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.
According to the annual survey in 2018, firms reported significant increases in attorneys of color at many levels compared to 2000 (the first year statistics were collected): minority partners increased from 14 to 42; minority associates increased from 31 to 57; and minority summer associates increased from 18 to 37. These are promising indications, participants agreed, but nowhere near our ultimate vision of true diversity and inclusion.
The Managing Partner's Diversity Initiative is based on a detailed five-year plan. When participating organizations sign the plan, they commit to taking specific action steps to improve and report on diversity in their group.
The first five-year plan, from 2001-2006, was especially successful helping firms improve recruitment of minority attorneys. For example, recruitment action steps included: review hiring criteria to ensure it does not disproportionately screen out minority candidates; actively recruit at law schools with significant numbers of minority law students; monitor the number of minority candidates interviewed.
The second five-year plan, from 2006-2011, built on the experience of the first five years. It identified four focus areas: retention, recruitment, law firm culture, and infrastructure for inclusion and incorporated a comprehensive menu of best practices addressing each of those focus areas. Firms also agree to donate program fees, and they contributed $85,000 earmarked for the focus areas.
The third five-year plan, from 2011 - 2016 identified retention as the primary objective in order to maintain the progress gained through practices implemented the first ten years. Retaining talent is a function of understanding the drivers of attrition and the reasons for "regretted-losses" (voluntary departures of attorneys the firm would have liked to retain) and then creating strategies to eliminate them. A study commissioned in 2011 interviewed Columbus attorneys of color departed from law firms and identified mentoring, firm culture and insensitivity as areas to target.
The Managing Partners' Diversity Initiative has developed the fourth five-year plan. The 2016-2021 plan is focused on the future while preserving the accomplishments of the previous plans. Its focus is on strengthening the pipeline for diverse attorneys, creating opportunities for mentorship, and supporting other organizations whose share the common goal of increasing the diversity in the legal field.
Five Year Plans
The CBA's effort has been recognized locally, statewide and nationally since its inception. 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., former president of the CBA.
"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, former president of the CBA Board of Governors.