If Lady Justice stepped into a few of New Jersey’s nearly 10,500 law firms, would she, in shock, drop her Scale of Justice and Sword of Reason? After all, she’s been blindfolded since at least the 15th century, and much has happened since then. For six centuries, she’s epitomized the concept of justice dispensed objectively – blind justice – without fear or favor, regardless of money, wealth, fame, power or identity, and with impartiality.
Yet, can justice really be blind if the makeup of today’s law firms doesn’t adequately reflect the demographics of the publics they serve? In its 2016 report of lawyer demographics, the American Bar Association reported that 64 percent of the nation’s 1.32 million lawyers are male, 88 percent white, five percent black, four percent Hispanic and three percent Asian.
Of New Jersey’s 10,482 law firms, only 98 revealed their diversity profile, according to Martindale-Hubbell, an online provider of information of more than one million U.S. lawyers across the country.
Is Lady Justice Peeking?
Is she peeking? If not, why do well-off and connected offenders appear to be skating the system with greater regularity than those less fortunate, and many minorities? Consider the population in our roughly one dozen state prisons: It hardly reflects money, wealth and fame.
“In some instances, individuals looking for lawyers have more faith in the judicial system if their attorneys come from the same background, especially in criminal cases,” Angela Scheck, executive director of the New Jersey State Bar Association, tells New Jersey Business. “Regardless of the type of law, however, New Jersey is one of the country’s most diverse states, and its lawyers and businesses in general are cognizant of the need to bring more diverse individuals and viewpoints together to best represent the very diverse client base we have here. Corporate America is driving much of the change by creating supplier diversity initiatives, and they are looking for diverse law firms to satisfy their own diversity goals. New Jersey has made great strides, but there is still a lot of work to do. For example, though more women and minorities are graduating law school and entering our law firms, few are at the highest partner levels.”
Scheck points to the growing number of bar associations in New Jersey that serve specific minority groups, and the strong commitment of the State Bar in bringing all attorneys together to network and promote a more inclusive legal environment throughout the state.
Diversity is the Starting Point; Inclusion is the End Game
Among these many organizations, the Garden State Bar Association (GSBA) serves to assist African-Americans and other minorities in becoming a more effective part of the judicial system. “The GSBA firmly believes that diversity and inclusion are critical to law firm success,” states Lloyd Freeman, vice president of the organization. “In an effort to increase diversity numbers, the GSBA partners with law firms to provide scholarships to area law students, disseminates law firm openings to diverse attorneys and hosts a mentoring program for students and young lawyers. Likewise, we encourage inclusion by offering seminars and other programming that educate the legal community about the need for retaining and promoting attorneys of color. Diversity is the starting point; inclusion is the end game.”
Hard-wired Support for Women and Minorities
Several New Jersey law firms have notable diversity initiatives and profiles, including the four interviewed for this article: Capehart Scatchard; Cullen and Dykman; Genova Burns; and a new firm, Walsh Pizzi O’Reilly Falanga LLP, led by Lisa Walsh, partner.
“As a majority women-owned firm, we focused on diversity early-on in our formation,” Walsh reveals. “Support for women and minorities was hard-wired into our organization from inception: In the process of building the firm into a size and combination of skills that would be able to meet and exceed the expectations of our clients, we embraced the opportunity to have attorneys and staff from diverse cultures and backgrounds join our new venture. In addition, diverse individuals having an ownership interest in the firm will pave the way to insure there is a pipeline of talented diverse lawyers for the future of the company.”
Walsh says the choice of Newark for the firm’s principal office was made in large part with the expectation that, as it continues to grow, the Newark location would enhance the company’s success in attracting a diverse workforce. In addition, Newark’s infrastructure and proximity to transportation and other urban centers allow recruitment from a large pool of candidates, she says.
“Law firms must look the way America looks, not like the way corporate board rooms looked in bygone days,” adds Walsh, citing two core reasons: “First, diverse practitioners bring different life experiences that enable them to forge creative solutions to problems which benefit clients – and that is the ultimate goal. Second, the legal profession is, by nature, high profile: Diverse practitioners confirm to the public that the idea of American upward mobility exists, which serves to confirm the goals of civil justice in the first instance.”
Humanitarian Spirit Shapes Better Citizens of Tomorrow
Cullen and Dykman of Hackensack actively promotes diversity, inclusion and growth opportunities in its workplace to reflect the available talent within the communities it serves, reports Margaret Fahey, hiring partner. “We strive to hire the best people available for every position, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. By being blind to everything except the candidates’ qualifications, the result is a diverse group of employees at both the attorney and non-attorney levels.”
As part of Cullen and Dykman’s diversity initiatives, the firm has increased its recruiting efforts at leading state law schools, including Rutgers, which has one of the nation’s most diverse and inclusive student body, with people of color making up one third of its students.
“As workplace diversity continues to become an increasingly important part of our culture, we see access to a larger talent pool as one of the biggest advantages of having an employment recruitment policy that values diversity,” Fahey notes. “Employees from all races, classes, creeds, religions, ages and political viewpoints should be recruited based on competencies and skill sets, without regard to gender or disability. In addition, employees working on complex projects can draw on the varied experiences of fellow workers from diverse backgrounds. This can aid in understanding new markets – foreign or domestic – and result in creative problem-solving and better organizational productivity. Fostering workplace camaraderie and a humanitarian spirit shape employees to be better citizens of tomorrow.”
Strategic Intelligence, More Effective Advocacy
Genova Burns of Newark firmly believes that its clients’ interests are best served by a team of lawyers that reflect the wide range of backgrounds and demographics of these clients, according to Rajiv D. Parikh, partner. To illustrate its inclusion of all perspectives, the firm implemented the multi-pronged Genova Burns Inclusionary Initiative. Parikh says this strategy focuses on the common goal of fostering better lawyers that can best serve their clients’ needs, and has increased the firm’s hiring, retention and promotion of diverse professionals.
The umbrella program includes Genova Burns’ Diversity Initiative, dedicated to increasing the diversity of its workforce by recruiting, developing, retaining and promoting the best lawyers from a wide range of backgrounds. It also includes the Women’s Initiative, created to promote talent; foster and sustain a positive and supportive environment; and overcome the challenges that all women encounter in their daily lives.
“Diversity is important to New Jersey’s legal profession because it makes for more effective advocacy,” Parikh asserts. “This is not a subjective conclusion, but an objective one based on empirical evidence and peer reviewed studies. New Jersey-based businesses have recognized that diversity in their ranks helps with productivity, retention, revenue and profitability. Law firms are no different. The empirical evidence also shows that diversity of lawyers provides advantages to clients via diversity of thought, perspectives and approach – a level that sets one team of lawyers apart from others in a highly competitive marketplace.”
Parikh claims that execution on diversity is one of the legal profession’s largest issues: “Many firms go through the paces of supporting diversity, but never follow through,” he says. “That said, many New Jersey firms have diversity programs similar to ours, and I believe the state is ahead of the curve in its lawyers’ commitment to diversity.”
Diversity Enhances Quality of the Firm
Capehart Scatchard’s philosophy is that its attorneys should reflect its client base, “which, like the world in which we live, is diverse,” discloses Mary Ellen Rose, managing shareholder of the Mount Laurel firm. “We recognized early on both the obligation to and benefits of diversity among our personnel. We are proud that our minority attorneys and most of our women shareholders have risen through the ranks as associates.”
More than 65 percent of Capehart Scatchard’s 165 employees are women. Among the attorneys are 43 women, 26 of whom are shareholders, and 17 associates (five of whom are minorities). The firm’s managing shareholder, nine of its department chairs and a member of its executive committee, are women. In addition, six of the women shareholders are equity partners, collectively owning approximately 25 percent of the firm.
“Capehart Scatchard is committed to equal employment opportunities and cultural diversity for all prospective and present employees,” Rose says. “We recruit employees without regard to race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability, marital status or sexual orientation. Our belief is that diversity enhances the quality of the firm and enriches the experience of all its employees.”
Lady Justice would be pleased with the progress New Jersey’s law firms have been making in diversifying their ranks. Sure, there’s room for improvement, such as more diversity at law firm’s management and partnership levels, but New Jersey’s history of commitment to a fair workplace – now alive and well in the legal profession – has placed it in front of many other diversity-conscious states.