A Strong Diversity Program Benefits Minorities And Everyone Else

Friday, February 1, 2008 - 01:00

Editor: Ms. Tandy, would you tell our readers something about your professional experience?

Tandy: I've been practicing for about 12 years. I'm a business litigator, and over the course of my career - which has been spent entirely at King & Spalding - I have seen considerable evolution in my practice. Until a few years ago much of what I did revolved around single plaintiff discrimination actions, together with some union work. In recent years my practice has included complex actions, including class actions, both employment and non-employment work. In addition, I do a great deal of counseling on legal discrimination issues as well as diversity. I also handle some diversity training work.

Editor: King & Spalding has an enviable reputation for its culture of diversity and inclusiveness. This did not just happen. Would you tell us about the evolution of this culture and what it has meant for the firm?

Tandy: I think this has been one of the principal undercurrents of King & Spalding's culture for a very long time - certainly since I have been here - and it is one of the things that attracted me to the firm in the first place. I felt very welcome from the time I first walked in the door. A particular moment occurred about five years ago, however, when we established the firm's Diversity Committee. At the time the firm's Chairman asked his immediate predecessor to run the committee, and, in addition to the energy and enthusiasm that step brought to the process, it sent a signal to everyone on the importance of diversity and inclusiveness to the firm.

Editor: Please tell us about the committee's mission.

Tandy: Our overall mission is to increase diversity within the profession, not just at King & Spalding. While we spend a great deal of time on internal issues, we have attempted to reach out to others in the legal community and have expressed our belief in the importance of diversity to the health and well being of the entire legal profession. Just this past year we made more than 20 appearances on legal diversity panels, and many of our attorneys are active in diversity-related organizations. One of our partners is Chair of the Atlanta Law Firm Diversity Consortium, and another is on the governing board of the American Institute for Managing Diversity.

The committee includes partners - consciously drawn from among the firm's leaders - associates and counsel. The partners also represent all of the key firm committees, including policy, associate evaluation, and hiring, and a variety of practice group leaders are included as well. The intention is to ensure that diversity continues as part of the firm's basic fabric.

Through the committee we attempt to coordinate all of the firm's offices from a training perspective to ensure that our training priorities are consistent across the firm.

Editor: Many firms express their commitment to diversity in platitudes. When you look past the platitudes, however, very often there is little of substance. Would you tell us about some of the concrete diversity initiatives that King & Spalding has launched in recent years?

Tandy: Our initial minority retreat was held back in 2006. We invited all of the firm's minority attorneys, including LGBT attorneys, to come together for two days. A diversity consultant attended to help in our training efforts, as did a panel of minority in-house counsel who stressed the importance of diversity to the corporate community. The associates then met in small groups with a minority partner from the same affinity group. Skill building and establishing strong mentoring relationship were among the matters addressed.

Speaking of mentoring, we have several programs that have been developed over time. One matches every new associate with a senior associate and with a partner. They serve to introduce the new associate to the firm's culture. Each of our 12 affinity groups meets twice a year, in addition to the minority retreat, and the groups also meet in video conferences along the way. Each group is led by a partner from the same affinity group, and a member of the firm's Policy Committee - which constitutes our governing board - also participates in the group's functions.

In terms of diversity training we completed, at the end of 2006, a firm-wide program that entailed a five-hour commitment by each of the firm's attorneys. The program was focused on the concept of diversity and the importance to a law firm of getting that concept right.

We also work closely with the firm's professional development staff, which provides training in self-assessment and evaluation with an eye to having all of our associates, including our minority associates, come up with personal development plans.

With respect to women's initiatives, every other year we host a weekend retreat for our women partners and clients to address the workplace and other issues that impact women. Each of the firm's offices has, in addition, a women's affinity group which discusses issues such as business development, rainmaking, and so on. We have a women's speaker series as well - Sara Laschever, one of the authors of Women Don't Ask, recently spoke about women's negotiating style and the gender divide Her remarks were video conferenced among all of the firm's offices.

Several years ago two of our partners, Bobby Woo and Ray Persons, attended a DRI seminar where they learned that in-house counsel were struggling to find opportunities to support minority- and women-owned law firms. That led to a program where our firm partners with smaller firms throughout the country and provides document support on discovery issues. When we work with these firms, we handle the backroom operations and they take the lead with respect to depositions and attend pre-trial hearings. The arrangement is working very well.

We also have a constantly evolving part-time policy. I was a beneficiary of this policy a few years ago just after having a child, but in recent years we have revamped the program to permit all of our lawyers to take advantage of it, including staff attorneys and partners. What makes the program somewhat unique, I think, is that it is possible to participate while progressing in your career. I was elected partner while practicing part-time, for example, and two part-time lawyers were elected to the partnership a few months ago.

Editor: Speaking of the firm's minority retreat, what is on the agenda for the firm's second retreat scheduled for February?

Tandy: One of the features of the minority retreat scheduled for February is that everyone in the firm has an opportunity to participate. In addition to meetings of the various affinity groups and a minority partner panel, the retreat will host Werten Bellamy, the founder of Chart Your Own Course, a well known minority professional development conference, as a speaker. Mr. Bellamy is the founder of Stakeholder 100 as well, and that portion of the retreat is going to be open to everyone in the firm. The retreat will also feature interaction with minority in-house counsel from several of the firm's clients, who will participate in a number of our workshops. I think the part of the retreat that associates seem to enjoy most is the small group dinners of six to eight people the night before the retreat. These are hosted at the homes of our partners.

Editor: One of the great challenges facing law firms today involves the recruiting and then retention of minority attorneys. How is King & Spalding faring in this regard?

Tandy: We are holding our own, I think. To be sure, we are concerned about attrition rates in general, not just the attrition of our minority associates. We work hard to keep in close contact with our minority associates, and I think that does help in our retention efforts. I travel to each of the firm's offices about four times a year, and I meet on a one-on-one basis with our minority associates across the entire firm to talk about their professional development and the ways in which the firm can help them progress in their careers. I think this type of effort - demonstrating the firm's concern for and commitment to diversity - is very helpful to both the associates and the firm as a whole. In many respects our firm-wide minority affinity groups serve a similar role as a sounding board and as a means of communication - on a two-way basis - between the firm as an institution and the individual associate. These groups serve to enhance the comfort level of associates and provide an internal network and support system for our associates.

Editor: What impact does a strong diversity program have on recruiting and retention?

Tandy: I think we are at the point where a strong diversity program is essential to the recruitment and retention of all attorneys, not just minorities. It is not at all unusual for me to have a discussion with someone who is considering King & Spalding and who is not a minority and be on the receiving end of some very pointed questions about diversity and the firm's culture of inclusiveness. Today I think that firms increasingly realize that a rising tide lifts all boats. A strong diversity program evidences that a firm is serious about their associates and about providing career opportunities for everyone. That is one of the principal effects of having a strong diversity program, and it sends a very positive message.

Editor: Would you tell us about some of the awards and honors the firm has garnered in the past few years?

Tandy: In 2007 my partner Ralph Levy won the Georgia Bar's Commitment to Equality Award, and last month I accepted the 2008 award on behalf of the firm. We were very excited to be included among Working Mothers top 50 law firms for women in the initial year of this award. Last year we were one of six law firms to receive the Stakeholder 100 Award. We are also a recipient of Chevron's law firm diversity award.

Editor: What about the future? Please tell us about some of the initiatives that are being planned to help move the firm forward on the diversity front.

Tandy: The plan is to continue leveraging the power of the entire firm in this area. I spend about 60 percent of my time furthering the firm's diversity efforts, and I practice the other 40 percent of the time. Even 60 percent of my time is not sufficient to get us where we need to go. It is essential that everyone in the firm, but particularly the partners, participate in our diversity efforts. That sort of "all hands on deck" approach is critical to any firm's success.

Please email the interviewee at ltandy@kslaw.com with questions about this interview.