The Twin Cities law firms and in-house legal departments have found common ground around the need to attract and retain more minority lawyers.
About 13 percent of Minnesota lawyers are people of color, including government and nonprofit law; private firms are half that.
Several years ago, local firms and corporate legal departments launched "Diversity in Practice," an attempt to move diversity from theory to practice, including a veteran Twin Cities black attorney and law professor as executive director.
Diversity in Practice (www. diversityinpractice.org), now a network of 27 firms and 12 corporate legal departments, recently launched "Break into Law" for students (www.breakintolaw.org) to learn more about what it takes to be a lawyer, how they can make a difference and get a job. Firms share best practices on how to attract and retain new entrants to what often seems like a generations-old, white-male- entrenched profession, at least among the old-line firms.
"Anything we can do to make [new minority lawyers] feel welcome and supported and feel a connection is important," said Adonis Neblett, a partner at Fredrikson & Byron. "When I became a partner in 2003, I was the only partner of color. We have since grown to about seven partners of color. We have some homegrown [minority] partners as well as some lateral hires. Diversity is a value for the firm, and we made it one of our top three initiatives five or six years ago.
"We have a retention plan, applicable to everybody, but the original idea was trying to address the deficiencies and turnover and provide assistance to diverse associates. We worked on being purposeful in terms of supervisory assignments, attention to workflow and other issues."
This is about being smart guys, not just nice guys. As America grows more diverse and women and minorities make up more of the workforce and business ownership and management community, studies show that law firms that better reflect the community grow revenue faster than those that don't.
Val Jensen, executive director of Diversity in Practice, said participating firms have raised their minority ranks to more than 6 percent. The attrition rate for associates of color typically is about 85 percent, and they often leave for work in corporations and government.
"We do pretty well with recruiting, but our No. 1 goal is retention," Jensen said.
The "break-into-law" initiative also introduces veteran lawyers to college and law school students as mentors, through internships and seminars.
"The most important part of our organization is to promote our members, but also the Twin Cities as a world-class legal community to diverse talent nationwide," said Jensen, a native Minnesotan who attended Carleton College and William Mitchell College of Law.
•The winners will be announced among 42 finalists in 14 categories at the Minnesota High Tech Association's 2011 Tekne Awards on Nov. 3 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The awards, which showcase some of the most innovative and competitive technology-based companies in the land, prove Minnesota "remains at the forefront of cutting-edge technological growth," said MHTA President Margaret Anderson Kelliher.
The finalists include CyberOptics, Ikonics, Nova-Tech Engineering, Ecolab, Honeywell and LightingHouse. More information is at: www.tekneawards.org.
•Minnesota businesspeople are "hopeful" about the state's economic future, but employers remain challenged by state taxes and regulations, according to the annual Minnesota Business Barometer Survey, co-sponsored by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and Himle Horner public affairs.
Chamber members favor steps to improve the overall business climate, rather than providing incentives for specific industries. Business leaders also seek a 2012 legislative agenda that focuses on making government more efficient and also can focus "on priorities." The rub is that various industries, businesses and lobbies usually have very different priorities about who and what should get funded. A summary of the findings are at www.mnchamber.com.
•The business law section of the American Bar Association (ABA) recently appointed John Stout of Fredrikson & Byron in Minneapolis as chair of its 2,400-plus member corporate governance committee. Stout, who will serve a three-year term, had been vice chair since 2008.
•There's still time to register for Forward 2011, a daylong seminar hosted by the Twin Cities chapter of Financial Executives International. Attendees at the Tuesday event at the downtown Minneapolis Hyatt receive six continuing professional education credits. Among the national speakers: Inder Sidhu, senior vice president of strategy at Cisco Systems. An afternoon panel will tackle the economic outlook. More information is at www.feitwincities.com.