MBA Equality Committee Multnomah Lawyer Articles

December 2007 Multnomah Lawyer article

Diversity is a Firm Value for Stoel Rives

By Pam Jacklin, Stoel Rives

The MBA Equality Committee is committed to providing Multnomah Lawyer articles highlighting the activities and programs developed and/or sponsored by MBA members and their firms, companies or organizations that promote and provide better understanding of the diversity in our legal profession and in our community. If you would like to recognize an individual, group or firm for its commitment to equality, please contact Kathy Maloney, liaison to the MBA Equality Committee. The following is the fifth article in this series and it recognizes the activities and programs of the Stoel Rives firm in its ongoing effort to support a diverse law profession and community.

Diversity is an important feature of Stoel Rives' vision for the future. In today's increasingly mobile, multicultural world, the firm recognizes that diversity and inclusion are not only beneficial social values but also vital ingredients in business innovation and success. Diversity within our firm ensures different perspectives are considered on issues we confront. This improves the quality of our legal work, our client service and the professional development of our attorneys and staff. For these reasons, we strive to foster an inclusive professional environment that respects and values differences among our attorneys and staff and supports professional development and advancement.

Stoel Rives was a pioneer in welcoming women into the profession. The firm made Velma "VJ" Jeremiah its first woman partner. Additionally, she was the first woman partner at any large Oregon law firm. By 1984, we had 10 women partners, perhaps the highest percentage in the country for firms over 100 lawyers at that time. Today, our challenge is to retain the many fine women lawyers we attract to our firm, and we are focusing more on work-life balance issues than ever before.

Our lawyers have long included people of various religious faiths and political parties. While young lawyers may be puzzled by this reference, older lawyers can vividly remember a time when firms in Portland were not so welcoming. In 2007, we participated in the 2008 Corporate Equality Index and Best Places to Work Survey, earning a nearly perfect score, showing Stoel Rives is a great place to work for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) attorneys. The firm actively supports an affinity group formed by some of our GLBT lawyers to provide an informal mentoring and support network. We are now developing a policy to support other diverse affinity groups.

Although we have provided a platform to launch some highly successful ethnic lawyers in Portland, our overall success in recruiting and retaining lawyers of color is our greatest challenge. This challenge, among others, led to the formation of our firm wide Diversity Committee several years ago.

The Diversity Committee is charged with promoting the firm's diversity goals internally and identifying opportunities to support diversity within our communities. The committee's work is important, but not sufficient. The firm decided that making diversity a priority would take more focus than a group of already busy lawyers could provide. Consequently, we designed a new firm wide position to lead two important and intertwined activities, lawyer recruiting and diversity initiatives. The position was created to oversee the existing recruiting staff and work with our Diversity Committee, Executive Committee, Managing Partner and practice group leaders, all of whom must provide leadership to make the firm's diversity initiatives successful.

Recognizing the importance of the position, and wanting the director to be a prominent member of our administrative cabinet, we set our sights high. This year Lourdes Fuentes, our first Director of Lawyer Recruiting and Diversity, joined the firm. We wanted someone who understood firm life and related well to practicing lawyers and law students. Lourdes, who was named twice as one of Seattle's top 152 lawyers by Seattle Magazine, had run a legal clinic at the University of Washington Law School and been a partner in a respected Seattle firm before joining Stoel Rives. She is a wonderful addition and we benefit from her enthusiasm, hard work and sage advice. Watching Lourdes work makes it clear that one person really can make a difference.

Lourdes is helping us build on our successful programs. For example, the firm's First-Year Student Diversity Fellowship, which includes a stipend to offset educational expenses, allows us to attract top students early in their law school careers. We also participate in programs aimed at increasing opportunities for diverse students including internships in conjunction with NIKE, Inc. and through the OSB.

In early 2007 the firm hosted its first retreat for all Stoel Rives women attorneys. The retreat provided professional development and networking opportunities for women in the firm. It also served as a forum for cross-generational discussions of women in law. The response to the program was overwhelmingly positive.

As Stoel Rives strives to create opportunities to meet future challenges, we participate in numerous recruiting events and outreach activities, including:

  • Minority Job Fairs: The firm attends local and national minority job fairs.
  • Pipeline: In efforts to expose younger students to the law, the firm participates in internships for low-income students, providing work experience and exposure to the practice of law. The firm also sponsors events through Opportunities for Law in Oregon
  • Sponsorships: The firm sponsors local diversity bar associations, national events and supports numerous fundraising events and dinners.
  • Affiliations: The firm is affiliated with bars and legal associations that represent diverse populations.

Why does the firm do these things? Because diversifying the legal profession is inextricably intertwined with the future legitimacy of our justice system. That said, few can argue the business necessity to diversify a large law firm. Diversity is emphasized by major corporations that have determined it is an essential business practice in a multicultural marketplace. Furthermore, the new generation of law students has grown up during a time of globalization and increasing diversity at home - Oregon's ethnic diversity has increased five-fold over the last 30 years. Their sphere of business and social interaction is more global in nature and as such will demand a diverse workplace. Evidence of this is Building a Better Legal Profession, a group spearheaded by Stanford, Harvard and Yale law students. There is little doubt attracting and keeping the best and the brightest will require a diverse workforce. Stoel Rives is working to meet this challenge.