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Monday, 30 April 2012 09:21

Diversity collaborative aims to recruit, retain top legal talent

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By Mark Sanchez | MiBiz
[email protected]

GRAND RAPIDS — In forming a united front, the managing partners at 13 Grand Rapids law firms seek to aggressively diversify the local legal community in the years ahead.

Through an action plan developed by the Managing Partners Diversity Collaborative, the firms aim to recruit and retain more female and minority attorneys in Grand Rapids. The region’s firms traditionally compare low nationally in diversity, despite the individual efforts of many local law firms.

“That hasn’t worked and people have gotten to the point where they’re saying, ‘We have to utilize a new paradigm,’” said Mark Smith, a trial attorney partner at Rhoades McKee PC and president of the Grand Rapids Bar Association. “All of us working together have a better prospect for success than individually.”

The collaborative’s action plan maps out how the law firms will recruit and retain female and women lawyers as well as increase the incoming talent pool to the legal profession. The plan intentionally does not set specific numerical targets, although the firms hope to at least bring Grand Rapids in line with national averages over five years, Smith said.

“This isn’t something where we’re going to have an immediate return on investment,” Smith said. “It’s going to take a while.”

Grand Rapids law firms until recently have made solid gains over the years in diversity.

Despite the progress, which stalled two years ago, Grand Rapids in 2011 still ranked next to the bottom of 44 markets in the U.S. for minority law partners, according to an annual diversity report issued each fall by the NALP — The Association of Legal Professionals.

Minorities accounted for just 1.79 percent of the law partnerships locally, a rate that compares with a national average of 6.56 percent and is just above the 1.65 percent rate in Pittsburgh, the lowest in the nation.

The NALP’s 2011 diversity report did note that the low rates could reflect the comparatively low minority population of about 20 percent in each city and that the minority representation in the legal community for a market “does not always parallel minority representation within the overall population area.”

Women accounted for 15.63 percent of law partners in Grand Rapids in 2011, compared to 15.83 percent the year before and 19.54 percent nationally, according to NALP. The Grand Rapids rate for women law partners five years earlier was 10.37 percent.

Minorities made up 10.96 percent of associate positions at law firms in Grand Rapids in 2011, which compares to 11.33 percent in 2010 and 19.90 percent nationwide last year.

Women held 45.89 percent of associate positions in 2011, an increase from 42.0 percent a year earlier and one gain of any note from the NALP’s 2010 report.

The push to increase diversity among law firms is a “moral imperative” to ensure they are as inclusive as possible as well as from corporate law clients operating in today’s global economy.

“It makes good business sense in today’s environment where the institutions we serve expect us to have as diverse a group as possible,” Smith said. “People bring different viewpoints to a client’s problem.”

While Grand Rapids law firms have had success in recruiting women and minorities, they do not do as good of a job retaining them, Smith said. Many end up leaving to do legal work for corporations or to practice law in larger markets, he said.

“They don’t yet view that they have a peer group to fit into,” Smith said, which puts Grand Rapids at a disadvantage when competing for legal talent with larger markets such as Chicago and Detroit.

Action plan

Here are some of the steps included in the Managing Partners Diversity Collaborative's 5-year action plan:

  • Develop a mentorship program model for high school and college students to encourage students to consider a law career
  • Recruit attorneys and staff to participate in Schools of Hope tutoring programs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and other programs
  • Pool resources to provide financial assistance to students of color through scholarship or support in taking LSAT prep courses
  • Expand opportunities for the Minority Clerkship Program
  • Develop a mentorship program for lateral associates of color to connect to the community
  • Ensure that work environments and work-related social activities are hospitable and inclusive
  • Develop a strategy to increase the number of female attorneys and attorneys of color in leadership positions
  • Institute an annual training program on diversity and inclusion, sponsored by the Grand Rapids Bar Association and collaborative member firms
  • Develop an annual conference that focuses on business development and leadership development for female attorneys and attorneys of color
  • Develop social media strategies to provide information and resources


Read 1772 times Last modified on Saturday, 04 August 2012 15:57

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