The Benefits of Incubator Programs for Minority-Owned Firms

The legal profession is making inroads in terms of diversity, but the National Association of Law Placement reports these gains as slow and incremental. The percentage of African-American associates, for instance, was 4.76% last year, finally breaching the previous milestone mark of 4.66% recorded in 2009. Unfortunately, women of color remain grossly under-represented, accounting for only 2.8% of associates last year — down from 2.93% in 2009. Clearly, the legal profession remains one of the least diverse industries, even with institutions like Harvard Law School reporting ever-increasing minority representation.

Invariably, this lack of diversity can only be addressed through change leadership and decisive action, like implementing diversity initiatives and offering incubator programs for minority-owned firms. This desire to make a difference compelled Harrity & Harrity managing partner John Harrity to incubate women- and minority-owned law firms. The legal industry needs more people like Harrity, with Maryville University noting that a change in society comes from those who have the courage to make a difference. This is why more people and industries need to grapple with social inequalities such as under-representation in various professions. But why are incubator programs important, and what are their benefits to minority-owned firms?

Giving necessary support

Incubator programs are vital because they can help jumpstart a firm in the same way venture capital funding helps startups level up their operations. This aid is the main benefit of incubator programs, which support up-and-coming law firms by providing a range of resources such as office space and professional services for a reasonable fee that is often paid out in installments or via negotiated arrangements. This support is invaluable to minority-owned firms, as they are more likely to have less capital and fewer resources to run a sustainable business.

Helping a firm focus on the core business

Crucially, being part of an incubator program can also help minority-owned law firms focus on their core business, which is to provide top legal services to their clientele. This is possible because the program already puts in place the necessary infrastructure to get the firm up and running. This gives all members the ability to fully focus on their cases, as they are freed up from having to accomplish mundane, day-to-day administrative tasks.

Expanding the network

Fast Company details how membership in an incubator program means gaining access to a strong professional network, including industry partners. This network expansion, in turn, opens up plenty of exciting possibilities, like collaborating with big firms, that are often non-existent for a firm in its infancy, especially if the firm is minority- or women-owned. Not to mention, being part of a growing network is also a public relations coup, as associations with bigger firms can help raise the profile of a smaller ones — without necessarily investing a fortune in marketing and PR.

Access to mentors

Another thing about being part of an incubator program is that it gives a firm access to mentors, who can then provide expert knowledge not only on the legal profession, but also on the best practices in terms of running a law firm. Take, for instance, the Minority Firm Incubator program, which is now accepting applicants for its second participant and whose goals include training, developing, and launching minority-owned patent law firms. As such, Harrity & Harrity’s finest get involved in the program and provide guidance to all participants — and by year 4, they already have the necessary knowledge to fully launch their firms.

A final word

We at Harrity & Harrity are committed to promoting diversity in the legal industry, and will continue to nurture our minority-focused programs and their participants to effect change. We hope that initiatives, like our Minority Firm Incubator, will not just begin to address the issue, but inspire others to be change leaders in diversity as well.

By Sharon Drew
Written exclusively for Harrityllp.com

Learn more and/or apply to the 2020 Minority Firm Incubator program HERE.

Addressing the Lack of Diversity in the Legal Field

Promoting the culture of diversity is important for all professions, but it is especially lacking in the legal field. In fact, the legal profession is among the least diverse professions in the United States.  Diversity and inclusion in the workplace help to identify and embrace different backgrounds and contribute to the overall advancement of the business.

There are several factors that impede the prevalence of diversity in the legal field.  At Harrity, we are dedicated to overcoming these obstacles by providing opportunities for minorities and developing tools for diverse candidates to succeed.  Although the disparity of minorities practicing law, and especially minorities in equity positions, will take time to overcome, it is an obtainable goal if all firms work to address the problem.

Statistics Talk

The industry needs to recognize the importance of creating an unbiased, equal, and harmonious working environment for all legal professionals.  Unfortunately, the lack of diversity is widespread in the legal field, and the numbers show the industry is moving at a slow pace to address the issue.

In 2018, 85% of lawyers in the U.S. were Caucasian, according to the American Bar Association.  Another report on diversity in U.S. law firms found that racially diverse women are the most underrepresented group in the legal profession.  Other diverse groups underrepresented include LGBTQ2+ lawyers, lawyers with disabilities, and Black/African lawyers.

The Challenges in Recruiting Diverse Workforce

While corporate legal departments and law firms are working on more inclusive recruitment and hiring practices, there is still a need to address the lack of diversity.  Many barriers impede the advancement and retention of diverse lawyers in the legal profession.  Some of the factors that contribute to the lack of diversity include in-group favoritism, stereotyping, unconscious biases, and diversity fatigue.

Law firms should regularly participate in diversity training, utilize a diversity consultant, and review their own Diversity & Inclusion policies.  Firms should also consider concepts such as implicit bias, i.e., attributing certain attitudes or associating stereotypes with a person or group of people without our conscious knowledge, and self-assessment bias, in which females and minority groups tend to rate themselves lower on skill-related surveys than white males.

Other factors that contribute to the lack of diversity in the legal field are the socio-economic circumstances that often hinder minority groups, including limited access to quality education and other resources, and the high cost of pursuing a legal degree.  Outreach programs, financial aid, and internal training opportunities targeting low-income families can help legal professionals address this and ensure all demographics have the same access to a legal career path.

Importance of Diversity in the Legal Field

Law firms must welcome a diverse workforce as it promotes mutual respect, acceptance, and co-existence.  It is crucial to formulate new strategies when working in the legal world.  A diverse group of lawyers, with different backgrounds, ethnicities, and skills, can help each other in building strengths and overcoming weaknesses.

Diversity leads to innovative ideas, opinions, and strategies.  It improves the quality of service and ensures that the voice of marginalized groups is also heard.  A female lawyer or black lawyer can highlight the issues of their respective groups better than others.  Diversity helps law firms to adapt accordingly to unprecedented or less familiar situations.  It allows them to respond to diverse clients more effectively.

Above all, diversity and inclusion in the legal field prevent discrimination against skilled and qualified lawyers.  Many reports and studies show that diverse workplaces are more productive and that they have lower turnover compared to non-inclusive workplaces.

Final Word

Harrity & Harrity strongly believes that the practice of law can advance only when there is a diverse legal team.  Our Diversity Mission is to promote a respectful, family-friendly, and diverse culture that recognizes and values the diverse backgrounds, perspectives, experiences, skills, and talents of each member on our team.

In order to provide equal opportunity to all candidates, Harrity developed the Rooney Rule 2.0 with regard to hiring, which is based off of The Rooney Rule.  The Rooney Rule is a National Football League policy that requires league teams to interview one minority candidate for each head coaching and senior football operation job.  According to The Rooney Rule, only one diverse candidate needs to be interviewed, while there could be hundreds or thousands of non-diverse candidates.  The Rooney Rule 2.0 changes that rule to commit to interviewing a female or minority candidate for every male or non-minority candidate we interview for any position at our firm.

The Harrity Diversity Committee has implemented several other initiatives in order to grow and nurture diversity in the IP legal field.  The Minority Firm Incubator helps train, develop, and launch minority-owned patent law firms in an effort to recruit, retain, and advance attorneys who will contribute to the diversity of the patent field.  The annual Women’s Workshop is a free program that introduces female engineers and law students or recent graduates to the practice of patent law with guest speakers, patent skills training, career mentoring, and more.  The Harrity Academyprovides minority candidates with exclusive training and practice materials for drafting high-quality patent applications.

The goal of these programs is to help increase the number of diverse candidates applying to positions within Harrity and the legal field, help improve skillsets and the likelihood that these candidates will succeed in the interview process, and encourage upward movement for minorities within their firms.

If more firms commit to implementing a comprehensive diversity plan, together, we can help bridge the gap by eliminating biases and encouraging diversity within the legal community.  It is vital that the hiring process focuses only on required skillsets and qualifications, regardless of gender, color, race, or religion, and that steps are taken to reduce discrimination and give minorities the opportunity to succeed.

If you are interested in reading the 2018/2019 Harrity Annual Diversity Report, it can be found here.  For more information regarding Harrity’s diversity initiatives, visit harrityllp.com/diversity.

 

Elaine Spector
AUTHOR

Elaine Spector

Elaine Spector is a Partner at Harrity & Harrity, LLP, a boutique firm specializing in intellectual property law. Her practice focuses primarily on the prosecution of patent applications, specifically within electromechanical technologies. Elaine is a driving force in the firm’s diversity and charity initiatives and serves on several committees and boards in relation, including AIPLA’s Women in IP Law’s Global Networking Event & Outreach Subcommittee, IPO’S Diversity & Inclusion Committee, and the non-profit No More Stolen Childhoods.

Harrity Welcomes First Minority Firm Incubator Candidate

WASHINGTON, DC (March 5, 2020) Harrity & Harrity, LLP has named James Bennin as the first Minority Firm Incubator candidate.  In October of 2019, the firm announced the formation of the Minority Firm Incubator, a program developed to help women and minorities establish their own law firms in an effort to change the disparity of minority-owned firms in the field.  James was selected for the program from a large pool of applicants due to both his expertise in IP law and his desire to create opportunities for minorities to succeed in underrepresented industries.

“Our firm’s Diversity Mission is focused on fostering inclusion within the legal community and encouraging the growth and success of individuals from all backgrounds.  The Minority Firm Incubator is a service-oriented program intended to further this mission by helping underrepresented groups flourish in a field where diversity is lacking.  James not only shares our beliefs on the importance of diversity in the practice of law, but is committed to using this role as a community outreach platform to help overcome the socioeconomic barriers that many minority groups face.  These values, in addition to James’s impressive background in intellectual property law, make him the ideal candidate to launch our Minority Firm Incubator program,” said Managing Partner John Harrity.

James is a patent attorney with nearly 15 years of experience counseling clients on matters related to intellectual property law.  His practice focuses on preparing and prosecuting patent applications in a variety of technological fields, including electrical and software technologies. James has experience in private practice and as an in-house attorney.  James began the program, which consists of four phases, on February 3, 2020.

In the first phase of the incubator program, James will focus on efficiently drafting effective, high-quality patent applications through the use of Harrity’s in-house tools and processes.  In the second year, he will focus on prosecuting pending patent applications.  The third phase consists of firm management training, during which Bennin will learn best practices for hiring and training attorneys, establishing and maintaining an office, managing human resources, accounting, and docketing, pitching and retaining clients, and more. At the beginning of the fourth year, James will launch his own firm.  In doing so, James hopes to reshape the perspective of minority-owned firms and improve the diversity of the legal field.

“Given my own background as an individual who was raised by a single mother in a low income household, was the first college graduate in my immediate family, and is a member of an underrepresented group in the legal profession, I am very grateful for and fortunate to have had great experiences in my legal career thus far.  I understand the obstacles someone with my background needs to overcome to be successful in this profession, and understand the importance of improving diversity in the legal field,” stated James.  “I want to use this program/platform as a means to give back in light of the great experiences in my legal career and to help provide a blueprint or guide to success for members of underrepresented groups, so they can see me as a testament that success in any professional field, and more particularly in the legal field, is a realistic possibility in their future.“

With James well underway in Phase 1 of the initial launch, Harrity has reopened the Minority Firm Incubator program to more applicants.  To learn more and apply to the Minority Firm Incubator, and to see Harrity’s other initiatives for driving diversity in the IP legal field, visit harrityllp.com/diversity.

 

About Harrity & Harrity, LLP

Harrity & Harrity is a leading patent preparation and prosecution firm specializing in the electrical and mechanical technology areas and is considered a Go-To Firm for the Patent 300®.  Our clients trust in our high-quality work, experienced people, industry leading innovation, and outstanding service.  For more information, visit harrityllp.com.

Harrity Creates Incubator to Launch Minority- and Women-Owned Law Firms

LAW.COM (October 3, 2019) After years of reading about new legal diversity programs with nothing to show for it, Harrity & Harrity managing partner John Harrity decided he wanted to try something new.

Harrity & Harrity managing partner John Harrity was sick of reading about law firm diversity.

The effort to diversify firms, he agrees, is noble. But over the years he had read countless stories about how this new internship or mentorship program will mend the legal industry’s diversity problem. And despite all these efforts, nothing much has changed.

“We keep doing the same things over and over and over again,” said Harrity, who co-founded the IP firm 20 years ago. “If the programs were really impactful we wouldn’t be having these conversations today.”

After reading a book about apprenticeships, Harrity had an idea for something new: Why not incubate women- and minority-owned law firms?

he idea wasn’t a big hit when he first brought it before the firm’s diversity committee. The biggest objection was that the program would essentially create competition for the firm. Harrity didn’t see it that way.

John HarrityJohn Harrity

“The reality is that there’s a ton of work out there, much more than we could ever handle ourselves,” he said. “And if they’re really good and taking work away from us that means we need to up our game.”

Eventually, the program was approved, and Harrity got to work on structuring the incubator. For each of the next three years beginning Jan. 1, the firm will bring in one woman attorney and one male minority attorney. Candidates must be a licensed attorney with a degree in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science, physics or a similar technical field.

The first year of the three-year program will teach the candidates how to draft patent applications. In the second year, the attorneys will learn how to prosecute pending applications. The third year marks a shift from legal practice training to management training. Participants will be taught how to hire and train attorneys, establish and maintain an office and pitch and retain clients.

At the beginning of the fourth year, the participants will each launch their own women- and minority-owned law firm.

The minority attorney incubator program has partnered with professional services firm Accenture, which will send work to the nascent firms to help get them off the ground and build a portfolio. Harrity hopes to bring in more companies as the apprenticeship develops.

Joel Stern, CEO of the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms, described the program as “novel” and “innovative.” Stern spoke with Harrity about the incubator when it was in development, and he applauded his firm for creating an unselfish and innovative program—especially in an area of the law that has traditionally been devoid of minorities.

He hopes that these new firms will join NAMWOLF, which just announced it had helped more than 100 minority- and women-owned law firms win $1.6 billion in legal spend since 2010.

“You can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again. Harrity is trying something new and novel that I think is going to work,” Stern said. “Even if it doesn’t, he deserves credit. He’s subordinating his interests to help minorities thrive in the business.”

To learn more about the Minority Firm Incubator and Harrity’s other initiatives to drive diversity in the IP legal field, visit harrity.com/diversity.

 

By Dylan Jackson