts. Those
efforts are best exemplified today by the newly inaugurated Attorney General of
the State of New Jersey, Zulima Farber, who came to the firm as a young
attorney, worked her way up through the ranks and has now made us extremely
proud of her accomplishments.

Editor: Responsibility for the firm's commitment to diversity does not
reside in a single committee but rather in three. That is unusual. Would you
tell us about the mission of each of these committees?

Bennett: The Diversity Initiatives Committee is charged with
evaluating the firm's existing policies and procedures with respect to things
like recruiting, mentoring and quality of life issues and, if there is a need
for improvement or revision, suggesting ways to make it happen. In addition, the
committee is charged with developing initiatives that will connect the firm with
networks which will permit our attorneys to participate in the activities of a
variety of minority professional associations. This is meant to provide us with
a forum for the discussion of what works and what does not, as well as a
platform from which to showcase the firm and its accomplishments for a very
special audience.

The Recruiting Committee is charged with reaching out to the very best people
it can find, both recent law graduates and laterals, and bringing them to the
firm. Through the Recruiting Committee, we introduce all of our attorneys to the
tremendous opportunities and platform offered by the firm for both professional
and personal growth.

Finally, the Associate Life and Training Committee is focused on what we can
do to keep our attorneys happy and motivated once they join the firm. This is
essentially a retention function, and it covers a considerable area of activity.
The committee evaluates whether associates have access to professional education
and training, whether they are getting challenging and interesting work and, of
course, whether the firm is providing them with the right balance of work and a
pleasant social environment.

Editor: What led to the organization of the diversity initiative in this
manner? There must be a story here.

Bennett: I think it reflects a recognition that even if you excel at
something, you may not be able to accomplish your goals. That is, a firm may do
a terrific job at recruiting young attorneys, but if it does not have a
follow-up program to try to keep them happy after they have arrived, not much
has been accomplished. Since any diversity initiative is concerned with the
firm's long-term goals, it is essential to understand that recruiting is but one
part of the equation. Achieving a diverse work environment, in our view,
requires the coordination of a number of related but different initiatives: one
directed at getting the best and brightest people through the door; another
directed at providing the internal support that will keep them happy once they
are on board; and a third directed at providing them, and the firm in general,
with an outlet for marketing and networking opportunities. The firm's diversity
initiative is also regarded as a means of giving back to the community,
something that is very important to the morale of everyone at the firm.

Editor: Who are the members of these committees? Partners? Associates?
Women and minorities?

Bennett: All of the above. We have made a conscious effort to give
these committees a membership that is representative of the entire firm, and
that membership runs from senior partners to entry-level associates,
administrators at a variety of levels and a cross-section of women and
minorities as well. We are anxious to have a diversity of views that reflects
the diversity of our firm composition.

Editor: Why has the firm gone to such lengths to ensure that this
initiative takes hold?

Bennett: We are building the Lowenstein Sandler of the future. To do
so, we are drawing upon the firm's core values, on commitments that were made at
the time of the firm's organization. We understand how well those commitments
have served us over the years, and today - when diversity has become such an
important issue for our clients - we are in the enviable position of having a
structure in place that will enable us to meet all of their expectations on
diversity. The things that we are doing today will ensure our leadership 30
years down the road.

Editor: It has been more than a year since we spoke about diversity. Are
there any particular accomplishments that have taken place over this time that
you would like to call to the attention of our corporate counsel readership?

Bennett: Our marquee accomplishment over this past year has been the
recruitment of our summer class, which was comprised of 47% minorities and more
than 50% women. We recruited this class mainly from the area law schools, and
this year saw the launch of our Lowenstein Sandler Fellows Scholarship Program.
There is a connection here, and a number of the people we were able to recruit
for the summer class came to us through our Lowenstein Fellows process and
related Diversity Initiatives Committee activities.

Editor: Do you personally go out and speak to student groups?

Bennett: I do. I have been personally involved in every initiative
that we have undertaken in this regard. I also encourage the firm to hold as
many events as possible at the firm for law students - it is a way of
experiencing the firm's culture at first hand - and I participate in these
events as well. There is nothing that can replace personal contact in an
initiative of this kind.

Editor: The firm was recently named by Multicultural Law
magazine as the top New Jersey firm, and one of the best in the
country, in terms of diversity. How does this kind of publicity help in, say,
your recruiting efforts? Are law graduates aware of awards like this?

Bennett: I think people are well aware of what we are doing even if
they may not know of a specific award. Public recognition by way of such awards
is a wonderful affirmation of our efforts and demonstrates our commitment to
diversity to people within the firm and to some very specific audiences outside
the firm. We have just won the MultiCultural Law 2005 Diversity Initiative Award
For Extraordinary Commitment to Comprehensive Inclusion - an announcement
appears on our website - and when I speak at an event it is gratifying to see
that the law students have visited our website and are aware of the firm's
diversity mission.

Editor: You mentioned the Lowenstein Sandler Fellows Scholarship Program.
This is directed at minority students?

Bennett: Each year the firm awards two second-year minority law
students a $10,000 scholarship, which is renewable for their third year. We also
extend them an offer to join our summer class as summer associates with full
pay. The idea is really to reach out and develop a relationship with the
absolutely top-of-the-line minority students early on in their legal careers and
to integrate them into the firm culture as soon as possible. Last year was the
first year for the program, and it was limited to Rutgers University School of
Law - Newark and Seton Hall University School of Law, but our plan is to expand
the program and extend it beyond these two schools in the near future.

Editor: With the changing demographics of our law school populations, I
imagine recruiting qualified women to your ranks is not the challenge that it
was, say, 20 years ago. Minorities are another matter. There are too few to go
around, and everyone is competing for them.

Bennett: Everyone is competing for them, but we are in a very strong
position to meet the competition. This is the result, of course, of a commitment
to diversity that goes back many years. David Harris, who started at the firm as
a summer associate in the mid-1970s, is today a partner and chair of the firm's
110-person litigation department. Just having David here constitutes a statement
of what is possible in a Lowenstein career. We recruit from the national law
schools as well as from the area schools, and everywhere we go we invite people
to look at our track record.

I should also mention that we conduct mock interview sessions for minority
law students at a number of law schools. Essentially, this is a practice run - a
15-minute interview is followed by a 15-minute critique on the student's
interviewing skills and resume. This is a very small thing, of course, but it is
extraordinary how helpful it can be for someone who has never been coached
through an interview process. These students tend to be very grateful for this
support, and whether they come to us or not, they contribute to our reputation
for diversity.

Editor: Please tell us about the firm's mentoring program. How does this
work?

Bennett: The program has been in place for some time, although we are
constantly working to improve it. At the moment, the program pairs an
entry-level associate with a mid-level associate mentor, and the idea is for the
veteran to teach the newcomer the ropes. When that person becomes a mid-level
associate, he or she is paired with a partner and the discussion revolves around
career development.

Editor: How do Lowenstein's clients feel about the firm's diversity
efforts? Is this a value that you find you share with clients?

Bennett: Our clients are very enthusiastic about our diversity
initiatives and accomplishments because diversity is certainly an important
value within their business structures. Because of this shared commitment to
diversity, one of the things we did last year was partner with our clients to
provide a forum for discussion on leading diversity topics. For example, one
client spoke to a group of our young minority attorneys about the many different
mentoring relationships that are critical to a successful legal career. Given
the positive response we received to this event, we are planning similar
programs this year.

Editor: When we last spoke, you talked about the pipeline the firm was
building. How is this evolving?

Bennett: I think it is evolving extremely well. In each of the last
five years the firm has promoted either a woman or a minority attorney to
partner, and our success in recruiting our latest summer associate class leads
me to believe that the momentum is only going to accelerate as we move forward.

Please email the interviewee at lbennett@lowenstein.com with questions about this
interview.