Five homegrown BigLaw firms are working together in a joint effort to recruit diverse talent — not just to their own firms but the entire Denver legal community.
The Practice Denver Initiative is focused on bringing diverse and talented legal professionals from around the country to Denver for the betterment of area law firms, communities and the profession. Spearheaded by Denver’s five large locally based firms — Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Davis Graham & Stubbs, Holland & Hart, Sherman & Howard and Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell — the initiative’s goals include bringing diverse talent to Denver to see the opportunities here.
“The beauty of the coalition is that there really is no single person who could be credited with Practice Denver,” said Andrew Unthank, WTO partner and recruiting chair. “Each firm had some pieces of the puzzle, and by collaborating we were able to start putting them together to reveal what we hope will be a much more diverse picture in the future.”
Unthank added that the initial discussion was moderated by members of the University of Denver’s Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, which brought together the participant perspectives and led the Denver Law Firm Coalition for Racial Equity to the collaborative approach. Katie Reilly, a partner at WTO, was cited by Unthank and Melissa Reagan, a member at Sherman & Howard, as the main starter of the initiative.
“We don’t see it as an area where we should really be competing against each other. We can’t do it alone.”
Hubert Farbes, a shareholder at Brownstein, said WTO started the push for Denver firms to do something independent and reflect the firms’ commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. Farbes said there has been a continuing concern among the larger law firms in Denver about a hiring and retaining diverse attorneys. Several 200-plus membership firms in Denver have small numbers of people of color as partners and attorneys, he said. While firms have been successful in some diversity areas, such as the representation of female attorneys in leadership roles, there’s been a “miserable level of success,” in other categories, Farbes said.
“It’s not for a lack of effort, I believe,” Farbes said, adding he’s been in working in large Denver firms for more than 35 years. He said a series of programs and initiatives had attempted to address this concern in the past, which have met with mixed success. This latest program was an attempt to renew the discussion and identify prospects for a renewed commitment to joint efforts, he said.
Farbes described the Initiative as a first step for this kind of action. By focusing on a cooperative initiative, and not a competition between the firms, will include a jointly agreed-upon strategy for optimizing recruitment opportunities for people of color “for every minority interest group.”
“We don’t see it as an area where we should really be competing against each other,” Reagan said. “We can’t do it alone.”
“To do this together and to recruit whole groups, including other colleagues, to the Denver community is so important to this,” Reagan said. “If it was just Sherman & Howard or Wheeler Trigg doing it on a one-off basis, we don’t think that it would get the results and create the community we want to in Denver.”
This version of bringing people to Denver, instead of only going to them and pitching the opportunities and area, will allow them to get a sense of a community, network and less “sales pitch,” Unthank said. The idea is to target specific areas first and roll it out more broadly in coming years.
Reagan said that there is a potential for the events to also include judges, magistrates, individuals from the Colorado attorney general’s office and the city attorney’s office for potential candidates to meet as well. She added that part of the goal is to make sure people are aware of the “wealth of opportunities for them.”
“We see it as a win if we get people to Denver and recruit them. And maybe law firm life isn’t for them, but they become a judge on the bench — to us that is promoting and improving the racial diversity in the legal community itself,” Reagan said.