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Advancing Law Firm Diversity One Learning Lunch at a Time, Contributed by Judge Stephen C. Robinson, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, LLP

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Diversity Efforts in the Legal Community

It is no secret that law firms have largely failed in creating and promoting truly diverse workforces at their senior and partnership levels. Despite the best intentions of law firms and some well-known and high profile initiatives led by Harry Pearce of General Motors in 1988, Charles Morgan of BellSouth in 1999 and Rick Palmore of Sara Lee in 2004, the New York City Bar Association's 2010 Benchmarking Study suggests that at the current rate of change it would take more than 40 years for the representation of minority partners to equal the representation of minority attorneys currently in the profession (16.6 percent in 2010). More strikingly, at the current rate of change, the timeline for women partners to approximate their representation in the profession would require more than half a century. Morgan's Statement of Principle and Palmore's subsequent Call to Action galvanized the corporate community to use a law firm's demonstrated commitment to diversity as a significant factor in their hiring decisions. Over the last two decades law firms have created diversity committees and full-time administrative positions, increased the recruitment of diverse attorneys and formalized mentoring and other enrichment programs in order to address the "diversity divide" in their firms. In addition, organizations such as the Leadership Council for Legal Diversity and the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession have focused their attention on finding collaborative and actionable ways to drive meaningful and lasting change in law firms. Although these measures have been successful in focusing the attention of law firms on the need for diverse hiring and participation, there is a sense, supported by hard numbers, that these measures alone have not driven the kind of change the signatories to the Statement of Principle and the Call to Action envisioned. In my view, the identification and cultivation of diverse talent is essential. The term "diverse" is used broadly here to include women, LGBT attorneys, disabled attorneys and members of racial and ethnic minority groups. In doing so, we must be careful that adopting a strategy to train, cultivate and ultimately promote diverse attorneys, in order to be broadly adopted and sustainable, is not overly burdensome. One avenue to tangible change is in the adoption of simple measures, or what I like to call "silver bullets," that will meaningfully improve the experience of diverse law firm attorneys and ultimately assist in creating a pipeline of diverse talent for law firms (and others) to draw upon. The corporate community can play a pivotal role in deploying some of these "silver bullets."

Learning Lunches Hosted by Laws Firm Clients

One such "silver bullet" is the Learning Lunch

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