Diversity: The Key To Quality Legal Services

Thursday, February 1, 2007 - 01:00

Editor: Jackie, tell us about your professional background and your leadership roles within McGuireWoods.

Stone: I have been at McGuireWoods since I graduated from law school in 1985. I am a member of the firm's Board of Partners, the firm-wide hiring partner, the chairman of the Recruiting Committee, and a member of the Diversity Committee.

Editor: Sid, you joined the firm more recently, tell us about your background and why you joined the firm.

Kanazawa: In 1978, I began my career with Lillick McHose & Charles. Shortly after I started, Ford Motor Co.'s infamous Pinto verdict gave momentum to large product liability cases. In response, Ford retained our firm to try several cases, including a Mustang fuel tank case. Since then I have devoted a significant amount of my time to product liability litigation but have also expanded into a number of other areas where my trial experience has proven useful. In 1991, the Los Angeles Lillick office merged with what is now Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. In 2003, I left Pillsbury to join several former partners who had started a new firm - Van Etten Suzumoto & Becket - with three attorneys and had grown it to 40 attorneys by the time I joined them.

In 2006, our new firm had an opportunity to merge with McGuireWoods, which was personally exciting to me because the firm is one of DuPont's Primary Law Firms. The merger also presented the possibility of working closely with Rosewell Page, an outstanding trial lawyer with whom I worked from afar for many years and for whom I have great respect.

Editor: Your firm has a long-standing commitment to diversity. Would you tell us about the origins of that commitment?

Stone: Its history goes back to 1834 in Charlottesville, Va., and it has grown through a series of mergers, including that with Sid's firm in Los Angeles. As early as 1977, the firm initiated a joint venture with a minority-owned firm in Richmond for which it was given a Trailblazer Award. Back in the late 1970s, the firm was one of the first of the established Virginia firms to have African-American partners, one of whom now is the first African-American Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court.

Kanazawa: From what I have seen, diversity in this firm is not a technical numbers game. It is something that is consistent with the overall culture of respect and selflessness.

Editor: Please describe McGuireWoods' diversity program for our readers.

Stone: From a recruiting standpoint, diversity has been woven into our activities for a long time. When we recruit, we identify students we feel will be able to succeed through a demonstrated commitment to excellence and the ability to work in a team environment. We carry that forward by working with professors and career placement officers at law schools to find diverse candidates to consider. We also work with student organizations to provide support to those students and regularly participate in various minority job fairs throughout the country.

Attracting, recruiting and retaining minority students are key elements in our strategic plan and our daily activities. This is implemented in formal and informal programs. For example, we have a formal mentoring program, but extensive mentoring also takes place at an informal level. Having a critical mass of minority partners and associates sends a message to prospective students that we offer a very welcoming environment for attorneys of color. The fact that many minority attorneys serve at some of the highest levels of management within the firm tells prospective associates that they have a real opportunity to grow at our firm.

We have regular meetings to discuss what we are doing and to determine whether we are using the best strategies. We also have candid discussions with clients where we share ideas about diversity.

When looking at the results of our program, we have been able to reach our objectives, although more can be done. As of last year, 25 percent of our new recruits were minorities and 22 percent of those promoted to the partnership were minorities. Although these numbers are above average, we would like to continue to increase these numbers. In fact, we are continually searching for ways to improve our diversity program within the firm.

Editor: According to Professor Sander, black lawyers are well represented among new associates at the nation's most prestigious law firms, but they remain far less likely to stay at the firm or make partner than their white counterparts. Is this true at McGuireWoods?

Stone: That is not what we have experienced. We seek out lawyers who we think will be successful at the firm. We consider grades along with a number of factors when looking at candidates. We have never brought in an unqualified candidate just to meet our diversity goals. We have been able to maintain very good figures while adhering to a high level of qualification standards.

To the extent that we have had attorneys leave, our attrition levels are relatively consistent regardless of race. The majority of the attorneys who leave our firm do so to pursue opportunities with clients. As a hiring partner I am disappointed when lawyers leave, but it is wonderful when I see an in-house opportunity open up for them that is too attractive for them to refuse. It is very satisfying to know that we have provided them with the tools and expertise to go in-house and be successful.

Editor: What is McGuireWoods doing to raise awareness of its program among minority law students?

Stone: When we identify strong minority students we try to bring them in as early as possible because that is the best way to train them and allow them to grow with the firm while they are in school and hopefully when they graduate.

Our Atlanta office has partnered with Spelman College to allow students to work with our firm during their undergraduate studies. These students are then able to work with us during the summer while in law school. We have a number of attorneys who have gone through this process who became associates at the firm. This program was implemented to address the pipeline issues by bringing students into the firm as early as possible so they know that they can be successful with us. The program has been so successful that we are working on expanding it to our other offices.

Editor: Does the firm also help high school students to become interested in legal careers?

Stone: I worked with the Virginia State Bar to create a law camp for students in their junior and senior years at high school. The law camp was named after Oliver Hill and Sam Tucker, in recognition of the efforts and accomplishments of these two lawyers during the Civil Rights Movement. This provides an opportunity for high school students to get a sense of the law school experience through classes and mock trials. It has been a tremendous success and has inspired some young people to go on to college, and hopefully to law school. This is also an opportunity to expose them to adults from similar backgrounds who have been able to succeed in the profession.

Editor: Do you feel that having a client like DuPont that is favorably inclined towards these efforts is important?

Stone: Absolutely. It is a wonderful relationship because of our common goals and priorities. DuPont and other companies who are very focused on diversity send an important message throughout the law firm community because it drives home how important diversity is to their clients and potential clients. These companies help law firms realize that the only way to give them the very best legal advice is to involve a diverse group of attorneys. If you only have the perspective of those with similar backgrounds, you do not have the variety of views that is essential to developing the very best and most creative approaches to a client's problems.

Kanazawa: Clients should understand the dynamic that diversity plays in delivering the best legal services possible. A lawyer's job is to resolve disputes and help people work in harmony. In order to achieve that result, you have to understand the differing perspectives of the direct and remotely affected parties. A diverse law firm encourages and gives its lawyers the opportunity to understand and gain experience in finding commonality among divergent perspectives.

Editor: What do clients say about your firm's diversity efforts?

Stone: We get good marks for our diversity efforts. We have received awards from our clients and other organizations acknowledging our commitment to diversity. For example, DuPont recently recognized one of our partners, Jim Dyke from our Tyson's Corner office, with an award that recognizes members of the DuPont Legal Network who had gone out of their way on behalf of promoting and supporting attorneys of color. Jim was the first African-American Secretary of Education for Virginia prior to joining the firm. He served under Governor L. Douglas Wilder who was the first African-American governor in the United States.

Editor: Jackie, I understand that you personally have been recognized for your work in diversity through receiving the DuPont Women's Lawyer Network 2005 Themis Award.

Stone: I am fortunate to serve as the firm's engagement partner with DuPont, so I have been able to participate in a number of activities and programs that have been put together for women in the DuPont Legal Network. The Themis Award is given annually in recognition to a woman attorney in the network who embodies the mission of the DuPont Women Legal Network and positively impacts the business of DuPont by promoting legal excellence through the advancement and professional development of women attorneys. It was a tremendous honor in which I was recognized for my efforts to promote the development of women in our firm and the legal community.

Kanazawa: Since I joined the firm, I have been involved in the DuPont group because Jackie reached out and asked me to attend a DuPont minority conference. I am now involved in the planning for the next conference. One of the traits I have seen over and over since merging with McGuireWoods is a true selflessness. Jackie exemplifies the spirit of the lawyers in this firm that puts the interest of the client and mission of the firm first.

Please email the interviewees at jstone@mcquirewoods.com or skanazawa@mcguirewoods.com with questions about this interview.