Equality Committee Multnomah Lawyer Articles

July/August 2009 Multnomah Lawyer article

Diversity at K&L Gates

By Carol J. McCoog, K&L Gates

K&L Gates, with 1,900 lawyers globally and 20 in Portland, recognizes that establishing and maintaining a diverse and fully inclusive workforce is essential to a strong law firm, and the firm is justifiably proud of its achievements in diversity. In 2008, we were ranked one of the Top 100 Law Firms for Diversity by Multicultural Law magazine, and one of the Top 100 Law Firms for Women by Women 3.0 magazine. K&L Gates was honored among the best law firms for women by Working Mother magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers LLC in their first-ever "2007 Best Law Firms for Women" list. The firm's drector of dversity was recently elected to the board of directors of the Association of Law Firm Diversity Professionals.

Although the Portland office has been able to achieve a high level of gender diversity and some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and racial diversity, the challenges remain and our objective stands: to develop the most skilled and diverse workforce possible. To achieve this objective, K&L Gates has a multi-office diversity committee, with representatives from almost every office, including Portland. One of the advantages of being part of such a strong global firm is the resources we can put behind our diversity efforts around the entire firm. We work to promote diversity both within and outside our firm. We are able to make substantial investments to support the work of major national initiatives like Corporate Counsel Women of Color, the James M. Nabrit Jr. Lecture Series, and a number of minority lawyer bar groups around the country.

Another benefit to the firm-wide committee's efforts is our sense of collaboration and community. In Portland, the combination of a smaller legal community and fewer attorneys of color mean that someone could easily find oneself to be the sole representative in the office. To combat a sense of singularity and promote community, the firm has established five affinity groups. They are the Asian Pacific American Group, Black/African-American Group, Disabilities Group, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Group and Hispanic/Latino Group. Each affinity group is inclusive and open to all K&L Gates lawyers who wish to participate.

The Pacific Northwest region faces significant challenges in recruiting and retaining a diverse attorney population. We are statistically less racially diverse than other regions. Because there are fewer attorneys of color in the Pacific Northwest, we need to actively recruit from outside this area. However, attracting and retaining attorneys of color from outside is difficult because we have a less diverse population. This Catch-22 has to be tackled from the ground up, which is one reason that a number of our diversity efforts in Portland are focused on building opportunities and leveling the playing field for potential and active law students. We support the work of OLIO and contribute to the scholarship fund. By working to increase the number of diverse candidates graduating from the region's law schools, we strengthen our local legal community as well as make the region a more attractive option for interstate attorneys of color.

I currently serve on the firm's diversity and the associates committees and formerly served as the Portland hiring partner. This exposure gives me a direct perspective on the challenges of recruiting and retaining diverse attorneys at large firms, particularly here in Portland.

As a partner, I serve in these leadership positions to fulfill my responsibility as a steward of the firm. However, as an Asian American and a woman, I believe that my service in these positions also helps to promote diversity internally and externally and may help to dispel preconceived notions within the legal community and beyond about what a partner, particularly in a leadership position in a large law firm, looks like. I also serve as chair of the Municipal Debt Advisory Commission, a Governor-appointed commission that provides technical assistance to Oregon local governments and state agencies to improve the market for bond issues in Oregon. Serving as chair on this state-wide commission gives me another opportunity to promote diversity by example.

I feel fortunate to be a partner at a firm that recognizes and embraces the moral and business case for diversity and supports my efforts within the firm and within my community to increase diversification of the attorney ranks here in Portland.