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Birmingham Bar Association

Diversity Diandra S. “Fu” Debrosse Zimmermann same standards are being used to evaluate diverse candidates in the hiring process. What does this mean in practice? If every white male in your firm is not in the top ten percent (10%) of his class, why does every diverse candidate have to be the top 10% of their class? If firms will hire a young white male attorney for reasons other than academic merit alone, such as a child of a family friend or former law partner, why not provide a similar opportunity to a diverse attorney? Use different standards – if all of a firm’s attorneys are, indeed, graduates in the top 10% of their class and members of the law review, and in keeping with these standards, and despite its best efforts, the firm cannot obtain the diversity it seeks, is the hiring partner prepared to make an exception since the number of available diverse attorneys are significantly lower than available white male attorneys? Are firms prepared to realize that a diverse attorney who is qualified academically and experientially may have a distinct life experiences that are unrepresented in the firm, and which may lead to significant contributions to the firm’s culture and revenue? These professed standards and the inability to address the underlying social, political, and emotional bases of these standards are at the center of the challenge to hire more diverse attorneys. If law firms can honestly address these issues, hiring diverse attorneys will no longer be such a challenge. Develop A Real Retention Plan First impressions are lasting impressions. Upon hiring, ensure that there is an orientation program that places an emphasis on diversity, skill development, and exposure to meaningful work. Ensure also, through the language of your firm, that the new lawyer is fully included in the culture of the firm. The exposure to meaningful assignments and opportunities is what secures the retention of all attorneys, including diverse attorneys. It is crucial that diverse attorneys do not become, whether intentionally or subliminally victims of tokenism but instead, have access to the same skill development opportunities (i.e., depositions, trials, strategic litigation meetings), and are taken through the same skill training and skill development (i.e., continuing legal education and trial colleges), as other attorneys within the firm. Retaining diverse attorneys requires full inclusion. Ensuring sincere invitations to firm cocktail hours, dinners, sporting events, and cultural outings are central to the professional development and emotional well-being of all attorneys, and diverse attorneys should be extended the same courtesy. Retaining diverse attorneys also requires an open atmosphere in which diverse attorneys have an outlet to discuss their concerns over inclusion or the lack thereof in an environment where such concerns will not be summarily dismissed. Diverse attorneys also must have the opportunity and financial support to pursue client development through different social models which may not be reflective of traditional case development. Finally, as discussed above, formal and accountable mentorship programs are crucial in ensuring the success of diverse lawyers within a firm. Promotion Law firms also should ensure that the contributions of diverse attorneys are valued in a manner that allows for promotion and inclusion at the higher levels of legal practice. Whatever approach the law firm chooses – just as all firms discuss financial projections, marketing, and staffing – any firm that wants to address the diversity within its ranks must go beyond a general statement that it is committed to diversity. Diversity in law requires an acknowledgement of the reality of its absence and a targeted plan to ensure increased diversity. In 2001, a New York Times reader responded to a New Your Times Article entitled “Making Law Firms More Diverse.” 19 In her letter to the editor, Ms. Suzanne Baer wrote: Your Aug. 7 front-page article about minority partners at law firms was valuable. But ever so similar statistics and rhetoric have appeared in articles since the founding in 1986 of the American Bar Association's Commission on Opportunities for Minorities, of which I was a member. What was needed then, and today, is the commitment of time, mentoring and money from every member of a firm to change the dynamics of an exclusionary culture. The problem is much deeper than can be portrayed in a single article. Greater public recognition of this problem, no matter how disquieting to law firms, is newsworthy, important and urgent. New York, August 8, 2001 Step up, stand up, and be the change you want to see in other firms and among 14 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association
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