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Diverse legal team brings diverse perspective

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Ask if it is important for law firms to comprise a diversified group of lawyers, and the answer will be a resounding “yes.” Mirroring society’s cultural mix, expanding the firm’s thought pool, and improving the ability of clients to identify with their lawyers are all reasons diversity makes good business sense.

diversity-15col LewisWagner received awards from the city of Indianapolis and the DRI in 2010 for its commitment to diversity. From left, John Trimble, managing partner; Robert Wagner, founding partner; Stephanie Cassman, partner; Edward Thomas, associate; and Stefanie Crawford, partner and diversity committee chair. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

The need for a diversified professional team is on the radar of many law firm management committees and has motivated partners to revisit their recruitment and retention policies. Some mid-size firms in Indiana – those in the 25 to 50 lawyer range – have found their size can be a plus in attracting a diverse group of associates.

“The larger a firm becomes, the greater challenge it is for the firm to personalize the way it does things,” said John Trimble, managing partner at Indianapolis firm LewisWagner. “We can get all of our equity partners around a table, and that may make it easier to make decisions.”

An award-winning approach

“Commitment by the top” is cited by law firm management strategists as a key to successful diversity recruitment efforts. When the commitment starts at the top, it is all the better.

Indianapolis lawyer Robert Wagner formed one of the first racially integrated law partnerships in Indiana – Fasig Goebel Chavis & Wagner – in the late 1960s. That firm evolved into LewisWagner.

“It was Bob’s passion at a very early age to have a diverse law firm,” Trimble said. Early on, that meant hiring women; today it means creating a complete cultural mix, he added.

If Wagner’s early personnel practices raised a few eyebrows, he didn’t notice.

“The notion that we needed to focus on diversity really didn’t occur to me,” Wagner said. “I don’t think black/white or woman/man.”

drummy-john-mug Drummy

Wagner said his eyes were opened in 1969-70 when he managed a U.S. Senate campaign for Vance Hartke. It exposed him to a lot of intolerance.

“In the business world, there were very few minorities – women or African-Americans – on boards of directors, and that hasn’t changed much,” Wagner said. “We have a (state) supreme court without women. We are continually pushing the stone up the hill.”

While the firm’s commitment to diversity has existed from day one, it has been formalized over the last decade, Wagner said. Goals targeting recruitment of lawyers, paralegals, and staff representing diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds are included in the firm’s strategic plan. A diversity committee supports those goals and develops initiatives that create an inclusive professional environment.

racher-peter-mug Racher

“We have specific goals in the (strategic) plan to make sure our firm is a reflection of the community at large and that members of the firm receive training on diversity,” said Stefanie Crawford, a partner and diversity committee chair.

LewisWagner is a long-time participant in the Indiana State Bar Association’s Gateway to Diversity Program, which links legal employers with minority law students, as well as the Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity fellows. Crawford’s association with the firm began when she was hired as a summer clerk through the Gateway program in 1996.

Weaving a culture of inclusion into the daily life of the lawyers and staff is an important part of the law firm’s diversity program. As a community expression of the commitment to diversity, the firm recognizes Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a business holiday. Social events like hosting a “celebration of diversity through food” begin with emails sharing recipes from countries around the world and culminate in a firm-wide pitch-in lunch.

This year, the diversity committee has taken on a new project. It is partnering with Noble of Indiana to create an internship/externship program for people with developmental disabilities.

LewisWagner has been recognized on several occasions for its commitment to diversity. In 2010, it became the first Indiana law firm to receive the DRI Law Firm Diversity Award, and it received the Mayor’s Workforce Diversity Award as part of the City of Indianapolis’ Celebration of Diversity. LewisWagner has also been an Indiana Lawyer Diversity in Practice award finalist and received the Indiana State Bar Association’s Rabb Emison Award for diversity.

“I don’t think anyone does this for recognition, but you feel warm inside when, by doing a good job, you can show that it works,” Wagner said. “There is still a lot of prejudice in our society, but I think people we have here feel as I do. You don’t permit it. You call them out on intolerance when you see it. We are all teachers to some degree.”

A proactive approach

Diversity of personnel leads to diversity of perspective, and law firm leaders are challenging themselves to create legal teams that represent a mix of gender, racial, economic, and ethnic groups. Programs that connect firms with prospective employees have proven effective.

Kightlinger & Gray has partnered with Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy in Indianapolis to encourage minority students to begin considering law as a profession. The firm will host a high school student as a summer intern to provide a taste of what life is like as a lawyer.

And if those students decide to pursue a career in the law, the hope is they will remember Kightlinger & Gray.

“We have a heavy concentration of litigation; and diversity of perspectives, ideas, and thought is very important as we prepare a case for trial and an ever-diverse jury pool,” said John Drummy, a partner and member of Kightlinger & Gray’s legal personnel committee.

Laura Scott Scott

Participation in bar association diversity job fairs, such as the fair hosted annually by the Indianapolis Bar Association, and the ICLEO program has proven a successful way to connect with a diverse group of summer clerk and associate candidates.

“The ICLEO program exposes the firm to highly qualified attorneys who, because of their economic situation, may not have (otherwise) been able to go to law school,” said Peter Racher, a partner and chair of Plews Shadley Racher & Braun’s human resources committee. “I am proud of the fact that we have attorneys here who come from families that have few who have gone to college, let alone law school.”

In addition to gender and ethnic diversity, it is important for a firm’s diversity goals to embrace having men and women who bring perspectives from a variety of economic backgrounds to the firm’s leadership positions. Understanding the totality of clients’ disputes, which are often fraught with human emotions, Racher said, will be effectively done when the firm has diverse viewpoints around the table.

Lewis & Kappes’ large immigration practice magnifies the need for a diverse legal team.

“We have a good number of attorneys and staff who are bilingual; one staff person who is from China speaks five languages,” explained Deanna Cope, the Indianapolis firm’s administrator. There is an added level of trust, she said, when clients can talk with people they feel a familiarity with. The firm also offers, in Spanish, an exact duplicate of its website.

The need for diversity is integrated into the firm’s culture, Cope said. While many firms recognize Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other traditional American holidays, Lewis & Kappes also gives attention to the Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo and other cultural celebrations. It helps lawyers and staff better understand the mindset of the clientele, she added.

Location can present challenges when recruiting a diverse legal team, and “you just have to use what you have more creatively,” said Laura Scott, a partner with Bamberger Foreman Oswald & Hahn. The firm is based in Evansville and has offices in Indianapolis, Mt. Vernon, Poseyville, Princeton, and Vincennes.

Like other firms, Bamberger has participated in the ICLEO summer jobs program and created a diversity page on its website to attract attorneys with a range of backgrounds. The diversity committee of the Evansville Bar Association has also been a helpful resource, Scott said.

The EBA collects resumes from minority students interested in working in Evansville and distributes those to potential employers. Firms can apply to the EBA for funding to help cover the cost of hiring summer clerks or interns. The EBA has helped area law firms reach out to groups of law school students around the state and convey the benefit of working in small- or mid-size firms and those located outside of Indianapolis, Scott added.

“We have the flexibility to be able to think outside the box and hire interns and use them in nontraditional ways,” Scott said. “We can make our decisions fairly quickly and without a lot of red tape because we are a smaller firm.”

Edward D. Thomas joined LewisWagner as an associate after graduating from law school in 2009. He served in the military after receiving his undergraduate degree, and he knew he wanted to practice in the size of firm that would let him hit the ground running and give him immediate hands-on experience.

“I think diversity in a law firm or any business is crucial in light of the global economy we have today,” Thomas said. “Law firms that take that to heart will benefit in the future. Law students who really understand the big picture and what they need to bring to the table will have a head up over their peers. It is not specific to law firms – any business model needs to embrace diversity to remain ahead of the game.”•

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  1. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) End of Year Report 2014. (page 13) Under the current system many local registering agencies are challenged just keeping up with registration paperwork. It takes an hour or more to process each registrant, the majority of whom are low risk offenders. As a result law enforcement cannot monitor higher risk offenders more intensively in the community due to the sheer numbers on the registry. Some of the consequences of lengthy and unnecessary registration requirements actually destabilize the life’s of registrants and those -such as families- whose lives are often substantially impacted. Such consequences are thought to raise levels of known risk factors while providing no discernible benefit in terms of community safety. The full report is available online at. http://www.casomb.org/index.cfm?pid=231 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs United States of America. The overall conclusion is that Megan’s law has had no demonstrated effect on sexual offenses in New Jersey, calling into question the justification for start-up and operational costs. Megan’s Law has had no effect on time to first rearrest for known sex offenders and has not reduced sexual reoffending. Neither has it had an impact on the type of sexual reoffense or first-time sexual offense. The study also found that the law had not reduced the number of victims of sexual offenses. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/app/publications/abstract.aspx? ID=247350 The University of Chicago Press for The Booth School of Business of the University of Chicago and The University of Chicago Law School Article DOI: 10.1086/658483 Conclusion. The data in these three data sets do not strongly support the effectiveness of sex offender registries. The national panel data do not show a significant decrease in the rate of rape or the arrest rate for sexual abuse after implementation of a registry via the Internet. The BJS data that tracked individual sex offenders after their release in 1994 did not show that registration had a significantly negative effect on recidivism. And the D.C. crime data do not show that knowing the location of sex offenders by census block can help protect the locations of sexual abuse. This pattern of noneffectiveness across the data sets does not support the conclusion that sex offender registries are successful in meeting their objectives of increasing public safety and lowering recidivism rates. The full report is available online at. http://www.jstor.org/stable/full/10.1086/658483 These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of conclusions and reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. People, including the media and other organizations should not rely on and reiterate the statements and opinions of the legislators or other people as to the need for these laws because of the high recidivism rates and the high risk offenders pose to the public which simply is not true and is pure hyperbole and fiction. They should rely on facts and data collected and submitted in reports from the leading authorities and credible experts in the fields such as the following. California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 0.8% (page 30) The full report is available online at http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Adult_Research_Branch/Research_Documents/2014_Outcome_Evaluation_Report_7-6-2015.pdf California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB) (page 38) Sex offender recidivism rate for a new sex offense is 1.8% The full report is available online at. http://www.google.com/url?sa= t&source=web&cd=1&ved= 0CCEQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F% 2Fwww.cdcr.ca.gov%2FAdult_ Research_Branch%2FResearch_ documents%2FOutcome_ evaluation_Report_2013.pdf&ei= C9dSVePNF8HfoATX-IBo&usg=AFQjCNE9I6ueHz-o2mZUnuxLPTyiRdjDsQ Bureau of Justice Statistics 5 PERCENT OF SEX OFFENDERS REARRESTED FOR ANOTHER SEX CRIME WITHIN 3 YEARS OF PRISON RELEASE WASHINGTON, D.C. Within 3 years following their 1994 state prison release, 5.3 percent of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The full report is available online at. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/rsorp94pr.cfm Document title; A Model of Static and Dynamic Sex Offender Risk Assessment Author: Robert J. McGrath, Michael P. Lasher, Georgia F. Cumming Document No.: 236217 Date Received: October 2011 Award Number: 2008-DD-BX-0013 Findings: Study of 759 adult male offenders under community supervision Re-arrest rate: 4.6% after 3-year follow-up The sexual re-offense rates for the 746 released in 2005 are much lower than what many in the public have been led to expect or believe. These low re-offense rates appear to contradict a conventional wisdom that sex offenders have very high sexual re-offense rates. The full report is available online at. https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/236217.pdf Document Title: SEX OFFENDER SENTENCING IN WASHINGTON STATE: RECIDIVISM RATES BY: Washington State Institute For Public Policy. A study of 4,091 sex offenders either released from prison or community supervision form 1994 to 1998 and examined for 5 years Findings: Sex Crime Recidivism Rate: 2.7% Link to Report: http://www.oncefallen.com/files/Washington_SO_Recid_2005.pdf Document Title: Indiana’s Recidivism Rates Decline for Third Consecutive Year BY: Indiana Department of Correction 2009. The recidivism rate for sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05%, one of the lowest in the nation. In a time when sex offenders continue to face additional post-release requirements that often result in their return to prison for violating technical rules such as registration and residency restrictions, the instances of sex offenders returning to prison due to the commitment of a new sex crime is extremely low. Findings: sex offenders returning on a new sex offense was 1.05% Link to Report: http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/RecidivismRelease.pdf Once again, These are not isolated conclusions but are the same outcomes in the majority of reports on this subject from multiple government agencies and throughout the academic community. No one can doubt that child sexual abuse is traumatic and devastating. The question is not whether the state has an interest in preventing such harm, but whether current laws are effective in doing so. Megan’s law is a failure and is destroying families and their children’s lives and is costing tax payers millions upon millions of dollars. The following is just one example of the estimated cost just to implement SORNA which many states refused to do. From Justice Policy Institute. Estimated cost to implement SORNA Here are some of the estimates made in 2009 expressed in 2014 current dollars: California, $66M; Florida, $34M; Illinois, $24M; New York, $35M; Pennsylvania, $22M; Texas, $44M. In 2014 dollars, Virginia’s estimate for implementation was $14M, and the annual operating cost after that would be $10M. For the US, the total is $547M. That’s over half a billion dollars – every year – for something that doesn’t work. http://www.justicepolicy.org/images/upload/08-08_FAC_SORNACosts_JJ.pdf. Attempting to use under-reporting to justify the existence of the registry is another myth, or a lie. This is another form of misinformation perpetrated by those who either have a fiduciary interest in continuing the unconstitutional treatment of a disfavored group or are seeking to justify their need for punishment for people who have already paid for their crime by loss of their freedom through incarceration and are now attempting to reenter society as honest citizens. When this information is placed into the public’s attention by naive media then you have to wonder if the media also falls into one of these two groups that are not truly interested in reporting the truth. Both of these groups of people that have that type of mentality can be classified as vigilantes, bullies, or sociopaths, and are responsible for the destruction of our constitutional values and the erosion of personal freedoms in this country. I think the media or other organizations need to do a in depth investigation into the false assumptions and false data that has been used to further these laws and to research all the collateral damages being caused by these laws and the unconstitutional injustices that are occurring across the country. They should include these injustices in their report so the public can be better informed on what is truly happening in this country on this subject. Thank you for your time.

  2. Freedom as granted in the Constitution cannot be summarily disallowed without Due Process. Unable to to to the gym, church, bowling alley? What is this 1984 level nonsense? Congrats to Brian for having the courage to say that this was enough! and Congrats to the ACLU on the win!

  3. America's hyper-phobia about convicted sex offenders must end! Politicians must stop pandering to knee-jerk public hysteria. And the public needs to learn the facts. Research by the California Sex Offender Management Board as shown a recidivism rate for convicted sex offenders of less than 1%. Less than 1%! Furthermore, research shows that by year 17 after their conviction, a convicted sex offender is no more likely to commit a new sex offense than any other member of the public. Put away your torches and pitchforks. Get the facts. Stop hysteria.

  4. He was convicted 23 years ago. How old was he then? He probably was a juvenile. People do stupid things, especially before their brain is fully developed. Why are we continuing to punish him in 2016? If he hasn't re-offended by now, it's very, very unlikely he ever will. He paid for his mistake sufficiently. Let him live his life in peace.

  5. This year, Notre Dame actually enrolled an equal amount of male and female students.

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