When Apollo Carey, a corporate tax and real estate lawyer, joined Lewis Rice law firm more than a year ago, it became immediately apparent that the firm’s diversity efforts were not just for show.
“It’s in the organization’s consciousness,” said Carey, a member at Lewis Rice. “It permeates throughout everything that we do – in our hiring, in our retention efforts, in our marketing and how we present ourselves to the community. It permeates within your interpersonal relationships within the firm. People believe in it. People adhere to it. It filters within the culture.”
Carey has seen other organizations struggle to make diversity part of their culture. But Lewis Rice has what it takes to make it stick – a leadership team that feels diversity and inclusion are paramount, he said.
“Not only to say it’s important, but to allocate resources to making it and showing how important that diversity is,” Carey said. “It all starts at the top with the leadership and the people who decide that it’s important for the long-term viability of the firm.”
On Friday, November 17, Lewis Rice will receive the 2017 Corporate Diversity Award at the St. Louis American Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Business networking luncheon and awards reception. The event will be held at the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis.
Bridget G. Hoy, a member of the firm’s diversity committee, said their team is “thrilled” to receive the award because it not only reflects their recent inclusion efforts, but also honors the firm’s foundation.
More than 100 years ago, the two founders Joseph Lewis and Charles Rice overcame their differences in religions and age to establish the firm, Hoy said. They also set a goal to serve the community in an “unpretentious manner.”
“One was Christian, one was Jewish,” Hoy said. “And at the time, it was a coming together of diverse lawyers. This really is our history, and we’ve worked hard at keeping up with the different trends in diversity and the different ways we can diversify our firm.”
There are about 150 lawyers at Lewis Rice, and the firm hires the most talented lawyers, Hoy said. Since 2014, they’ve hired six black attorneys laterally, or who have come over from other firms. They also have a large support staff, and they make sure that they have diversity everywhere from the reception desk to the courtrooms and board rooms.
“We hire good people,” she said. “That comes from all walks of life. It comes in all genders, and colors and sexual orientation and religions.”
Nationwide, on average 9 percent of partners in law firms are African-American, Hoy noted.
“That’s a very small percentage,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to be done in the legal profession on the diversity front.”
The firm’s diversity committee has focused on three aspects to making a diverse law firm: perception, hiring and retention.
“We try to get out into the community to change perceptions about what the legal field is,” Hoy said. “We recruit and try to make ourselves attractive to all sorts of young lawyers, and we work to retain our lawyers.”
The diversity committee includes members from all levels of leadership and departments at the firm. Through their outreach program, they connect with minority college and high school students and show them that people like them are doing important legal work in the community, Hoy said.
They also find ways to support and retain their women lawyers, who make up about 50 percent of the firm’s lawyers. “We try to be flexible and find solutions because we want them to stay and keep their toe in the legal profession,” Hoy said.
Lewis Rice has put together full women trial teams, she said, and “that doesn’t happen everywhere around the country.”
Having a diverse legal team is simply the best way to represent their clients, she said.
“At Lewis Rice, we are relationship-based,” Hoy said. “We talk about being efficient a lot. When you have people coming at legal problems from different backgrounds, perspectives, different ages, different religions, you come up with better solutions. And that is one of the great reasons why we need diverse legal teams for our clients and why we’ve put that together at Lewis Rice.”