What's Working

Incentives, Leadership, Recruitment

Create Expectation, Accountability for Diverse Hires

With its Rooney “presumption,” LCLD Member firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP is changing the culture around minority hiring—and seeing results. 

The Rooney Rule has gained popularity with corporations in recent years after improving minority representation among head coaches in the National Football League. In the NFL, the rule requires at least one diverse candidate for all head coaching positions; corporations have applied the rule as a quota or a percentage, expanded it beyond leadership roles, and included women in its coverage. Now, Seyfarth is one of several organizations testing its uses in a law firm setting.

Instead of setting a quota, Seyfarth has built a “presumption” that there will be a diverse slate of candidates for all routine hires into the firm process and culture. After successfully piloting the program within firm’s largest department—Labor & Employment—in 2016, Seyfarth took the Rooney presumption firm-wide in 2017. 

LCLD talked with Laura Maechtlen, Chair of the Labor & Employment Department and Co-Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Team, who outlined the firm’s approach. 

Examine process and protocol. 

Before making any policy changes, a team led by senior representatives from the human resources, recruiting, and diversity and inclusion teams, along with Chairman Emeritus and former LCLD Member Stephen Poor, dissected the firm’s recruiting process. The results process map allowed the team to see areas where meaningful change could be made and identify potential problem spots.  

Some of the most important changes were made to the firm’s talent sourcing protocol. Rather than focusing on traditional or regional methods, Seyfarth has implemented a new “best in practice” protocol. Now, the firm posts jobs with diversity bar associations, law schools, and other places that attract more diverse candidates. Seyfarth also relies on internal networks to broaden its reach, including diversity-focused groups like affinity groups.  

Build accountability into the culture. 

Without a quota, Seyfarth needed to make sure the changes in recruiting protocol were translating to more diverse candidate pools—by creating an accountability culture.

First, for every routine hire, the department chair is expected to ask the hiring authority whether they had a diverse pool of candidates. 

“If the process wasn’t followed, the chair tells the hiring authority that they need to keep the job open for a longer period of time,” Maechtlen said. “Diversity leaders are also brought in to look into the process and see if something could have been done better.”

This strategy allows for conversation around the importance of diverse slates, but still remains flexible—if a position needs to be filled quickly, for example, or there is an “opportunistic hire,” the process can be abbreviated. But it’s made clear that these are exceptions, Maechtlen said. 

The firm also holds quarterly talent reviews, in which the national diversity and inclusion committee meets with the firm’s talent team, department chairs, Executive Committee, and Managing Partner and LCLD Member Peter Miller to discuss recruiting, retention, and the career paths of diverse talent within the department.

“We go through their hiring and talk about whether they invoked the Rooney presumption for all hires,” Maechtlen said. “In the few occasions that it hasn’t happened, there’s been an explanation, which is passed on to the Executive Committee… We haven’t had to do this yet, but if there was cause for concern, the Managing Partner would follow up with a call to the department chair to discuss why the process wasn’t followed and how it could be improved in the future.”

Look for results. 

About a year into the presumption, the firm is already seeing an impact, and Maechtlen said they will continue to look for ways to expand. Since the inception of the program, presumption in place, nearly 45 percent of Seyfarth’s new associate hires have been diverse attorneys.

“We are pleased to work with a variety of partners in this journey, including LCLD and Diversity Labs,” Maechtlen said. “We hope that Seyfarth can learn through the process, but also from other organizations implementing Rooney-like processes to ensure a diverse pipeline of talent in their organization.”

For more information, contact Laura Maechtlen at lmaechtlen@seyfarth.com


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