An Academic Auction By David Bitkower
Job Fair By Dana Mulhauser
The Mobile Law Office By Margot Sanger-Katz
Self-Adhesive Salvation By Nicholas Hengen
Domesticated Disputes By Dashka Slater
Cases & Controversies
The Prudent Jurist By William H. Simon
Diversity, brought to you by DuPont.
BEING A HOT COMMODITY HAD DAVID LEE and his well-dimpled tie in knots. He talked quickly, laughed apprehensively, and tapped his leg in a steady beat under the table. Over the next seven hours, the 27-year-old Cornell student would interview with seven large law firms, hear pep talks, and answer countless questions about his (not yet fully formed) legal interests.
Lee was in Wilmington, Del., for a job fair for minority law students. The fair wasn't being sponsored by any of his potential employers, but rather by DuPont, the major chemical company. To Lee, DuPont is just the supplier of the cheese danishes. But to DuPont, Lee is the preferred future of the legal world, and the future must be wooed.
DuPont, as well as UPS, Bell South, and American Express, send millions of dollars of business each year to several dozen hand-picked law firms. Increasingly, these heavy-hitter clients are pressuring their firms to hire more African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, and to assign these lawyers to company projects. The companies' requestsdemands, reallytake several forms. They request the lawyers for specific projects, they ask firms to record the number of hours worked by minorities, and they even engineer promotions for some of them. "Is it the right thing that companies are worried about diversity? Of course," said David B. Wilkins, a Harvard law professor who studies minorities in the legal profession. "But is a program that tries to get the client involved in the law firm's efforts a good thing? That's not as clear."
Companies like DuPont and UPS can't be accused of hypocrisy. They all have diversity programs of their own. Allen Hill, UPS's general counsel, says his office mirrors the company as a whole, which is 35 percent minority. But however well-intentioned, the corporate push for more diversity at law firms has produced hazy results. Over a decade, millions in lawyer-hours spent on job fairs, recruitment strategy conferences, and retention projects have yielded more promotional photo-ops and celebratory dinners than concrete changes.
The DuPont minority job fair, one of about a dozen nationwide, is the brainchild of Thomas Sager, DuPont's assistant general counsel. Sager, who is white, likes to say that "diversity is more than the right thing to do; it's good business." DuPont sends representatives to schmooze at its annual minority job fairs in Wilmington and Houston, as well as a similar Chicago event put on by the Cook County Bar Association. But it's the 42 law firms doing business with the chemical giant who do the hiring. Their lawyers roam the halls and chat up the law students.
About 700 students submitted résumés and 180 attended the three fairs this year. Those numbers have grown steadily over a decade, but that doesn't mean firms are hiring more minority candidates. Most of the students who apply don't get an interview. And even the large firms make only about one summer offer a year to students they meet at the fair.
DuPont's goal "would be for us to hire very, very actively through this program," said Jennifer Fallon, the recruitment manager at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, a 430-lawyer firm based in Philadelphia. The problem is that there just aren't many minority applicants like David Lee. Last year's graduating class at Stanford, for example, had exactly zero black men. "It's so incredibly competitive to get these studentsoften times there's a real fight," Fallon sighed. "The cream of the crop gets a lot of offers."
Lee, an engaging Taiwanese-American with a master's degree in math, had already gone to 18 firm interviews at Cornell before arriving in Wilmington in August. Large firms have long traveled the region and the country to interview at top-tier law schools. And many already have programs to retain minorities as well. "This work with DuPont hasn't really changed our recruiting policy," said Joyce Shtofman, the legal recruiting coordinator for Potter Anderson, which has 75 lawyers and is based in Wilmington. At the DuPont fair, firms dismiss the weaker candidates and wine and dine the strong ones, many of whom have offers waiting elsewhere.
That's a recipe for stagnating numbers of minority lawyers, according to Wilkins. "If you define the universe of acceptable minorities as people at top-10 law schools in the top 25 percent of their class, then you're not going to get anywhere," he said. Wilkins's research shows that firms tend to be pickier about the credentials of minority lawyers than white ones. According to a 1995 study he conducted, 47 percent of black partners at major law firms attended either Harvard or Yale.
Other companies have put their money into minority retention and promotion rather than recruitment. UPS requires that the 24 law firms handling its business track the number of hours that minority and women lawyers work on company projects. The company offers a diversity award to one firm each year. And it has demanded that a specific minority lawyer be tapped to serve as the "relationship partner" in charge of a UPS account. "We had a situation where the relationship partner was taking a sabbatical. He proposed a replacement," said UPS general counsel Hill. "I happened to know of a young African-American female partner within the firm who had done some terrific work for us, and I said, 'No, I want that person, and furthermore I want her to get the same attention in the firm that you would have gotten in her place.' " Hill got his way. When the former relationship partner returned, he found he'd been permanently replaced.
Thanks to such tactics, the hours worked by minority and women lawyers on UPS matters at its firms rose 6 percent last year. But the firms may simply be shifting the lawyers away from projects for other clients rather than hiring more of them. "We have more women and minorities working on UPS matters than other matters," said Jim Stokes, UPS's relationship partner at Alston & Bird.
Black, Hispanic, and Asian lawyers were out in force at the DuPont job fair; the gathering looked far less pale than most firm confabs. Many of the same faces were headed to yet another minority job fair the following day. Lee wouldn't be there, though. He was heading back to Cornell, where more interviewers were waiting.