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“Holding On to What We’ve Got: Recruiting and Retaining Top Diverse Talent in a Competitive Market”

InsideCounsel By Nicole Stanton

It is a self-evident truth to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention that a law firm—whether made up of ten attorneys or a thousand—is only as strong as the people in it. Without dedicated, collaborative professionals bringing their best each and every day, everything else we talk about—firm culture, historical excellence, reach and depth—becomes so much lip service. In order to put your money where your mouth is, you have to be as good as you say you are, and to maintain that high bar of excellence for an extended period of time, you have to constantly and consistently refresh your talent, finding the best in the business and bringing them into the fold. That, however, is the beginning of the effort, not its end; once they're in the door, the challenge becomes holding onto the talent you have and keeping them inspired, spurring them on to great achievement, to becoming their best professional selves. Otherwise, you're just driving a Mercedes with a Vespa engine, all pomp with no power.

A key component of recruitment is a proactive focus on diversity and a keen understanding that such a focus is not driven by superficial concerns—awards and rankings, looking like the "good" guy, or being on the right side of history. It's a business decision, the sole intention of which is to make the firm stronger and better serve its clients. Diverse attorneys from the full gamut of backgrounds provide a wider range of experiences and unique skills than the cookie-cutter alternative; perspective, cultural insights, empathy, creativity—these are all skills honed through diversity, and the exact sort of skills that turn a good attorney into a great one. As has even been noted in a recent Scientific American article, “socially…diverse groups are more innovative than homogenous [ones].” Applied to law firms specifically, diverse teams are positioned to produce measurably better results and outcomes for clients.

A good working recruitment model is an integrated system of referrals and networking that discovers and vets top diverse talent, and then pursuing those candidates that seem to be the best fit for your firm. At Quarles & Brady, we are able to leverage our historical reputation of being a workplace that values diversity in its ranks as an advantage in the market, and we work directly with national and local diverse attorney organizations at both the collegiate and professional level to learn about talent, and help them learn about us. Internally, a firm should also focus on building a direct pipeline to top young talent through summer internship programs, law school scholarships and the robust employment of social media endeavors.

If diversity is key to recruitment, then inclusion is just as key to retention. Integration into a firm begins on day one, and this process should be a two-way street: Don't simply indoctrinate talent as they come in the door, but listen to their needs and goals. This communication allows a firm to meet attorneys where they live, as it were, and enjoy a broad—and more on target—range of benefits, flexible career paths, educational and personal growth opportunities, and work/life balance policies.

Perhaps the most crucial component of any firm inclusion effort is a strong, comprehensive mentoring program that focuses on the long-term aspects of the diverse attorney's career and personal growth. For each new hire, the most successful firms develop a unique mentoring team to fit the hire's needs, generally consisting of a representative of firm leadership, a practice group rainmaker and other relevant attorneys. While this team coaches and provides advice pertaining to professional excellence—instilling a firm's commitment to client service and helping to secure firm leadership opportunities and committee appointments, as just two examples—it is the personal touch that truly makes the difference. Informal interactions, such as family dinners or social gatherings among peers and members of the community foster positive relationships and connections, strengthening the ties between new attorney and firm, and vice versa. By learning and then tapping into the hire's interests and passions, mentors can help the attorney engage in firm-sponsored corporate social responsibility endeavors, as well as further interact and collaborate with other lawyers in other practices, creating enhanced experiences for all parties.

Reinforcement is critical to the success of these efforts. Like any human relationship, the relationship between the mentor and the mentee—and that between firm and attorney—needs to be an ongoing, nurtured experience. Meaningful work and face time with clients, which demonstrate real trust in an attorney and his or her abilities, cannot dry up. That “personal touch” cannot grow cold after six months, lest it be rendered useless. Support must be continuous, and every attorney must know that he or she is highly valued by the firm. We must never forget for a moment that there is always another suitor just around the corner, waiting for us to take each other for granted.

And, in this day and age, there's not a firm around that can survive letting its future just walk out the door.