In This Economic Downturn, Now Is the Time to Prioritize Diversity and Mentorship

In a recent article written by Carl Cooper, for 'The Complete Lawyer,' Cooper argues that law firms are really missing the point in this economic downturn if they are focusing solely on increasing profits.  "If law firms were ever serious about retention, now is the time to prove it. Instead of hoarding billables for themselves, partners with time on their hands should use this period to boost their individual mentoring skills and help develop different associates who may be the future client base of tomorrow," Cooper points out.

While law firms are increasingly showing their will to become more diverse and inclusive of a greater cross-section of law school graduates, the diversification process is far from being over.  Law firms, Cooper argues, still need to attract both women and minority attorneys.  "Women associates leave because they see few if any women partners who reflect a 'balance of life' success story. Instead, they see variations of the theme—the male model with lipstick. What they need to see is a sea change in attitude about part-time partnership opportunities," states Cooper.  What ultimately has to happen, according to Cooper, is a "cultural change" at the firm, and this is no different despite the current economic climate. 

Cooper also argues that now is the perfect and most important time for mentoring young associates.  It is also an appropriate time for law firms to rethink the way firms are structured and the ways in which they do business, including the 'billable hours' framework, especially in terms of the impact on women and minorities. Cooper concludes by stating: "No doubt law firms will survive, but the question is whether they will be successful at retaining talented professionals who aspire to become members of their peer group, or whether the attempt to curb attrition and maintain retention will fall by the wayside. This is not a question of money; it’s a question of integrity and commitment to a profession, which by definition is not merely a trade association."

To read the complete article at 'The Complete Lawyer,' click here.



I don’t know if I buy that women leave practice because they don’t see successful women above them that are examples of a livable work-life balance.  Perhaps they feel an overall lack of support for their balance, including a lack of support from their family and their workplace.


Last week Pat Gillette made a similar argument regarding opportunities for structural change in this economic climate. For my part, I’m all for firms exploring new compensation structures outside the billable hour norm, but I’m skeptical that such adjustment will have the desired impact on women in the law. There are firms with fixed-price billing out there, but they’ve failed to retain and promote women substantially higher rates than the billable hour shops.

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