Diversity Then and Now: How One Midsize Firm Tracked Its Progress
The Legal Intelligencer | July 19, 2018
When I joined Flaster Greenberg in 2015 as a lateral associate, I remember scouring the firm’s website for its “diversity and inclusion” statement. I had several job offers from notable midsize and large law firms and I knew that a diverse and inclusive environment was key to making my decision about where to take my career next. In retrospect, I should have done more than simply review the written policies of the firms I was considering. Ask any law firm if they care about diversity and inclusion and the answer is sure to be a resounding and enthusiastic “yes!” Not many law firms—or many companies, for that matter—are willing to openly admit that they struggle with diversity in their employee pool. Even fewer would admit that they don’t prioritize diversity in their hiring decisions or that they don’t take steps to ensure their firm’s policies and procedures actively support a diverse workforce.
At Flaster Greenberg, I quickly realized that diversity is a moving target, and one that we admittedly struggle to get “just right.” I came across an editorial written in March 2007 by Flaster’s then-managing shareholder, Peter Spirgel. In the editorial, Spirgel candidly described Flaster as a law firm “desperate for diversity, but not yet diverse.” He went on to discuss the firm’s challenges with finding qualified diverse candidates and creating initiatives that would encourage diverse candidates to apply and ultimately stay with Flaster. Back in 2007, Spirgel had more questions than answers, but one thing was certain: he knew Flaster had more work to do in order to create the diverse and inclusive team that modern law firms needed, not just for “political correctness,” but because of the myriad genuine economic benefits that come from firm diversity.
I have now had the benefit of working at Flaster Greenberg for several years and have assessed the firm’s diversity climate more than a decade after Spirgel raised the issue of Flaster’s diversity struggle. While I have seen great strides in Flaster’s efforts at improving diversity, I also know that we still have a long way to go. Today, only about 20 percent of Flaster’s lawyers are women, although about two out of three of its C-suite nonlawyer management team members are women. Between 5 to 10 percent of Flaster attorneys are racially or culturally diverse, and only about 2 pecent of attorneys are openly LGBT. While diversity should never be solely a “numbers game,” numbers nonetheless matter since they oftentimes provide the only quantitative way to measure a firm’s progress when it comes to diversity.
Despite these seemingly sedated numbers, I am not defeated about Flaster’s diversity status. Flaster has made considerable progress in the last decade, both in the number of diverse attorneys and staff, but also, and importantly, in the implementation of policies and initiatives aimed at addressing the issue head-on. Flaster has engaged recruiters and instructed them to focus their efforts on bringing in more diverse candidates. Flaster is now affiliated with associations such as SHRM/Tristate HRMA and the Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators, which offer diversity program resources and frequently focus on diversity and inclusion enterprises. Flaster also coordinates with the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group to hire a diverse summer associate every year. Flaster also previously partnered with the Independence Business Alliance, a Philadelphia-based organization centered on LGBT businesses and leadership communities, and still maintains contact with the IBA for diversity-related resources.
In addition to working to recruit diverse candidates for employment, the firm recognizes that getting diverse folks in the door is not enough. It is also necessary that the firm culture is one of genuine inclusion. For this reason, Flaster regularly encourages in-house education about diversity, and several firm attorneys attended a Philadelphia Diversity Law Group symposium that addressed the issue of inherent bias. Flaster also recently revamped its diversity committee, of which I am a member, with one goal being the continued education to attorneys and staff about social and cultural awareness. The firm also continuously monitors and enforces anti-bullying and anti-harassment initiatives and fosters an environment where all attorneys and staff feel safe, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, race, sex or sexual orientation.
Many of these initiatives and efforts were not yet occurring back in 2007 when Peter Spirgel candidly noted Flaster’s struggle to become more diverse. While the number of women, minority, and LGBT attorneys at Flaster has not increased dramatically a decade later, the numbers have nonetheless increased, and Peter’s sentiments were not just hollow words.
The firm is humble enough to admit to the difficulties of creating a legitimately diverse and palpably inclusive law firm, including a lack of diverse candidates presenting opportunities to the firm. It is also proud of the significant advancements made over the years. Is there more work to do? Of course. Will there be setbacks? Definitely. But Flaster is up for the challenge, and hopes other law firms are, too. For as Frederick Douglass opined, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Angie Gambone is a member of Flaster Greenberg’s family law and commercial litigation departments.
Reprinted with permission from the JULY 9, 2018 issue of The Legal Intelligencer © 2018 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.
- Angie Gambone