Denver Bar Association
May 2007
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The Economics of Diversity

by Paul Chan

In one of my first positions of responsibility with the bar association, I chaired the DBA/CBA Minorities in the Profession Committee, the predecessor to the current Diversity in the Legal Profession Committee. In the early ’90s, we had trouble simply counting the number of attorneys of color in law firms, let alone getting insights into their practice, retention and relationships with their firms.

It was never clear why the law firms and the attorneys themselves were lukewarm in responding to our inquiries. At that time, criticisms of diversity efforts were strong: detractors claimed those efforts compromised quality, detracted from merit and burdened minorities with unfair stereotypes. It may be that these concerns and others less obvious discouraged participation in these attempts.

The Dean’s Diversity Council, the Colorado Pledge to Diversity Legal Group, and DILP should have far fewer concerns about participation as they launch their ambitious initiative to survey attorneys across the metro area about diversity and inclusion. Even if you are ideologically uncomfortable with the idea, every attorney should be enthusiastically supporting these diversity efforts; not just because it is the "right" thing to do or because you will look bad if you don’t (although it is and you will). The reasons you should be supportive are arguably much less controversial and appeal to much more fundamental motivations. At a minimum, you should understand that diversity makes good business sense and your clients demand it.

If you haven’t heard this, you’re way behind the times. Ethnic minorities are now the majority of the population in California, Texas, New Mexico, Hawaii and the District of Columbia. Five more states, including New York, will reach this demographic milestone very soon. Minorities are approaching 40 percent of the population here in Colorado.

Couple this with the fact that baby boomers are reaching retirement age. ABA President Karen Mathis recently told us that 400,000 attorneys will be retiring nationwide in the next 15 years, and this trend obviously is not limited to attorneys. The face of this country is changing faster than we ever could have imagined; and with it, the leadership of our communities, our businesses, our clients and our profession.

This means that minorities, women, GLBT individuals and people of different abilities will be moving into positions of responsibility in unprecedented numbers; positions where they were relatively uncommon not so long ago. In 2002, CEO of the MONY group Michael Roth said, "You must have your head buried in the sand if you don’t see the changing demographics of your future customers and your future employees." More and more CEOs, elected officials, judges and general counsels, not to mention our clients, partners and associates, will soon be looking a little different than those we have seen in the past.

Moreover, "corporate America" has embraced diversity as a strategic and operating imperative. These execs understand the research that shows diverse organizations are more creative, produce better products, appeal to a wider customer base, and simply make more money. J.W. Marriot Jr., of Marriott International, has said: "It is the only way to attract, develop, and retain the very best talent available. It is the only way to forge the business relationships necessary to continue our dynamic growth. And it is the only way to meet our responsibilities to our associates, customers, partners, and stakeholders." He also has stated: "I value the presence of minority and women associates’ perspectives. Those who don’t have these perspectives cannot compete with those who do."

It should be no surprise that corporate leaders and general counsels have made the diversity of a law firm’s staff an express hiring criterion. America’s largest corporations like Bell South, WalMart, Sears and Bank of America have had this requirement for years. Local corporations also demand diversity in their outside law firms. In Colorado, Qwest, SafeCo, Lockheed Martin, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Coors and Time Warner Telcom are your potential clients — but only if you have committed to diversity and have the lawyers to prove it.

A few of us still may be uncomfortable with ideas of diversity, but unless you don’t care about keeping clients happy or aren’t worried about competition from other lawyers, you need to put debating about diversity behind you. C. S. Lewis has been quoted as saying that it may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird, but it would be quite a bit harder to learn to fly while remaining an egg. Law firms that do not recognize the value of diversity already have been left standing at the station. The future success of our law firms, as well as our businesses and our nation as a whole, will be directly tied to how effectively we embrace diversity and achieve inclusion.


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