Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC has been named among the "Top 100 Law Firms for Diversity" and the "Top 100 Law Firms for Women" by MultiCultural Law, a magazine focused on diversity in the legal profession. This is the fifth consecutive year that Baker Donelson has been ranked among MultiCultural Law's top firms for diversity and the second consecutive year it has been ranked among the top firms for women.
"Diversity is an integral part of our Firm's culture and values, so it's gratifying that our efforts continue to be recognized by MultiCultural Law," said Ben Adams, chairman and chief executive officer of Baker Donelson. "Through our Diversity Program and the Women's Initiative, we continue to move the discussion and action on diversity forward as we focus on promoting and facilitating a working environment of inclusion, respect and opportunity for all employees."
According to Mark A. Baugh, chair of Baker Donelson's Diversity Committee, in the last year the Firm has implemented a number of enhancements to its already established Diversity Initiative. "In the spring of 2008, we launched the Baker Donelson Diversity Scholarship program, which awards up to three scholarships annually to diverse students who have completed their first year of law school," said Mr. Baugh. For the 2008 scholarship, the Firm received more than 160 applications from students at law schools across the country.
Mr. Baugh said the Firm also created a pipeline-to-law school initiative in an effort to increase the number of minorities and women who go to law school. "The outreach program—'Bringing Diversity to Our Businesses'—focuses on mentoring minority and female college students who have an interest in the legal profession," said Mr. Baugh. This initiative will be fully implemented this fall with two undergraduate universities.
Baker Donelson is one of only a few firms in the South to have a scholarship program for diverse law school students and is breaking new ground with its outreach program.
Another recent enhancement to the Firm's Diversity Initiative was the implementation of inclusion training. More than 20 Baker Donelson attorneys underwent certification training to lead inclusion sessions focused on the importance of recognizing and accepting the value of diverse backgrounds and perspectives. From December 2008 through April 2009, those attorneys conducted training sessions that were mandatory for all of the Firm's more than 1,000 employees. "Baker Donelson's retention efforts have been quite successful, but inclusion training enhanced our focus," said Mr. Baugh. "Our goal was to foster dialogue about our differences and learn how to work most effectively with people who are different from us, be it age, religion, race, economic status, or any number of other factors."
Donna Fraiche, chair of Baker Donelson's Women's Initiative, adds that programs such as inclusion training are important to help law firms retain the women and minority attorneys they hire. "Fostering a work environment where diversity is not only accepted but valued is crucial to ensuring that females and minorities continue to advance in the legal profession," she said.
Diversity in the legal profession has been a focus for some time, with many law firms implementing formal diversity programs as well as women's initiatives to ensure the recruitment, retention and advancement of women and minority attorneys. Since the launch of Baker Donelson's Diversity Initiative in 2002, the percentage of minority attorneys at the Firm has far outpaced the Firm's overall growth. While the total number of attorneys at Baker Donelson has doubled, its minority attorney population and the number of minority shareholders have more than quadrupled.
Since expanding its diversity efforts with the launch of its Women's Initiative in 2005, the Firm has also been successful in improving the recruitment and retention of female attorneys and increasing the representation of women in leadership positions at the Firm. Women make up 17% of the Firm's current board (compared to 15% of women in those roles nationally), and currently, 20% of Baker Donelson's shareholders are women.