Diversity Meets the Billable Hour at Dorsey & Whitney

July 24, 2019

The firm's new “Diversity Hours" policy allows associates to count work and training that promotes diversity toward their billable hours requirements. 

After taking the reins as managing partner of Minneapolis-based Am Law 100 firm Dorsey & Whitney in January, William Stoeri wanted to make sure that his pledge to invest in diversity wasn’t just lip service.

“We’ve long said that we valued diversity and inclusion,” Stoeri said. “We were looking for a way to reward those who put time and effort toward it.” he said.

The result is a new plan the firm is calling its “Diversity Hours” policy. Just as firms often encourage pro bono work by allowing attorneys to record those hours as billable and count toward an annual goal, Dorsey will now allow diversity-related work, activities and training to count toward billable hours requirements.

The policy is retroactive to January of 2019 and includes up to 50 billable hours to be spent on activities such as attending internal and external diversity educational sessions, participating in the firm’s internal affinity groups or representing Dorsey at client-facing diversity events or training.

While the firm did try to include as much as it could in its descriptions of approved activities, Stoeri said the list is not exhaustive.

“Dorsey is committed to creating an enduring, more united and more profitable firm by investing and maintaining a culture in which all individuals can thrive and realize their full potential,” he said in a statement.

Firms are constantly on the lookout for ways to differentiate their career development culture from their competitors. Reed Smith, for example, announced enhanced associate benefits this week, hoping to win over recruits and retain associates via a more robust professional development program and a more flexible work schedule.

Dorsey’s move also comes as many firms are looking for ways to promote diversity—including though a recent spate of executive-level hires—and to trumpet those efforts in the marketplace. Stoeri said he wasn’t sure if other firms had employed a similar strategy to Dorsey’s to encourage diversity and inclusion initiatives, but said he welcomes good ideas with open arms.

“If someone goes to an external organization and comes back with a great idea, then I’m all for it,” he said.

He said the program has received positive feedback thus far, and he assumes it will change and grow over time.

Lucy Onyeforo, an associate at Dorsey who is participating in the program, said she thought Dorsey was the right fit for a program like this. “Dorsey’s culture encourages its attorneys to be active in diversity programs and networking events,” she said in a statement released by the firm.

Still, Stoeri has not under any illusion that the initiative is going to force a tectonic shift in behavior overnight.

“I want to encourage people to work in this area,” Stoeri said. “There are some things we can do internally, but there are also a lot of deep-seeded issues that we need to address as a society,” he said.

Patrick Smith, based in New York, covers the business of law, including the ways law firms compete for clients and talent, cannabis law and marketing innovation. Reach him at pasmith@alm.com or on Twitter at @nycpatrickd

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