A Merger Brings Together Two Stars In Their Approaches To Diversity

Thursday, February 1, 2007 - 01:00

Editor: Would you tell our readers about your background and professional experience.

Murphy: Much of my earlier professional life was spent litigating employment defense cases and insurance insolvency disputes, but in 1999 I started to focus on commercial matters as a result of performing a fair amount of work for a large pharmaceutical company. I have been doing pharmaceutical, drug and medical device defense work at Drinker Biddle since coming to the firm in March 2006. Prior to my coming here, I spent the previous two years at Saul Ewing and 13 years at a small litigation boutique in Philadelphia.

Ruiz: I have been a corporate and securities partner with Gardner Carton prior to our merger with Drinker Biddle. I spend the bulk of my time doing mergers and acquisitions primarily for mid-market companies. I work with clients from all types of industries. Ten years ago I was a management consultant with Booz Allen & Hamilton doing operations management consulting. Prior to that I was selling steel for Inland Steel Company before attending law school.

Editor: As of January 1, 2007, you are both members of the recently merged firm. From the standpoint of your own practice, what benefits do you see flowing from this new partnership?

Murphy: The immediate benefit is the ability to further cross-expose the talents of colleagues elsewhere. With respect to the existing practice areas, we can demonstrate "more feet on the ground." I now can offer Jesse's services in M&A to my clients, and Jesse can offer my services to his clients. That is a tremendous benefit. We've also seen cases where merely having offices in new regions has generated new opportunities to service clients of each "old" firm. That started happening even before the merger became official.

Ruiz: Last week I had a large RFP from my largest client. A lot of the work was for a large document-retention project, the type of which Gardner Carton had not done extensively, but the Drinker Biddle lawyers had. So their team was able to jump in, and we submitted a 70-page response to that RFP. The merged firm provides us with more capabilities, capacity and more depth of experience. We have a great deal more intellectual capital to sell.

Editor: I understand that you are both key players in your former respective firms' diversity efforts. Is there a commonality in the approaches to diversity taken by both firms in the past?

Murphy: At Drinker Biddle, there is heavy focus on inclusion - trying to ensure that female associates and minority associates are very much involved in the work and activities designed for all associates. In the past two years Drinker Biddle has seen a benefit to the all-inclusive approach. Associates that started two or three years ago are still here. Historically at many of the large firms in Philadelphia, there are not many people who stay after two years. As for our merger, we will end up combining the two firms' diversity programs.

Ruiz: That is the great thing about an opportunity like our merger. Drinker Biddle has an all-inclusive program with staff and paralegals on their diversity committee. At Gardner Carton, we only had lawyers. The chairman of the firm at Drinker Biddle chairs the diversity efforts. At Gardner Carton, the chairman of the firm was on the diversity committee but did not chair it. There are benefits and areas of improvement in both models. We look forward to combining those, intensifying those efforts and having improved results.

Editor: Did either firm have a Chief Diversity Officer?

Ruiz: Both firms had diversity committees. I am working on the integration subcommittee that is combining all of our firm committees. There will be a chair or possibly co-chairs of that committee that will work on driving the effort. The committees can help set and push the agenda. Diversity has to be part of the firm culture, taking root individually with everyone so that every lawyer, professional and staff member gets the message.

Murphy: When you have the firm's chair involved, as we do at Drinker Biddle, you can be sure everyone buys in. One of the potential downfalls of having a diversity officer is that some will view it as only that person's responsibility. When you have a number of people involved across all disciplines, you get more buy-in.

Editor: Is there a means you use to communicate with everyone in the firm about the firm's diversity mission?

Ruiz: At Gardner Carton, we had diversity goals for each of the departments so that each department chair understood the goals for his department and conveyed that message to all members. To achieve their operational goals the department chairs had to communicate with their partners and associates. At Drinker Biddle, the program extends to paralegals, which gives those of us from Gardner Carton a wonderful opportunity to revisit that undertaking as a combined firm.

Editor: It has been suggested that the inability of some firms to retain minority lawyers is the absence or lack of certain key factors necessary to foster a suitable work environment, such as (1) adequate training; (2) mentoring relationships; and (3) exposure to important clients and projects. How does your firm's diversity program integrate these factors into the firm's work environment?

Murphy: As mentioned earlier, we take an all-inclusive approach when dealing with female and minority associates, recognizing that we want everyone to receive every benefit we are offering all associates. If you are providing adequate training, mentoring relationships and exposure to clients, you want everyone to share in that benefit. If you ensure that every minority and female associate is on an appointed client service team, then you do not have to worry about their getting the exposure that you expect.

Any successful client team will make sure that every lawyer has to be successful or the client will not receive the service he should. It is imperative in the pursuit of greater diversity and excellence in client service.

When you are truly involved in a client service team, the client gets to know you and your abilities. The other payoff is that the associate feels that he/she has ownership in the institution and the client's work.

Editor: With your mentoring programs, is there a one-on-one relationship with minority partners or senior associates working with minority associates?

Ruiz: At Gardner Carton, every single minority partner at the firm took personal responsibility for the mentee assigned to him/her. The partner's job was to shepherd them into the partnership and make sure that we helped them get by any obstacles in their career. Mentoring programs work best when there is truly a good relationship between two individuals. You are going to socialize with these people because you like them. You want to see your friends succeed so it becomes a collaborative relationship where associates that I have worked with help me become a better lawyer and I help them become better lawyers.

Murphy: One of the things we also do is to find an associate as a midlevel mentor in addition to a partner mentor. That provides more than one person that the associate can go to.

Editor: What in your experiences was most helpful to you in achieving the partnership level?

Murphy: I cannot point to one thing because it is an entire package that you bring to the table as a partner. Having a strong mentor, someone who is willing to explain to you both the business and professional aspects of what we as lawyers do is invaluable. Being able to show yourself as proficient in the technical requirements of what you do is important. As a trial lawyer, being able to try a case and conduct depositions to get what we need is important, too. If I had to identify one thing that was the sine qua non for success, having a mentor who could show me the ropes was something that I could not have done without.

Ruiz: I could say the same thing. I can look to the leadership in the corporate department. We used to say that the firm does not make partners, the partners make partners. You have to grow and have the competency and support of your department if you are a transactional lawyer within the corporate department. The members of the team can speak to my skills and what I can do for clients. The leadership of the corporate department really propelled and supported me in a lot of outside efforts like the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois, where I served as president. That helped to build other skills and bring other opportunities. Support from the firm along with its resources makes for success in the community and helps in client development.

Editor: Did either of the firms provide affinity groups for its minority lawyers prior to the merger?

Ruiz: Gardner Carton had a couple of groups, including the Women's Initiative, an event that was a large marketing event, where our women lawyers brought other female attorneys and potential clients together. Women lawyers came to know each other and address issues unique to them.

We also formed a Minority Business Initiative, which was a group of minority partners that got together to focus on the people known in the minority business community in Chicago. To help their success we created a fee structure so that they could obtain our services early in the life of their business so we could enhance their ability to grow as a business. It was a fun and productive way for us to work together and help other minorities in the business world in Chicago.

Murphy: Our experience has been more informal. We have female lawyers and minority attorneys who gravitate toward each other, often in small groups, to share notes and have dinner. At the end of the day, you hope that associates will turn to their practice group and department. That is when you truly have a firm where people look to one another, transcending gender and race.

One of our partners, Audrey Talley, is a former chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar. She was able to provide a number of opportunities for minorities and women to participate directly in the bar association. I am a former president of the Barristers Association, which is an association of African-American lawyers in Philadelphia. I was able to help people prepare to enter the bar as well. We have used a number of different initiatives to get people involved in the local bar.

Editor: What measures are being taken by the firm to retain talented minority lawyers and professionals?

Murphy: We retain lawyers by ensuring that people get quality assignments on a repeat basis for the clients that have high profiles. There is no better way to signal to someone that they matter - you expose them to clients and have the clients get to know them.

Ruiz: At Gardner Carton, there was a professional development committee, something that is being created in the newly combined firm that will look to develop minority associates as well as all associates in order to benefit everyone. Sometimes minority lawyers have unique challenges, and we need to focus on those problems. At the core you need to have solid programs for all associates to develop into great lawyers and partners. This committee will help all those associates as well as confer great benefits on minority associates.

Editor: What about the future? Where would you like to see the firm in the next five years in regards to its diversity initiatives?

Murphy: I would like us to continue doing what we have been doing and learn from the positive things that have happened in Chicago with Gardner Carton. In the last two years we have had tremendous classes of summer associates and first-year lawyers in terms of race and gender, with women and/or minority comprising 54 percent of our summer and new associate totals. The things we have charted for further development will lead to great results. I am looking forward to our executing this plan.

Ruiz: I, too, am looking forward to all the opportunities that exist. There are wonderful opportunities that we are presented with to improve on now as a combined firm from what we had done individually in the past. We will get the benefit of both of our past initiatives and thinking. We will do even better in looking at some metrics that are comparable across the legal profession and see if we can do better than many of our competitors in this area.

Please email the interviewees at kenneth.murphy@dbr.com or jesse.ruiz@dbr.com with questions about this interview.