About three weeks ago The Daily Record reported that Porzio, Bromberg & Newman PC in Morristown was partnering with minority-owned Love & Long LLC, largely in the name of diversity. Apparently, Porzio had been seeking an alliance with a "minority or women-owned firm" for the past eight months, and Love & Long turned out to be a good, and receptive pick. Both Porzio and Long report that they see this partnership as a win-win. Porzio gets to "increase the number of large corporate clients that [it represents] by increasing [its] depth of expertise and staff," and Porzio gets to "accommodate clients seeking minority representation." In other words, the larger firm in this case gets to compete for the business of corporate signatories of "A Call to Action: Diversity in the Legal Profession" and corporate partners of the National Minority Supplier Development Council (which include businesses like Walmart, Aetna, Coca-Cola, and Costco that make a point of hiring minority-owned firms for some of their work).
This is by no means a new approach. Back in 2007, also in Morristown, the firm McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter announced that it had purchased a 49 percent stake in Espinosa & Espinosa, a minority-owned 11-attorney firm in Weehawken. Under that deal, Espinosa operated thenceforth as a McElroy, Deutsch subsidiary. This move, McElroy announced, gave it the right to pursue legal work typically set aside for minority-owned firms. Around that same time, another such alliance sprung up between New York's Day Pitney, and the smaller D.C.-based minority-owned Gray Haile. Under that agreement the two firms remained separate entities but would "co-counsel on transactions when appropriate." Again these alliances were touted as win-wins given that corporate clients generally want to work with diverse teams, but minority-owned firms are often too small to handle the large volume of work.
Much ado has been made about these strategic alliances. Are they a trend? If so, is it a good idea for large firms to solve their diversity-related limitations by partnering with smaller minority-owned shops? In the case of the Porzio-Long partnership, since Love & Long is a three-attorney shop, three more diverse attorneys are automatically associated with Porzio -- an instant bump in Porzio's diversity cred.
In our opinion, however, such alliances have the potential to derail the entire point of initiatives like 'A Call to Action'. Such alliances leave intact the status quo within the larger firms. In fact, they could actually discourage law firms from making any substantive systemic changes. Therefore, this practice appears to be a short-cut to true diversity that has the potential to discourage large law firms from hiring and developing minority talent. If firms are able to meet their diversity goals by developing these alliances with minority and woman-owned firms, they'll never have to truly accept minorities and women into their partnership ranks. It seems to follow, then, that if this catches on, what we're moving toward can accurately be described as 'separate but allied.'
But perhaps we have the wrong take on this . . . ?