Diversity & Inclusion

Rodney Martin: more productive than a full diversity committee

Most law firms approach diversity from a committee approach (see the “Diversity Trends” article for proof), if at all. A few years ago, Warner Norcross & Judd LLP decided that method wasn’t working. The firm, one of the largest in Michigan, named Rodney Martin its diversity partner in 2006 and gave him the authority and responsibility to develop policies and programs that would make the 210-attorney firm a more diverse, inclusive, and welcoming organization.

“As our firm expands beyond Michigan to play in a more global marketplace, we realize the business has changed — as have the expectations of our clients,” Martin says. “As a firm, we identified diversity as a critical element in the path to our future success and decided that we would become champions of diversity.”

Martin has been able to get closer to achieving that goal by working as an individual as opposed to working with a committee, he says. “By their very nature, committees are less prone to action and more prone to discussion,” he explains. “Committees are not necessarily accountable for getting things done, but individuals are. As diversity partner, I am held accountable to our management committee and to my partners for our diversity initiatives.”

Martin is quick to add, however, that support from the firm’s management committee has been key to the success of his programs and outreach efforts. “While our formal diversity committee has disbanded, I have found it important to solicit ideas and input from throughout the firm,” he says. He also chairs the firm’s Financial Services Practice Group and is active as a firm recruiter. “I have established several ad hoc committees that have been given discreet tasks, such as developing content for our firm intranet pages on diversity, or for developing and implementing our ‘One Book, One Firm’ reading initiative.”

Entire firm “gets behind” diversity

In the 2007 Warner Norcross & Judd Diversity Annual Report, the firm’s managing partner wrote that the organization had reached a “tipping point” with its diversity efforts. He noted, “After some initial uncertainty about the ‘whys’ behind our diversity initiative, those conversations have disappeared. I now hear broad support for diversity as an area in which we must excel. Diversity is recognized as critical to the future of the firm if we are to serve the needs of our clients in an increasingly global economy.”

Indeed, during the past two years, Martin has implemented key structural elements for the diversity program in recruitment, retention, mentoring, education, and evaluation. His accomplishments include:

  • establishing a process to monitor the work associates receive from attorneys to ensure that everyone receives career-enhancing projects;
  • enhancing the position of women within the firm by hiring more female associates and partners and getting more women into positions of leadership;
  • enhancing the position of minorities in the firm by hiring two African-American senior counsel and eight associates of color;
  • expanding diversity scholarship programs through the addition of an LSAT prep scholarship program;
  • formalizing a supplier diversity program to monitor efforts to do business with diverse suppliers;
  • establishing the “Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise Group” to expand outreach and professional services to those entrepreneurs;
  • continuing to offer internal “lunch and learn” programs on diversity topics; and
  • supporting, sponsoring, and collaborating with key community organizations.

Martin says that meeting with diversity professionals at other businesses and organizations has been extremely helpful. “Networking with other diversity professionals in the community is an excellent way to share ideas and best practices, learn from the mistakes and successes of others, and receive feedback and advice on programs,” he says. “I have developed a circle of diversity professionals I talk with regularly. Our firm is perceived as being out ahead of the curve, which is gratifying. As our program continues to grow, I now receive more inquiries than I make from other organizations looking to jumpstart or enhance their diversity initiatives.”