Diversity - Organizations Accent On Diversity At The New York City Bar

Saturday, October 1, 2005 - 00:00

The Editor interviews Meredith Moore, Director of the Office for Diversity at the New York City Bar.

Editor: Please tell our readers about your educational background and previous employment experiences.

Moore: I earned a Master's degree in Public Policy and Administration from Columbia University, where I studied gender policy, diversity and non-profit management, which focused on how to make organizational change which is a key component in addressing diversity issues. After graduating from Columbia, I joined Catalyst, a non-profit organization that aims to advance women in business and the professions. I worked there for over seven years as a researcher and consultant addressing gender issues, with a focus on work-life balance and mentoring. While there, I conducted a study of women in the law profession that looked at graduates, men and women, from five of the top U.S. law schools. While conducting this study, I became acquainted with the diversity issues in the legal profession, which in turn led me to the New York City Bar.

Editor: Kindly give our readers some background on the diversity initiative at the New York City Bar.

Moore: Diversity has been a long-held value that the New York City Bar has been addressing for several decades. Committees dedicated to diversity issues, such as women and minorities in the profession, have existed here for decades. Our first statement of diversity principles, relating to minority promotion and retention was issued in 1991. This was followed by another statement, which addressed women's issues in 1998. The individual committees have published reports dealing with a wide array of diversity issues, such as the "Glass Ceilings and Open Doors" report which was issued in 1995. The committees have put on countless programs aimed at providing tools for legal employers, such as how to create an effective mentoring program, as well as programs to share strategies for individual attorneys from diverse backgrounds to be more successful in their careers. In addition, the New York City Bar also introduced fellowship programs to encourage minority high school students to consider a legal career as well as programs to provide internships for first year law students from area law schools.

Editor: Describe the Statement of Diversity Principles initially adopted by 99 law firms and corporate law departments in December 2003.

Moore: The 2003 Statement of Diversity Principles focuses on making numerical progress on diversity goals as well as establishing the programs and policies necessary to making diversity a reality. Currently there are 107 leading law firms and law departments in the Greater New York Area committed to these principles. Signatories are required to participate in benchmarking studies to track their progress. They also committed to implement many of the programs, policies and initiatives that are considered essential to making diversity a reality, such as creating diversity committees, carrying out annual diversity training, developing mentoring programs, providing flexibility in work policies. The Principles address key issues related to associate hiring and retention, as well as lateral hiring and promotion to partner.

Editor: Are corporate law departments doing what law firms are doing in terms of benchmarking and using metrics to measure progress?

Moore: Yes, we will be distributing the corporate law benchmarking questionnaire this fall. The type of information collected will be similar, but the titles and levels will reflect the corporate law department structure. The statement of principles for law departments is quite similar to law firms, with the exception that corporations are expected to ensure that their outside counsel is diverse, as well as monitoring the assignment of diverse talent on their matters.

Editor: When do you think the Corporate Law Department survey will be available in report form?

Moore: I expect it to be ready in the Spring of 2006.

Editor: Why was the Office for Diversity created?

Moore: The office was founded a year ago, so it's relatively new. With the drafting of the latest Statement of Diversity Principles, it became clear that the New York City Bar could play an important role supporting legal employers' efforts to make diversity a reality. Given the number of committees at the New York City Bar that are doing work in the diversity area, it is also helpful to have someone coordinate and leverage all the great work of the committees to avoid duplicating efforts or working at cross purposes.

Editor: What progress has been made over the past 3-5 years in achieving goals of greater diversity?

Moore: Law firms and law departments are looking in a much more comprehensive and systematic way at what it takes to make diversity happen. A number of firms are either starting a diversity committee for the first time or reinvigorating a diversity committee so that it can be more successful. The hiring of diversity professionals seems to be an important trend over the last few years. Five years ago there were only a handful of people whose major, day-to-day responsibilities dealt with diversity. Now I regularly have search firms calling me saying, "This firm wants to put together their first diversity office. What do we need to know? How do we need to do this?" That is an encouraging sign.

Progress has also been made by looking at what the key barriers and success factors are within organizations and putting together a plan for how to tackle these issues. This cuts across both law firms and corporate legal departments. Corporate legal departments have increasingly been exerting pressure on their law firms to deal with these issues in a meaningful way. It's not enough to have just a couple of programs or hold a diversity reception for summer associates. They're really looking for a much more sustained effort and are closely tracking the progress the firms are making. In some cases, although it doesn't happen that often, law firms are no longer retained because over time they haven't demonstrated commitment to these issues.

Editor: Has success been greater in terms of recruitment than in retention and promotion to top positions, i.e., partnership and general counsel status?

Moore: Looking at the National Association of Law Placement numbers tracking this over time, there is a slow but steady increase in representation by women and racial/ethnic minorities. Certainly, that pace isn't sufficient to create the critical mass needed to make diversity and inclusion a reality. We conducted a benchmarking study for law firms released in 2005 to establish baseline for tracking progress over time. This is a long-term strategy for making meaningful and sustainable change. If a firm has a steep upward trend in lateral hire or partner promotion numbers, it might not be sustainable over time if the culture doesn't support them. I think firms are acutely aware they don't want to just hire or promote people because they represent a diverse demographic group - they want the best talent, which is increasingly diverse.

Editor: How do you define the term "diversity"?

Moore: We define it very inclusively to extend to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, nationality, age, disability, marital and parental status. For practical purposes we've focused primarily on issues of race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and attorneys with disabilities. It is called the Office for Diversity, but in fact, we really see our mandate as not just diversity, but also inclusion. We're not just counting heads, in terms of our benchmarking; we're talking about making heads count by changing the culture. We want a culture where people of different demographics and backgrounds can work together and succeed based on how far their talent and hard work takes them. Many of the same things that are important to implement to get a diverse array of people into leadership roles - structured programs to ensure people are getting the right assignments, have access to mentors, performance evaluations that are beneficial to advancement - also benefit the current majority in leadership, who happen to be largely white heterosexual men.

Editor: What impact has the 2003 Diversity Statement had by way of corporate law departments' hiring of law firms?

Moore: There have been a number of things that have coalesced to create an atmosphere where corporations are taking a much harder look at these issues. They are not just looking at the firm's diversity but also its choice of partners and associates with whom they work. A helpful suggestion that came out of one of our early working sessions was to have diversity committees at the law firms talk to diversity committees at client companies. Corporate counsels are increasingly looking at what firms are actually doing to make a difference and how to measure this in a meaningful way. Being a signatory to the Statement of Principles is also seen as a way to register a firm's commitment.

Editor: In what ways has the Office for Diversity contributed to firms and legal departments achieving diversity goals?

Moore: I think it is clear that the office was needed based on the attendance of lawyers at the various diversity events and the number of calls that we receive looking for guidance. One of the important things we've done is to create a community through the diversity working sessions that we hold every month that are targeted towards providing recommendations and best practices for law firms and law departments. The relationships firms and law departments have forged, which have led to the sharing of their experiences, have been extremely valuable. We've tried to supply practical tips as to how to implement certain practices. In providing over-the-shoulder guidance there are a lot of different challenges that a law firm or law department might be facing. Often they just need someone to ask, "Where do I need to go? Who should I talk to?" In addition to being able to contact the Office for Diversity directly, we have also updated the diversity section of our website, www.nycbar.org, to serve as an important resource for finding practical information on diversity issues and solutions.

Another important way we help signatories is through our benchmarking where we provide the individual law firms with a customized report comparing their individual numbers with all the participating firms and with those firms of a similar size. The goal is for firms to see over time whether or not their numbers have improved, where they face the most challenges, and therefore be able to more effectively design their interventions.

Editor: Describe the benchmarking study done with law firms in quantifying the facts about hiring and promoting minorities.

Moore: Eighty-two signatory law firms participated, 95% of our law firm signatories. We collected the data in March of 2004, about the time when most firms had signed the Statement of Principles. We were trying to get a picture of the state of diversity when most firms signed on so that we could track progress. The good news was that the New York City offices of our signatory firms are more diverse with respect to race and gender than the profession as a whole. Fifteen percent of attorneys in signatory firms are racial and ethnic minorities compared with eleven percent in the profession as a whole. Thirty-five percent in signatory firms are women, compared with twenty-nine percent in the overall profession. However, it's not surprising that associates, particularly the most recent hires, are much more diverse than the special counsel and the partnership groups. For example, twenty-one percent of associates are minorities compared to five percent of the partners. However, the percentage of women and minorities who were promoted to partner in 2004 was only somewhat higher than their prior representation. Seven percent of new partner promotes were racial and ethnic minorities, twenty percent were women. When we look at those who are remaining at firms from the class of 1996, which would be considered an eight-year partnership track, that class is more diverse than those chosen for partnership.

Editor: What do you have in the pipeline for the future?

Moore: In general, we are looking to help legal employers beyond large law firms achieve diversity. We want to look at how we can better serve the corporations that are signatories to help them create appropriate programs in their offices. We will be sending out the corporate benchmarking study, as well as the follow-up for the law firm signatories. We are going to be hosting a round table of government employers, who have been looking at how they can better address diversity issues. In addition, we are looking for ways to better support small and mid-sized firms.

We continue to accept new signatories who can participate in our benchmarking which will be coming up this fall. We certainly urge any corporation that is not already a signatory to become one.

Please email the interviewee at mmoore@nycbar.org with questions about this program.