Diversity and Its Impact on the Legal Profession
“Diversity is a very critical element of our society,” said Robert J. Grey, Jr.—a partner at law firm Hunton & Williams—during a keynote speech at the 6th Annual Vault/MCCA Legal Diversity Career Fair, held on Friday, July 29, 2011 in Washington, D.C.
In discussing his path to Washington and Lee University School of Law, Grey engaged the audience with a story about his first meeting with the then-dean of the law school. While his story was filled with humor, Grey conveyed an important message: rather than judging a book by its cover, the dean gave Grey the opportunity to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer. Grey—who formerly served as president of the American Bar Association—has been an influential voice in the legal profession through his work and his commitments to pro bono and diversity. He was nominated by President Obama to serve as a Board Member of the Legal Services Corporation—a post he now fills—and also currently serves as the Executive Director of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity.
“Recognizing talent and giving it a chance - that’s what diversity is about,” said Grey.
Grey’s speech formed a fitting backdrop for the day as hundreds of minority, female, LGBT candidates and candidates with disabilities gathered at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown D.C. to speak with recruiters and hiring partners from law firms, as well as corporate and government employers. Earlier in the week, candidates and legal employers on the West Coast participated in the career fair at the Westin Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles.
Vault kicked off the career fair in D.C. by honoring the Top 25 Law Firms for Overall Diversity, Top 3 Law Firms for Diversity for LGBT, Top 3 Law Firms for Diversity for Women and Top 3 Law Firms for Diversity for Minorities. While recognizing that diversity is important throughout all careers, Vault.com‘s Law Firm Diversity Rankings focus on the legal profession. These rankings are the result of a survey taken by close to 16,000 law firm associates throughout the country. This year, and for the third consecutive year, Carlton Fields was ranked the No. 1 Firm for Overall Diversity.
“This represents how far we have come as a nation and an industry,” said Gary Sasso, President and CEO of Carlton Fields, during the award ceremony. “We have a very long-standing tradition of diversity. We like to say we celebrate diversity in all things at all times. It’s in our DNA.”
And it is fast becoming part of the DNA of many organizations who truly see the potential of a more diverse office makeup. During a panel discussion moderated by Vault.com law editor Mary Kate Sheridan, various professionals in the legal industry weighed in on the subject and discussed ways to make sure that diversity is not just an idea, but a part of the everyday practice.
“Diversity wasn’t really something on top of anyone’s discussion list in the 80s,” said Jackie Stone, a partner at the law firm McGuireWoods. “But it is an important discussion today.”
Thomas E. Zutic, a partner at the law firm DLA Piper, stated that because of its importance today, “diversity is not about window dressing. It’s not a one time, show off to the client aspect of business.”
Stone added: “Clients are watching very closely. They want to see that diversity continues in terms of who actually gets to do the work.”
Lori L. Garrett, vice president and managing director of the southeast region of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA), said that once you recruit diverse talent, the best way to keep them is to make them feel like they are part of the team. “Mentoring is one of the most important ways anyone can connect to supervisors,” she said. “They understand what it takes to reach the next level, but diverse employees should not just speak to supervisors. They need to create relationships everywhere.”
Zutic also noted that diverse candidates need to make sure they take ownership of their careers by making themselves desirable candidates. “Grades are still important,” he said, noting that students should approach law school as their jobs and perform as well there as they would in their careers. “It’s so basic, but it’s so important,” he said. “We can talk diversity, but in the end, if you are not bringing the right skill set and the right credentials, it’s not going to work.”