Denver Bar Association
March 2010
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CCIE’s Retention Initiative


On September 24, 2009, six corporate general counsel from prominent Colorado corporations, including Qwest Communications, Xcel Energy, MillerCoors, Red Robin, Lockheed Martin Space Systems and United Launch Alliance participated in a series of workshops focused on retention. They met with law firm associates in the morning and managing partners in the afternoon.

During the workshops with the associates, corporate counsel shared advice and pet peeves and then discussed issues related to diversity and inclusiveness in small groups. The groups generated lengthy lists, which are listed (in part) below. The full lists are posted here.

Top barriers to greater numbers of women, racial/ethnic minorities, gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender attorneys:

• Lack of mentors and diverse partners to shepherd associates through the ranks

• Lack of pipeline of candidates (change recruitment techniques, broaden scope, schools)

• Lack of supportive culture (i.e., one that actively includes minorities in firm management, choice projects, client interaction and business development); law firm culture requires too much conformity and does not value diversity; the structure of the firm does not support diversity and it isn’t a priority

• Lack of support for those wanting to start a family

• Bias — it is still a boys’ club

• Mistakes are still viewed through the lens of bias

• Billable hours structure

• Unwillingness to be creative about what a successful firm would look like

• Attorneys are pigeon-holed into areas of law where business is, but they have no interest in that area

• No part-time/flexibility options

• Availability of greater numbers of diverse attorneys

• Retention – issues with opportunities, mentoring, and training

• Lack of cultural diversity/differences

• Recession

• Flexibility and recognition of cultural customs that affect billable hours

• Pressure to conform before getting an interview/offer

• Need clear pathways to success

• Recruiting – difficult to attract diverse candidates without an established community/firm support system

• Opportunities to move into other practice areas

• Perceptions – wondering if I am being viewed differently

Top ideas for meaningful change

• Education about why diversity is important

• Set aside stereotypes and understand that we all don’t look alike but diverse attorneys can do the same quality work that white males do

• Get buy-in and objectives — why is diversity of value to the firm?

• Change management and leadership decisions — leadership opportunities often go to those with the most billable hours, which are easy to measure, but they aren’t the best managers. The partnership decision is also based only on money; other factors should be considered.

• Transparency — make decisions more transparent; provide a mechanism for feedback from associates

• Reduce stigma of maternity leave and part-time status; reduce face-time requirement

• Increase effectiveness of exit interviews

• More diversity on firm management committees

• Client influence for change; corporate counsel make it clear that a real diversity effort should be undertaken by outside counsel

• Accountability of partners for encouraging change (i.e., rewards, incentives, compensation structure)

• Establish formal/informal mentor program; meaningful mentoring and bridging gaps between partners and associates

• Development — no one is responsible for associates’ development

• Change basis for attorney evaluations to expand beyond heavy emphasis on billable hours

• View success in multiple ways, not just billable hours

• Retaining minority partners who can help minority associates

• Creating relationships; have the support to build networks to include diverse attorneys

Associate Wish Lists

• Awareness and dedication of inclusiveness (not just specific to diverse attorneys but to everyone)

• More responsibility/accountability for associate development

• Better management training for firm leadership

• Give incentives for diversity work in the compensation structure

• Client functions that include diverse attorneys and women

• Change the composition of top-level management

• Eliminate billable hours; implement alternative billing practices

• More training for associates; greater support of professional development


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