Mar 27, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

While diversity is the imperative in the legal sector, it often remains elusive. However, some midsize law firms have had more success than others when it comes to diversity-minded programming. Here’s a closer look at their “secrets,” as recently reported by the New York Law Journal.

Expanding to Diversify

With few female partners and no partners of color, Phillips Nizer saw an opportunity to reinvent itself with a recent expansion aimed at addressing its “woefully inadequate” diversity numbers. Its strategy? A combination of strategic promotions and the addition of 10 new partners, including well-known women’s rights advocate Lauren Wachtler. Says managing partner Marc Landis, “She’s the exciting new thing that we talk to prospective associates about.”  

Landis also reinforces the importance of creating a supportive environment, as well as the value in taking a “broad view”of diversity across age, sexual orientation, and politics.

Exposure and Opportunities

Morrison Cohen, meanwhile, has improved diversity through a different tactic: giving diverse attorneys the chance to work for major clients as well as to appear in federal court.

Says business litigation partner Latisha Thompson, “When diverse attorneys come, we make sure they’re focusing on high-level cases so their careers can take off. I think the challenge for midsize firms is getting diverse attorneys in the door. It’s harder to get diverse attorneys in the door but when they get here, something really special can happen.”

Thompson also recommends adopting a new perspective on mentors. “Mentors don’t have to look like you,” she says. “I think a lot of times you have firms say they’re going to place the Latina associate with the Latina partner or the black associate with the black partner. One of my best mentors has been David Scherl who is a Jewish man.”

Establishing Diversity Goals

At Barclay Damon, meanwhile, hiring partner David Burch cites the firm’s summer associates program for diverse attorneys as one factor in its success with diversity.

But setting long-term diversity goals -- and positioning yourself to achieve them -- should also be part of the process. Says partner David Cost, “In Albany, we made a conscious effort to attend diverse bar association and community events….Diversity and inclusion at Barclay Damon is a daily commitment. It’s at the forefront of what we do. That’s the great thing about it. It’s an attorney and staff effort that we think sets us apart from some of the other firms.”

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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