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.
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.
“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.