Law Firms

Firm's Diversity Efforts Improving -- Up from Abysmal to Mediocre, Says Managing Partner

Schiff Hardin’s Ronald S. Safer says diversity is the top priority of the firm—above all else—and on a YouTube video he recorded last year, he vows to step down as managing partner should the firm fail to meet its yearly objectives.

A little more than a year later, is Safer’s job safe? It appears he’s seen enough improvement that he plans to stick around.

“We’ve risen all the way from abysmal to somewhere between poor and mediocre,” Safer said in an interview with the ABA Journal. “However, we could lead Chicago and the nation and still be mediocre. Law firms have a ton of ground to make up [in regard to diversity].”

For Safer, a law firm isn’t serious about diversity until minority, LGBT and women lawyers are holding power positions within the firm—heading practice groups and gaining membership onto executive committees. Today, while minority and female attorneys lead many of Schiff Hardin’s practices, only one woman sits on the firm’s executive committee, where the elected positions cannot be legislated by firm leadership.

“There isn’t one road to success [within the firm],” Safer explains, adding that while billing 2,200 hours is certainly one route to equity partnership, opportunities are still present for those with reduced hours. To ensure an even playing field, Safer examines how many female and minority attorneys are staffed on matters for the firm’s 30 largest clients each month.

Safer attributes his commitment to diversity from growing up in New York City and his days as an assistant U.S. attorney. While in an equity partner meeting seven years ago, Safer says he was embarrassed at the stunningly monolithic group of lawyers around him.

“I believed with all my heart that the law firm would die and be passed by if it did not advance with the times and reach out to a broader talent base,” Safer says.

Related earlier coverage: Layoffs Aftermath: Declining Marks on BigLaw’s Diversity Scorecard

Hat Tip: In Search of Perfect Client Service

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