Diversity: Law Firm And Corporate Collaboration

Friday, February 1, 2008 - 01:00

Editor: I understand that you are Kelley Drye's first woman partner and head of the diversity committee. Based on your own personal experiences, has diversity become a core value for you?

Reid: Absolutely. As the first woman partner at Kelley Drye I have seen and experienced great changes in the profession. When I first joined Kelley Drye there were approximately 10 women attorneys at the firm. Now, there are more than 125 women attorneys, and people of different races, religions, ages, sexual orientations and backgrounds. We enjoy an interestingly diverse, yet at the same time tight, closely-knit community that respects the different qualities that each of us brings to the firm and to our practices of law. Although society still has quite a distance to go in terms of equal opportunities for all people, I am fortunate to have witnessed tremendous progress in the world during the past 30 years. A diverse world and diverse workforce is the face of the 21st century. My partners and I are committed to being a part of that diverse world and workplace. We believe that encouraging a workplace that embraces and truly understands the value of diversity is critical in providing the highest quality of legal and client services.

Editor: In general have clients expressed concern about the diversity of the legal profession? Do clients truly care about the diversity of their lawyers?

Reid: Yes, I would emphatically say they do. During the past 10 years, most major corporations have become increasingly concerned about diversity as a value. Our clients do inquire about what kinds of opportunities are available for all people in the firm, and many require their vendors to regularly provide diversity statistics and breakdowns. We are pleased that organizations which cherish these values choose Kelley Drye to provide legal representation.

Editor: I understand that Kelley Drye is involved in several unique programs that promote diversity. One of these involves JPMorgan Chase (JPMC). Can you tell us about the program and how it works?

Reid: This is a very exciting program because it shows how a client can partner with its external counsel, an outside law firm, to increase diversity within the workplace. After many months of thought and preparation, JPMC has just launched a new program to help increase diversity among its attorneys who practice financial services law. Law students from diverse backgrounds who are accepted into the Kelley Drye Summer Associate Program will have the opportunity to spend five weeks at the firm and five weeks working in JPMC's corporate legal department. In so doing, the summer associates will gain both inside counsel and outside counsel experience.

The program will seek to cast a very wide net in terms of the diversity of the candidates selected for participation, and so provide a pathway to people of different backgrounds for entrance into promising careers in the financial services sector.

Editor: What does this program accomplish?

Reid: The program is a long-term investment by JPMC and Kelley Drye to help build a pipeline of attorneys from diverse backgrounds who are interested in financial services law. From the students' point of view, it is an invaluable learning experience. From our viewpoint, the program helps train talented lawyers. We are trying to make sure that five or 10 years from now we will have a cadre of gifted diverse lawyers who will be handling the financial services issues for a global financial community. As an added bonus, in today's highly globalized economy, it is essential for people in the business world to be fluent in multiple cultures. Just as our lawyers represent different populations, so do our clients.

Editor: What are other ways that you are involved with clients in pursuing the joint goal of diversity?

Reid: Kelley Drye is an active sponsor of various organizations dedicated to increasing diversity in the profession. Many of our clients are also involved in these organizations. For example, several of our clients support the National Council on Research for Women (NCRW). This organization harnesses the resources of its network to ensure fully informed debate, policies and practices to build a more inclusive and equitable world for women. I have seen many changes in opportunities for women from the days when I was an associate, working to become a partner. Both Kelley Drye and our clients recognize the need to allow women to strike a balance between raising families and enjoying long, successful careers. Major corporations and law firms invest a great deal in smart, capable, hard-working, young women lawyers. We recognize the benefits in retaining this pool of talent.

Kelley Drye also participates in the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) Pathways to Diversity Conference, which is one of the leading minority networking groups, and which most of our clients also support. For several years, we have supported Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE), an organization that focuses on LGBT seniors in New York City. One of our clients first brought SAGE to our attention. SAGE does wonderful work for the elder LGBT community, helping to provide housing support, medical care, and places to socialize and meet friends. In addition, we will be sponsoring both the National Asian and Pacific American Bar Association's (NAPABA) and the Hispanic National Bar Association's (HNBA) annual conferences. These organizations advocate for the legal needs and interests of the Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic communities.

Diversity itself is not one monolithic term but by its own definition encompasses a broad swath of differences. Another way of saying diversity is inclusion. We believe that efforts to welcome and reach out to all talented groups remain essential to the fundamental principle that lies at the heart of the legal profession - a basic respect for each person's legal abilities regardless of background.

Editor: In addition to reaching out externally with clients to enact diversity initiatives what steps has Kelley Drye taken internally to promote diversity?

Reid: We are actively encouraging and supporting affinity groups to reinforce the fact that the firm is a welcoming environment. Kelley Drye's groups include the Women Partners Group and the Women@KDW, a women associates group that regularly hosts meetings and programs. We are in the process of forming a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) group. The firm is also a member of the Minority Attorney Networking Series in New York and Washington, DC. This organization provides networking and speaking programs for minority attorneys to boost collegiality and interaction among minority attorneys in New York and DC firms, corporations and organizations. We are constantly expanding our programs and trying new initiatives as part of our efforts to attract and retain minority attorneys. Our initiatives also include building and sustaining relationships with various law school organizations and as such, we are also sponsors of both the Northeast Black Law Students Association Conference, and the Mid-Atlantic Black Law Student Association Regional Convention.

Editor: What are the responsibilities and obligations of law firms to promote diversity in society? Why is it particularly incumbent upon lawyers to act upon these values?

Reid: As lawyers, we are committed to the values of fairness and justice in the profession and in society at large. We particularly value the opportunities to make a difference in affecting young people who will have a tremendous impact on what this country will be like in the future. A number of programs support our efforts in this area. For example, the Cristo Rey Corporate Work Study Program provides high school students internships during the school year. The firm pays the school for students' work to defray their tuition costs. Presently four interns work in different departments at Kelley Drye, such as human resources and accounting.They gain experience which enables them to develop resumes that will help them to secure college internships and eventually employment. This summer we will begin participation in the Inner City Scholarship Fund Job Opportunities Program. As with Cristo Rey, it places students from parochial schools in law firm summer jobs to acquire hands-on work experience. We will accept several students to perform assignments similar to those the Cristo Rey students handle during the school year.

Kelley Drye is also a partner with Practicing Attorneys for Law Students ("PALS"), a not-for-profit organization, designed to assist minorities entering the legal profession. PALS offers mentoring and career guidance services to minority law students attending the 13 law schools located in the New York City metropolitan area. In November, Nicholas Panarella, one of our litigation partners, served as a panelist for a PALS event. He discussed the ways in which young lawyers can demonstrate value before, during and following performance evaluations. Currently, 11 Kelley Drye attorneys serve as mentors.

Editor: Is Kelley Drye planning any other upcoming initiatives for the near future?

Reid: We are going to host a diversity speakers series. We expect an African American lawyer will address our minority students at a breakfast or lunch. Since many of our lawyers are Asian and South Asian, we plan to have a South Asian attorney as our next speaker. This year we will be a sponsoring member of the National Association of Women Lawyers. We will assist in its efforts to support and advance the interests of women in the law. We also plan to become active in other organizations such as the Lavender Law Conference, which is one of the largest and most well known of the annual LGBT conferences. Finally, we plan to ask more of our clients to meet with our diversity committee to explore ways to partner and to make sure we understand and are meeting their expectations in this area.

The firm is completely committed to the values of diversity and inclusion and the diversity committee will continue to be very active.

Please email the interviewee at sreid@kelleydrye.com with questions about this interview.