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BigLaw Memo Teaches Partners How to Interact With Diverse Hires

By William Peacock, Esq. on April 28, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The worst diversity seminar I was ever subjected to happened a few years ago, while I was still in school. The presenter, eager to illustrate to the audience how diverse we really were (it was a heavily Caucasian class), had people stand up whenever she called out their group. Whether it was the lack of actual diversity in that classroom, or simply a reluctance to say, "The one person who is [minority group], stand up and be stared at," I don't recall, but it was awkward, and nobody learned anything from, "If you're from the South, stand up. Now let's see the Californians."

Is this worse? We're not sure, but it's definitely on the same misguided plane. A BigLaw firm sent out a memo giving tips to employees on how to deal with "diverse attorneys." (H/T Jezebel.) As a bonus, any time spent interacting with these curious individuals comes with its own code for tracking time in the firm's system.

5 Ways to Become More Involved in ___ Diversity Initiatives

What do you do when your firm hires someone of "another gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation?" Don't panic, sheltered partners: here are a few tips for helping with the firm's diversity initiative:

  • "Invite [them] to coffee or lunch to talk and share interests."
  • Take 20 minutes to ask them, "Where do you want to go from here?"
  • Reach out to them (including laterals) and let them know that you're available if they have any questions. Follow up after 60 days.
  • "Ask diverse attorneys in and outside of your practice group how you can help them in their career."
  • "Invite a diverse attorney and their [sic] guest to a weekend or non-work-related event and introduce them around."

What's Wrong With It?

We get what the firm is going for here. They're trying to make their workplace comfortable for all, but this reminds me of the film Trading Places, the 1983 comedy where two elderly Caucasian men hire a homeless African American man (Eddie Murphy) to be a stockbroker. The awkward race relations and fish-out-of-water scenarios act as a hilarious commentary on inherent biases and class division. Of course, that was thirty-one years ago.

Do law firm partners really need a memo outlining how to deal with "diverse" people, as if they are drastically different from not diverse people? The firm wants to make everyone feel welcome, but this feels more like "Hey look y'all, we hired ourselves a [race/gender/ethnicity/sexual orientation]," rather than "Hey, this is John. He'll be in Litigation."

And the list of tips -- isn't this common sense for dealing with human beings? The fact that the firm felt the need to highlight this list as a "how to" for dealing with "diverse" people implies that the firm's staff is so ignorant that they don't already know that a "diverse" attorney is a human being too.

What Firm is It?

Thought the memo itself is blurred, if one follows Jezebel's source link, the original poster mentions "K&S," and notes that it is a pretty well-known firm. King and Spalding is often abbreviated K&S, and indeed, Googling "K&S law firm" brings up the firm.

Above the Law has since confirmed that the memo came from King and Spalding.

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