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Sunday, 05 August 2012 22:17

Grand Rapids Bar Association seeks help in appealing to diverse law talent

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GRAND RAPIDS — A coalition of law firms working to increase diversity within the legal community will seek to brand Grand Rapids as a destination for minority and female attorneys.

The Managing Partner Diversity Collaborative, formed through the Grand Rapids Bar Association, is seeking bids from marketing agencies to develop a brand identity that the 13 participating law firms will use in their recruitment and retention efforts. The resulting brand "should promote Grand Rapids as a location which supports and welcomes diversity" and "espouse career opportunities for minorities and women in the legal profession," according to a request for proposals.

The firm chosen will develop a brand identity for the effort, a logo and perhaps even a new name for the collaborative. A steering committee consisting of marketing directors from participating law firms is accepting bids until Aug. 6.

Crafting a brand strategy is part of the far broader initiative to increase the number of women and minority attorneys and law partners in Grand Rapids, which trails many markets across the nation in diversity — despite the best efforts of many firms.

"The brand is the first step of creating an identity for what you're selling and then going out and selling it," said Robin Burns, marketing director at Rhoades McKee PC and a member of the steering committee.

The Managing Partner Diversity Collaborative came together last year after progress on diversity the last several years stalled and as the firms face growing demands from corporate clients operating in a global economy to have a diverse roster of legal talent. The collaborative adopted a five-year action plan this spring that offers a roadmap to improve the pipeline of talent coming into the legal profession and to step up recruitment.

Using a single brand would help the participating law firms provide a consistent message about Grand Rapids in their recruiting, said Kim Coleman, executive director of the Grand Rapids Bar Association.

The brand will enable law firms not only to pitch the professional and career opportunity they offer to prospects but also to extol the region's quality of life.

"When you relocate to an area for work, you're also going to give some thought to (whether this is a) place where I can live, work and play," Coleman said. "Taking that into consideration, you have to sell the whole package."

Despite past progress on diversity, 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 associates positions at law firms in Grand Rapids in 2011, which compares to 11.33 percent in 2010 and 19.90 percent nationwide last year.

In following the action plan, the Grand Rapids Bar Association is planning to have 60 attorneys volunteer to visit fifth-grade classes at area schools on Constitution Day in September, Coleman said. The Bar Association is also reaching out more to connect with area schools to promote the legal profession to young students as a career prospect and to "create opportunities for students to dream and learn and understand what it means to have a career in law," she said.

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