include Accenture, Clorox, Cox Communications, Del Monte, Google,
Intel and Pitney Bowes. “It’s the leadership of companies and corporate law departments that have helped firms see the benefit of diversity to the bottom line, and it has yielded a lot more action on the part of
our profession over the last four to five years,” says Seema Shah, executive director of Twin Cities Diversity in Practice, a Minneapolis-based
consortium of law firms and general counsel dedicated to more inclusion within the profession.
A Firm Commitment to Diversity
Promoting diversity has given Dykema a
competitive edge and contributed to its
prominence as one of the largest law firms
in the Midwest.
“We’ve gone from talking about it to taking concrete action, and that has helped
us better understand and respond to our
clients,” describes Peggy Costello, Chair of
Dykema’s Diversity Committee and a litigator for the firm.
Dykema amplified its diversity efforts
last year by increasing the scope of its Diversity Committee. “The idea
was to put goals, as well as measurements, in place so that we could
accomplish more,” Costello says.
The firm asks its lawyers to explain their contributions to increasing Dykema’s diversity and their contributions are taken into consideration, along with other criteria, in determining compensation.
Diversity begins with recruitment. Dykema partners with a recruiter
who specializes in placing diverse lawyers. The firm also works with
law schools to recruit lawyers of color and other diverse lawyers,
including grads and alumni. To help prime the pipeline, Dykema has
established two diversity scholarships, one at the University of
Michigan in Ann Arbor—where Dykema is headquartered—as well as
one at the University of Illinois.
The law firm regularly sponsors diversity events and hosts receptions and networking sessions at minority job fairs and career expos,
including the Minority Corporate Counsel Association’s Midwest
Region Diversity Dinner.
Internally, Dykema has strengthened its mentor program. Mentors
commit to a two-year relationship. They monitor work assignments,
give feedback and help introduce younger attorneys to clients. “We’ve
improved our entire mentoring program, but we’ve placed an emphasis on diverse lawyers so that they can get another level of help if
they choose,” Costello says.
The firm’s management committee meets with Dykema’s attorneys
of color throughout the year, including at informal dinners, so that
management can get to better know the attorneys and their needs.
Because of Dykema’s diversity efforts, the firm earned a ranking as
one of the Top 100 Law Firms for 2007 from Multicultural Law, a magazine that promotes diversity in the legal profession.
Promoting Partnership Diversity
Although progress has been made, the rise to
partnership level for people of color has been
slow. According to statistics compiled by the
NALP (formerly the National Association of Legal
Professionals), only 5 percent of partners in 2006
were people of color. The biggest challenge facing firms today is overcoming “churn,” the large
number of diverse associates who switch firms
or leave the profession altogether. Blacks, for
instance, abandon private practice at two or three
times the rate of whites, report industry experts.
Best Practice of Diversity
Ensure that minority and
female partners fill major
client-service roles and
on client-service teams.
—NALP Best Practices Guide
OPENER: JOSE A. WARLETTA (top);
VEER IMAGES (center); NICK CO WIE (bottom)
Why do so many attorneys of color fall off the
partner track? “Because law firms are perceived
as not opening partnerships to them,” explains T.J.
“Jimmy” Cunningham Jr., president of the Virgil
Hawkins Florida Chapter of the National Bar
Association. “They feel they have no choice but
According to an American Bar Association
(ABA) survey, 72 percent of Latino associates and
70 percent of black associates cited more/better
mentoring by senior attorneys as changes they
would most like to see in their jobs. This was followed by less pressure to bill, more/better training and greater opportunity to shape the future of
the firm. Other research has confirmed a perceived lack of career-enhancing opportunities
among diverse associates, with people of color being assigned “
back-office” tasks such as conducting due diligence.
“Diverse attorneys often don’t find the level of acceptance that their
counterparts find,” says a managing partner at a major law firm. “If you