A pledge. A plan. A great change.
"In a competitive environment, in a diverse country, in a global economy, law firms must seek to reflect the face of the clients we serve. It has always been the right thing to do. Now it is a business as well as cultural imperative."
--Columbus Managing Partners' Diversity Initiative
In 2001, the Columbus legal community made a historic public pledge to significantly increase the racial diversity of its ranks. Twenty of the city's largest law firms joined the Columbus Bar Association, the John Mercer Langston Bar Association, which is comprised primarily of African American attorneys, and the two area law schools, the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and Capital University Law School. Together, they signed a five-year commitment to attract minority law candidates to the city, increase the number of minorities hired out of law school, and create an atmosphere that encourages minority attorneys to advance in their firms and ultimately become partners. The project was known as the Columbus Managing Partners' Diversity Initiative.
Early into this historic public pledge, participating firms reported significant increases in minority attorneys at every level, from minority law partners to the incoming class of summer law interns, considered an important measure of the pipeline for future new hires. Participating law firms now included a range of sizes, from more than 200 employees to as small as 15.
In 2006, firms reported a doubling of minority attorneys since 2000, as well as twice as many minority partners. The CBA's effort has been recognized locally, statewide and nationally over the past ten years - most recently receiving the Ohio State Bar Foundation "2007 Outstanding Program/ Organization Award," and the 2010 John Mercer Langston Bar Association "Outstanding Organization Award." The program continues to be seen as a model program for bar associations across the country. "The CBA is proud of its history as a leader in the Managing Partners Diversity Initiative," said David Bloomfield, Jr., president of the CBA.
Most importantly, the Columbus legal community has remained committed by signing two additional five-year plans in 2006 and in 2011, with a host of new strategies based on lessons learned from experience. It was now clear that successful recruitment must be anchored with better retention efforts and deep changes in law firm culture. "The commitment of these firms to the program is impressive. They see and understand the benefits. As a bar association we have not had to beg them to come to the table, they have done so willingly and allowed the CBA be a partner in this initiative," stated Judge Stephen McIntosh, immediate past president of the CBA Board of Governors.
According to the annual survey in 2011, firms reported significant increases in attorneys of color at many levels compared to 2000 - the first year statistics were collected: minority partners increased 114%, from 14 to 30; minority associates increased 35%, from 31 to 42; and minority summer associates increased 106%, from 18 to 37. These are promising indications, participants agreed, but nowhere near our ultimate vision of true diversity and inclusion.
"Now that we are entering our second decade, the firms and organizations agree that it's time to challenge ourselves on ways to keep the momentum going. Diversity helps us better serve our clients, and it needs to be an ongoing focus of our profession," stated Kurt Tunnell, managing partner for Bricker & Eckler and chair of the Managing Partners Diversity Initiative Advisory Committee. With sustained passion and growing sophistication, the Managing Partner's Diversity Initiative continues the great change it started, building a diverse community of lawyers in Columbus.