As he nears the mid-point of his one-year term as president of the Allegheny County Bar Association, Gary Hunt has made it a priority to address two ongoing matters within the Pittsburgh legal community -- matters that aren't likely to be resolved when he passes the torch to the next president in July 2011.
At the top of his agenda are gender equality and diversity among lawyers -- "not the kind of issues where the problems are obvious and the answers are obvious," Mr. Hunt said.
During a conversation last month at his office at Tucker Arensberg, a Downtown firm where he is a shareholder and works as a commercial litigator, Mr. Hunt discussed how he will tackle those issues as president of the bar association, which has 6,500 members including attorneys, judges, legal administrators and paralegals.
Q: You became involved with both gender equality and diversity before your election as bar association president. Why are those the top issues you want to work on during your term?
A: I was one of the [original members and co-chairs] of the bar association's diversity initiative task force and the gender equity initiative task force. I want to move forward with our efforts.
Q: Why did the bar association begin looking at gender equity?
A: We did a survey in 2005 to see where we stood with respect to retaining and advancing women in the profession. The results [which showed a persistent wage gap between men and women lawyers and few opportunities for advancement of women in law firms and other legal jobs] were not so different than a similar survey in 1990, which was surprising. Across the industry, women account for only about 15 percent of partners at firms. We're losing women from the profession at a much more rapid rate than men.
Even though they come out of law school at essentially the same 50-50 ratio and get hired at the same rate as men, within five to seven years, many of those women have either left the profession or gone into other career paths or other legal settings like nonprofits or government. So we're not retaining women at the same rate and not seeing women advance into the highest levels of leadership and compensation as men. So that's what our gender equity efforts are about: to see if we can figure out ways to help that.
Q: Specifically, what are the bar association's efforts?
A: We came up with a report about the issues and the direction we needed to go. One outcome was the creation of the Institute for Gender Equality, which is the primary tool we've been using to address the issues identified in the survey.
Q: What is the institute doing?
A: We're going into our second year with the institute. It has two types of programming. One is for decision-makers and is designed to help educate and provide tools to people in law firms and any legal setting regarding the issue of gender equality. For example, mentoring: what's effective and how to build a mentoring program. It's to help decision-makers identify the issues and try to construct their own programs to address the issues. This is a problem for everybody. When you lose [a woman] you've trained for three to five years, it costs you a lot of money.
The other programming is the practitioner series, which is designed for women but not closed to men. It provides practitioners skills such as business development, how to network and how to use social networking as a business networking tool. We've made presentations at the law schools to educate them at an earlier stage in their careers.
Q: What do you hope the decision-makers will take back to the workplaces that could help women attorneys?
A: One concept we talk about is flexible working schedules ... trying to create schedules that work for the law firm and obviously the clients, who have to come first ... and that accommodates the needs of families raising children or dealing with elderly parents and at the same time allow [attorneys] to develop professionally and keep them on track for advancement. Business development is a significant driver for advancement of women in the legal profession. How do we help women build a network and associations and skills to enable them to develop business?
Q: Why is the issue still so pervasive with so many women in the workforce and so many female law school graduates?
A: My view is there are a lot of influences, some of which the legal profession simply can't address -- a lot of societal and cultural influences. Even today, women tend to be perceived as the primary caregiver for children. The legal profession can't address that directly, but we can find ways to make career paths open that maybe weren't open in the past.
Q: Are there initiatives beyond the Institute for Gender Equality?
A: The board of governors of the bar association just approved formation of a gender equality committee. We want a committee with the sole function to look at the gender equity issue from [30,000-feet] and make sure all our efforts are being coordinated. The institute is one tool. We're trying to make sure we're providing the right programming, whether it's from the institute or from divisions and sections of the bar such as the women in the law division. The co-chairs are Krysia Kubiak, assistant general counsel at Duquesne Light Co., and Maureen Kelly, a shareholder at Babst Calland Clements Zomnir. I'm confident it will be a huge help in moving us ahead and making sure we are all marching to the same beat.
Q: What about efforts to achieve more diversity?
A: This problem was discussed in 2002, but it wasn't really newly identified. Everybody knows we have a low number of minority lawyers. [The bar association estimates about 8 percent of its members are minority.] There was some focus brought on it. My first direct contact was a meeting with David Blaner, executive director of the bar association, and the president of the bar in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus had a program of hiring first-year law students that's unusual. Usually summer programs are for second-year law students. They were hiring minorities to give them an opportunity to network in the legal community earlier to enhance their chances of getting permanent positions going forward. That was an important meeting in the process. We adopted that program and 15 firms agreed to do it. We've seen the percentage of minority lawyers hired grow.
And we hired Gene Harris, former director of human resources and recruiting at U.S. Steel, as our part-time diversity coordinator to help connect minority lawyers with employment positions and provide programming for young minority lawyers. We've had some success, but we're still struggling. We're nowhere near where we'd like to be. I'd like the minority lawyer ranks to be more a reflection of what our community is like. I'd like it to be about 20 percent.
Q: What's holding back diversity in the legal ranks?
A: Unlike Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Chicago, or New York City, there's not a strong and deep professional minority community in Pittsburgh. So what we find is that lawyers may start here but may not end here. They go to cities with professional minority communities. There's a pipeline issue -- which is different from gender equity, where there is no pipeline issue -- and a retention issue. I think it's time for the bar association to ramp up its efforts. The first-year [summer hiring] program has been our focal point and we certainly want to continue that, but we want to do more.
Q: What do you suggest?
A: My dream is that we adopt a Rooney Rule [the National Football League policy that requires teams to interview minorities for top coaching and operations jobs]. But it wouldn't be a rule. No law firm or bar association is in a position to dictate that. But I'd like to see if we can build some consensus by firms and law departments in this community that they will interview at least one minority candidate for each legal position they hire. And frankly, I think the ideal way to do that is not only for lawyers but for paralegals and secretarial support, too, because the entire environment is what's important. The difficulty we have, and I recognize this as a difficulty, is that the pool of minority candidates is not very deep. So if you ask me to make that commitment, I'd recognize it could be an issue trying to get genuine minority candidates here.
Q: Are there ways to expand the pool of minorities seeking legal jobs here?
A: We're having discussions about putting together a job fair for minority lawyers from [law schools] in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Penn State and maybe Philadelphia. Kansas City, Mo., conducts a minority hiring fair very successfully, so in my view, if Kansas City can do it, why can't we?
Joyce Gannon: email@example.com or 412-263-1580.