IAM (September 10, 2019) In the latest issue of IAM our cover story “the Boston Manifesto” is a call to action for the IP industry to increase gender diversity across all parts of the market. The piece, which subscribers can read here, reflects some of the challenges that women face in reaching senior levels, particularly in-house and in private practice. The article also contains some specific areas that all stakeholders should focus on.
This is a challenge confronting all parts of the IP system as stakeholders try to increase both the gender and racial diversity in their ranks. Arguably it is most pressing among the largest law firms that have struggled to grow the diversity of their workforce, particularly at partner level.
But it’s by no means only the denizens of Big Law who are zeroing in on how they can make their workforces more diverse. Last week Harrity & Harrity, a respected IP boutique with around 30 attorneys based in Northern Virginia, announced the launch of its minority firm incubator, an initiative designed to help foster the growth of minority-owned specialist IP law firms.
Starting in January 2020, the firm will recruit two minority attorneys who will be trained over the next four years not only in the ins and outs of patent drafting and prosecution work but also on how to launch and manage their own firms. To help those fledgling firms thrive, Harrity is signing up a group of businesses as programme partners. They have committed to giving any new firms work on a trial basis as and when they get off the ground. Accenture was the first to get involved, with somewhere between three and six companies ultimately expected to join on top.
Should the Harrity recruits decide that they’d prefer not to go down the route of owning their own firm then managing partner John Harrity said he’s “not going to kick them out the door”. However, he also said that he hoped the new programme would attract entrepreneurial types willing to take the plunge.
Harrity, who established his firm with his twin brother Paul, admitted that he needed to get over some doubts among his staff, such as why they would create more competition for themselves, before getting the initiative off the ground.
“There’s more than enough work to go around,” Harrity said he told his firm’s diversity committee, but he also admitted that there are plenty of concerns to be overcome outside of his own practice.
“One of the things that I’m finding out as we go out to the industry, talking to chief patent counsel at the largest filers, there’s a perception that minority firm means a firm that’s not good and is not going to be able to perform at a high level – we’re going to change that impression,” Harrity commented.
This is by no means his firm’s first diversity initiative. Three years ago it introduced a rule whereby it must interview a female or minority candidate for every male, non-minority candidate for any position. Since then it has gone from 8% diversity at the attorney level to 30% and Harrity insisted that this has had a marked effect. “It’s amazing how my firm has grown in the last three years, as we’ve taken this diversity journey,” he remarked. He pointed to a doubling in headcount, significant growth in revenues and profits, and more innovative thinking among the workforce as clear byproducts of having a more diverse practice.
“If you expand that out to the industry in general I think you’ll see the same types of effects and we’re going to start thinking differently which is really what the legal field needs to do,” Harrity maintained. He pointed out the irony of a lack of innovation on the subject among a patent community where much of the work is grounded in new ways of thinking.
“We’re in a field of innovation, that’s what the whole thing is about, and firms don’t do anything,” he claimed. That maybe an unfair accusation to lay at all IP practices but as Harrity’s new incubator shows, there is a growing realisation that more work is required to produce clear results.
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 Richard Lloyd