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June 8, 2011 8:02 PM

Diversity Scorecard 2011: What's Behind Kelley Drye's Rapid Rise?

Posted by Dan Kaplan

Sarah_reid Two years ago, Kelley Drye & Warren barely cracked the Top 100 on The American Lawyer's Diversity Scorecard, finishing at number 99. Since then, the firm has risen steadily in the rankings, jumping to number 77 last year before climbing to number 40 this year

Since becoming the chair of the firm's diversity and inclusion committee in 2004, Sarah Reid has pushed to make diversity issues a top priority. After seven years, she says, it appears that her efforts are starting to pay off. Reid spoke to The Am Law Daily about the firm's recent success.

How do you explain the impressive gains that Kelley Drye has made on our Diversity Scorecard in recent years?

They're the result of, really, five to six years of concerted effort. The short-term answer as far as this year is that our incoming class and the lateral hiring of associates that we did were both very diverse.

Outside of those hires, which of Kelley Drye's diversity initiatives over the last five to six years have had the biggest impact?

With associates, it really has to do with maintaining close control over your recruiting, both incoming and laterally, and then close control over your retention, so that you can maintain your minority associates.

In terms of retention, we not only have our regular associate training and development committee, which works with all associates, but we make a point, particularly with minority associates, of monitoring their experience, making sure that they're getting the exposure to the clients they want and the kind of work they want. We reinforce mentoring as much as possible, and then bring in clients who speak to them on an informal basis from time to time about their experiences in-house, in government, or just generally as outside counsel.

Has the current economic climate had an impact on diversity issues?

For us, it has not had an impact. We've been really fortunate in that regard. Obviously we hire the best people possible, so it's not just a matter of saying, "Oh, let's get a diverse candidate." This year, although our class size is smaller--as is true at most firms--it is gender-balanced, and we have several minority candidates in the summer class. To a great extent, this is because law schools are so much more diverse now, in terms of who they admit. There's a bigger pool to pull from.

As diversity and inclusion committee chair, how much of your time is devoted to these issues and efforts? How do you balance this with your other duties as a partner?

It's kind of changed over time. The committee was founded in 2004, and at that point I spent a great deal of my time getting it organized and getting the process started of determining where our efforts were going to lie in terms of recruiting, retention, community outreach, and working with our clients.

In 2007 we hired a full-time diversity administrator. As a practicing attorney, I'm never going to be spending anything close to full time on administrative tasks. It comes and goes depending on my workload. If I'm on trial, I don't do anything else. When I'm not, and I have more time, I probably spend  between 10 and 15 percent of my time on diversity-related matters each week.

Has there been any part of your experience on the diversity committee that has affected the way you approach client matters at all?

It's really driven by the clients. There's a very significant change in the last ten years as to how clients approach diversity. There are many for whom it's a major priority. They expect to see diverse attorneys working on their cases at all levels. Working with them, we've addressed that and attempt very strongly to find the right person for them in each of these cases.

What would you say you've learned since starting the committee, about diversity issues in general, and the challenges that law firms face in achieving greater diversity?

I think the biggest challenge, particularly for minority groups, is the pipeline. You're basically looking at a smaller number of African American and Latino-Hispanic students going into law school than is proportionate in the population, so you end up with a very small pool of people to recruit from. It's a real challenge to get people to see law school as a viable alternative.

Kelley Drye actually does a fair amount with high school pipeline programs, where we have interns that come into our offices to work in various departments. Then we have some college interns and law school pipeline programs, just to try to provide support in that regard.

What's the process for putting a new initiative in place firmwide?

Here's a good example: We have a really active women associates group called Women at KDW. In 2008 the diversity committee was talking about affinity groups and whether that was something associates would be interested in. So we met with some of the women and suggested that, if they wanted to, the firm would be willing to support them. They organized some events, and our committee and the management of the firm has guided them a little bit, and at this point, they now have this program where they do four events per year. One is training-related, one is charitable, one is just for fun (that's the summer one), and then they generally have an event in the fall, which often includes male associates. 

What are your biggest priorities now as diversity chair?

In the short term, we just merged with a firm out in Los Angeles, White O'Connor, so what I'm doing now is integrating that office into our ongoing diversity efforts. I've been out to L.A. and have met with the associates and partners there, and they've been here, starting to participate in the various meetings and calls, just coordinating those kinds of efforts. So that’s where my focus is, at least for the summer.

What are the firm's goals going forward? Any new initiatives in the works for the long term?

I think our long-term goal is to maintain and increase what we're doing now, in terms of recruitment, retention, and making minority candidates succeed and want to stay here to become partners. The other part of that is reaching out and working with our clients more and more on these kinds of issues.

We have a program with one of our financial services clients where we split a summer, and while this isn't only directed toward minorities, that was part of the impetus for the program--that minority candidates could have exposure to in-house financial services experience as well through a summer program. The financial service industry also wants to increase its visibility to minority candidates. So I think you're going to see more and more collaboration with clients on this.

 

CLICK HERE for a look at The Gainers, The Losers.

CLICK HERE for The Scorecard, our annual ranking of large U.S. law firms based on percentage of minority attorneys and percentage of minority partners.

 

Follow us on TWITTER--#DiversityScorecard. And check us out on FACEBOOK, you just might like what you see.

 

Photo courtesy of Kelley Drye & Warren

 

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