New York is a veritable ‘melting pot’, populated by people of differing backgrounds and beliefs. That’s why several New York area law firms work to attract a diverse pool of lawyers as associates and partners, and why women are rising through the ranks at several big firms. But not only does recruiting minorities and women make sense from a business standpoint, it also provides a firm’s clients with the best possible representation, one where all perspectives are considered.
According to the Association for Legal Career Professionals, minorities make up 12.4 percent of all lawyers in private practice in the United States, and 32.6 percent are women. Those figures were much lower at the start of Sue Moss’ career. Moss, a founding partner of Chemtob Moss Forman & Talbert, LLP, says that even 17 years ago, “if a female attorney showed up in pants, they would send her home. But it’s a different world now . . . I don’t even own a skirt anymore.”
There is certainly a consensus among attorneys in New York that having female partners and leaders of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and experiences ultimately benefits not only the firm but the client. Firms like New York’s Blank Rome LLP, where Lois Liberman is a partner and works with nearly 140 women attorneys, have made it a mandate to get more diverse faces to the table.
“The clients want to see diversity, and the clients are demanding it of the firms that do their work,” says Liberman, an active proponent of her Firm's diversity and women's initiatives. “From a realistic standpoint, when seeking to attack different problems and trying to resolve them in certain fashions, it is important to get the benefit of knowledge and insight from all the different lawyers. Just having a white male, 45- to 65-year-old man’s perspective may not actually help in the resolution of whatever problem we’re attacking, and it appears and has been born out that with diverse opinions, you are going to get the benefit of a better result than just having one myopic view.”
When you consider the sheer complexity of most firms’ caseloads, it is invaluable to utilize different ways of thinking, different experience, and different perspectives, so that all angles of a case are covered and that all possibilities are exhausted.
“We’re trying to give the client the biggest bang for their buck, by getting everyone’s perspective and not doing it the same way, over and over again,” Liberman says. “We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re just trying to always make that wheel better.”
When firms embrace diversity, they attract talent. When she first started interviewing some ten-plus years ago, Samantha Wallack, a two-year partner at Blank Rome, was actually looking to establish roots with a firm she considered diverse, not only in thinking but in constitution.
“I was looking for a place where I could stay for a long time, and something told me I could be myself here, and that my individuality would be respected,” Wallack says. “It has turned out to be true. l also wanted to join a firm with female role models because it is a long haul if your end goal is to make partner, or if you want to have a whole career. It’s a big investment of time, so it was important to have female role models that represented what I hoped to be: a woman who had a career and a family, which I do now.”
Moss, who also has a family, feels it is important for clients to seek out firms that have diverse partners and female leaders because “a women, for instance, can present an argument in a different way than a man, and women maybe think of issues and bring a point of view that might not readily come to a man’s mind. When you have people of diverse backgrounds and diverse genders and even sexual orientations, oftentimes when analyzing a problem, they bring different perspectives, which can only help the client.”
She adds that as firms have become more diverse, so too has the bench.
“There are more people of color as judges, more women as judges, and when they look out, it’s always positive to have a diverse law firm, because this way, the judges see that all perspectives are being understood by that legal team. When making an argument to a judge, sometimes it comes better from a man, or a woman, or someone who has a more diverse background, and to truly be the best law firm you can be, you need all those factors. As more and more women and people of color break through barriers and ceilings and start their own firms, there are more opportunities.”