Friday, May 25, 2007

Biglaw's Jim Crow Caste Structure: Part 2

Are Firms Missing Out On a Diverse Talent Pool?
The Legal Intelligencer
By Gina Passarella

May 25, 2007

One of the most common reasons large firms cite as a cause for their lack of diversity is a limited talent pool from which to draw.

There are only so many qualified candidates and only so many of those are minorities, they say.

Could that pool be deepened by looking to the skills of contract attorneys? Some say yes. Others aren't so sure.

One black contract attorney from Washington, D.C., who has been working in the field for almost five years said the contract attorneys he's worked with on firm matters have been disproportionately diverse compared to groups of associates at those firms.

Part of that, he said, is due to financial constraints that keep students from all backgrounds out of the top-tiered schools, and subsequently out of the top-tiered firms.

Bob Nourian of Coleman Nourian, a recruiting firm that places both contract and permanent attorneys, said contract attorneys are naturally going to be more diverse because "you're pulling in from a greater percentage of a whole [graduating] class."

Katherine Frink-Hamlett of Frink-Hamlett Legal Solutions in Teaneck, N.J., said contract attorneys are more diverse because the larger law firms are losing minority attorneys at high rates and they have to go somewhere. She said contract attorney work is often used to fill in the gaps.

Not everyone has found it easy to find diversity in the contract-attorney ranks.

Cynthia Scott, founder of Choice Counsel in Pittsburgh, specializes in placing contract attorneys. She said she wishes there was a more diverse pool from which she could draw.

"Our percentage of minorities is not nearly what we wish it could be," she said.

Offering a rough estimate, Scott said minorities on the matters she staffs typically do not comprise more than 10 percent of the group. The Washington, D.C., contract attorney put that number at 50 percent in his experience.

Scott said she has found that it is more difficult in Pittsburgh to build diversity numbers because the larger cities woo talent away.

Ah yes, talent. Despite the most sincere efforts of firms to increase their diversity, talent and quality understandably remain the foremost criteria for hiring associates.

Nourian said firms are looking to find both diverse and nondiverse candidates, while maintaining the same criteria for talent.

The problem with looking to the contract-attorney field for candidates, minority or not, is that the hiring criteria for those attorneys are not as stringent as for associates, he said.

"Unless firms are going to dramatically change their hiring criteria for full-time, partnership-track associates, I don't think the contract attorney pool will help them," Nourian said.

He said his firm has done a lot of temporary-to-permanent conversions once contract attorneys work for a firm and prove they are associate material. It is difficult to stand out, however, when there are 30 or 40 attorneys doing document review, he said.

Frink-Hamlett, whose company handles diversity audits and offers diversity solutions for firms, said she recommends her clients look at contract attorneys to meet diversity needs, but said it might only be for a short-term solution.

"These are very often folks with Ivy League credentials or somewhere near there, but their resume doesn't meet the permanent-resume requirements," she said.

Attorneys with gaps in resumes or those with master of laws ( LL.M) degrees who are here from other countries are often viable permanent candidates who may have taken some time off to pursue other endeavors or are new to the country's legal system, Frink-Hamlett said. That often makes them unviable permanent candidates in the eyes of large firms, she said.

"I think it's going to be imperative for law firms and law schools to recognize [that] contract attorneys are a force in the industry," she said.

So if the war for talent is at an all-time high, some argue it might be worth training contract attorneys at large firms to help them meet the associate-hire criteria in order to increase the talent pool.

"You have this entire untapped pool of legal talent . . . and nobody's making the investment to train them," the contract attorney said, adding later, "In a global war for talent, no stone can be left unturned."

Another minority contract attorney in Washington said there is no training available on projects to help elevate her to the next level. She said there would always be someone to hire her, possibly at a smaller firm, but student loans often make large firms the only option.

Frink Hamlett said bar associations need to replicate for contract attorneys the committees or commissions on diversity or women in the profession that now exist in order to help with networking and empowerment.

Networking among other contract attorneys, however, doesn't help elevate their status, Nourian said. Contract attorneys need to affiliate themselves with the same groups as full-time associates in order to make contacts in hopes of finding a full-time position, he said.

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"Bar Associations need to replicate for contract attorneys the committees or commissions on diversity or women in the profession." Exactly.

Dear Tom,

I have spoken with Barry Kamins at ABCNY about setting up a contract attorney committee. ABCNY has a subcommittee of a larger executive committee, which deals with forming new standing committees.

The problem is that I, although I am barred in New York, I am {out of country/personal reasons}. My first impulse is to identify responsible people in New York who could spearhead this.

The next step is to submit a proposal to Mr. Kamins, which he would then forward on to the subcommittee. I would be delighted to help with the proposal. Do you have any ideas as to who might spearhead this? Obviously, we want responsible people organizing this committee. You have wide access to a number of contract attorneys, so I thought you might be a good person to ask.


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9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Will the committee have subpoena power. Can we frogmarch E.P. Dine into a committee hearing room and grill them about their questionable business practices?

ambition said...

We have a good thing going here.

Why are angry, underachieving black women trying to stir shit up?

Anonymous said...

Biglaw is also sexist:

"They had a Summer Associate that used the firm's general cc to purchase an online porn subscription (He was hired).

They had a female SA that turned in a project and then went to get her nail done. The partner misplaced the file about 2 minutes after he received it and went looking for the SA to get another copy only to find out that she was getting her nails done. She wasn't hired."

Anonymous said...

This is so ridiculous. These are serious issues. Our jobs are going to India, we aren't being trained, and the conversation here usually degenerates into conversations about angry black women and getting one's nails done. How about hard work? Is anyone here interested in working hard to achieve something? Or do we think that exerting effort proves that we don't have the "natural ability."

Let me explain something to you. There IS no "natural ability." If you want to be a success, you have to WORK at it.

Anonymous said...

As a committee, we would be able to draft white papers and effectuate change as a unit, as opposed to doing so confidentially, worrying about Update's silly blacklist.

There is one guy in the article above, Nourian, who says that it will not help for contract attorneys to network with each other and that contract attorneys should network with associates. This is total bs. Of course we should network with each other. This guy is a recruiter, so of course he is against us getting organized.

All of this talk about what school someone went to is a bunch of garbage, because admission to those schools has to do, almost entirely, on affluence criteria.

It is time for us to stand up for ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Join that group of bitter, underachieving whiners and you will never work in this town again.

Anonymous said...

If Biglaw was concerned with other things other than the almighty grade and class ranking, attrition wouldn't be so high and they would be more successful in recruiting talented lawyers.

Anonymous said...

You guys have to lay off with this racial persecution complex. I am a white male and I have to suffer just like the rest of you because I got my JD from a TTT school. It took me 6 months after graduation just to get a shitty doc review job, and some of my law school friends (who are also white males) couldn't even get that. The main reason for attorney exploitation is because the market is saturated, plus a new law school opens every year. There are only so many jobs available and even those are being outsourced. We are all in the same boat, so put away your race card.

Anonymous said...

It's not racial presecution to ask what is the diversity level of a law firm. It is however whining to talk about oneself personally, and only oneself, in response to a discusion in which the issue was an entire class of people. Frankly the only ones here with a persecution complex are the posters whining about how race doesn't matter because they have a personal circumstance that proves it. Anecdotes are nice, but what's happening systemically? Do you know? I suspect you don't and that you don't care either to know. It's easier to sit around whining about how you have been mistreated than to realize that not everything is about you. Maybe if you weren't such a waste of time, and had something more to add to a larger conversation about diversity and the legal practice than- what's in any for me- you would be capable of being something more than what you are whining about your life is at the momment.