Diversity Conference Continued…

In Friday’s Legal, I wrote about a diversity conference held at Wolf Block that looked at, among other things, the problems minority associates face in large law firms and helpful hints from minority partners about how to make it in those same firms.

There were several great anecdotes from associates and many useful suggestions from the partners that I couldn’t fit into the article. Some of those stories are below.

One associate said she expected her firm to disappoint her and was usually pleasantly surprised.

A Cuban-American associate at the roundtable said she gets questions from attorneys asking things like “I’m going to the Dominican Republic. Do you have any advice?” Her general response, she said, is “I’m not Dominican, so no.”

That same associate was playing softball as a summer associate against a team of partners. After a successful double play on her part, the hiring partner said something to the effect of “I should have known you’d be good at baseball, you’re Cuban.”

When joining her first firm, one black associate said she didn’t know where the “landmines” were and who to ask about them. She had to call old attorneys at the firm who had been through her department and had since left in order to find a mentor who could guide her through the firm.

One Asian associate who had been working on a certain floor in his office for a few months had built up a rapport with one of the support staff. He was surprised to hear her say that she had thought he was an IT person the whole time.

Another black associate went to talk to the firm president after she was disappointed by the outcome of diversity training at the firm. She felt she had some really good ideas and was getting through to her boss. She was quickly taken aback when he said “we want you to succeed here because if you don’t, we can’t hire others like you.”

One associate said there is a larger burden on minority associates because they are expected to bill the same amount of hours, represent their ethnic or racial community on the firm’s behalf and educate the firm about how to “deal with your kind.”

Kevin Hexstall of Rawle & Henderson said one of his mentors suggested that he make himself known to more than just the few partners he worked with on a regular basis. If 10 partners are going to vote on whether you should join their ranks and you don’t know three of them, Hexstall said you should invite those three to lunch.

John Nixon of Wolf Block focuses his practice on ERISA work. He said it is important for attorneys who specialize in one area to be flexible enough to take on other opportunities when they are presented. Nixon spoke of the power of your rolodex. Fellow panel member Michael Pratt of Pepper Hamilton would send Nixon litigation work when Pratt was in-house at Honeywell. While it wasn’t ERISA work, Nixon said that connection led to some lucrative work that he wouldn’t have had if he hadn’t known Pratt.

“If the only work I got was ERISA [work], there would be a cap on my value,” he said. “Success is about contacts and relationships.”

Moderator Bernard Lee said there are finders who find the work, minders who make sure it gets done and grinders who actually do the work.

“Unless you start out as a grinder, you’ll never be partner,” he said.

Hexstall said it is important to feel comfortable telling your mentor about their craft and proving you understand it. He said he told a partner when he felt comfortable taking a case to trial, they trusted him, and the client ended up winning.

He said people who are partners are successful, confident and aggressive people and associates shouldn’t be afraid to be the same when dealing with them.

— Gina Passarella, Staff Reporter

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