Managing partners to collaborate on planning for greater diversity



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

In a display of impressive cooperation, managing partners of 13 law firms and the president of the Grand Rapids Bar Association signed a historic agreement Monday morning, pledging that they will devote time and energy to increase the diversity and inclusivity of the Grand Rapids legal community.

The Managing Partners Diversity Collaborative Agreement commits the signatories to “working with others to achieve diversity and inclusion in the education, hiring, retention, and promotion of Michigan’s attorneys and in the elevation of attorneys to leadership positions within [their] organizations, the judiciary, and the profession.”
The agreement came from the realization that action to achieve greater gender and racial diversity must be deliberate and intentional. To that end, the managing partners who signed the agreement will create a five-year action plan, due for completion by Jan. 1, 2012.

The managing partners will work toward three goals for their organizations: increasing the number of attorneys of color, improving the retention and advancement of female attorneys and attorneys of color; and expanding the upcoming “pipeline” of attorneys of color by supporting bright young people in attending law school and entering the profession.

Participating law firms and their managing partners include: Barnes and Thornburg, LLP, Tracy T. Larsen; Clark HIll PLC, Ingrid A. Jensen; Dickinson Wright PLLC, Frank G. Dunten; Dykema, James S. Brady; Foster  Swift Collins and Smith PC, Michael D. Homier; McShane and Bowie PLC, Dan M. Challa; Miller Canfield, Richard A. Gaffin; Miller Johnson, Craig A. Mutch; Price Heneveld LLP, Terry S. Callaghan; Rhoades McKee, Robert C. Shaver, Jr.; Smith Haughey Rice and Roegge, William J. Hondorp; Varnum LLP, Lawrence J. Murphy; and Warner Norcross and Judd LLP, Douglas E. Wagner. Susan Wilson Keener, current President of the Grand Rapids Bar Association, signed for that organization; Mark Smith, the incoming President, was also in attendance.

Comments Lawrence Murphy, “Certainly the way Grand Rapids is, in terms of approaching challenges through collaboration — the nature of our community lends itself to having the legal profession band together. I really think the collective efforts, making diversity a real focus, will be meaningful.”

Joy Fossel, Varnum’s Diversity and Inclusion Counsel, agree. “From my perspective I think this agreement is the dawn of a new day for the Grand Rapids Bar community in terms of really advancing our ability to represent populations we haven’t before, people who are vibrant and intimate parts of our community.”

A report issued in 2010 by NALP, formerly known as the National Association of Law Placement, indicated that Grand Rapids ranked last or close to last as far as diversity. Noting that, in 2010, the legal profession as a whole declined in terms of diversity, the report included Grand Rapids in a list of “cities that are below average on most or all measures considerably so with respect to minorities.”

The report is on the web at

The authors of the report did acknowledge that, at 19%, the “minority” population of Grand Rapids is lower than many included in the national survey; nonetheless, the Grand Rapids legal community considered that report a call to action.

The process to create the plan guiding such action will be simple: three committees will be set up corresponding to the three goals, one on recruiting, one for retention, and one for the pipeline development. Each signatory will serve on one of the committees as they meet over the summer. The committees may invite others to join, and, coming out of the initial work, additional committees may be created.

The Grand Rapids Bar Association will convene the group and keep the process moving. The GRBA President, Executive Director Kim Coleman, and Diversity Committee Chair will participate.

Rodney Martin, Warner Norcross and Judd’s Diversity Partner who led a preliminary discussion of ideas with the managing partners after the signing, said, “We talked about some of the very positive resources we have in this area that we’re not taking advantage of. This has to be a plan that’s tailored very specifically to Grand Rapids and builds on our strengths.”

Though Martin may participate in and lend his expertise to the process, as may Fossel and Miller Johnson’s Diversity Partner Mary Bauman, he emphasizes that this is an initiative of the managing partners, and that they will be doing the heavy lifting as far as the committees and the plan itself. “The managing partners will take the lead,” he explained.