|Fred Alvaro, partner in charge at Adorno & Yoss in Boston, says diversity at the firm is no accident. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)|
Making a case for differences
Law firms, clients see benefit of lawyers with other points of view
Diversity counts at law firm Adorno & Yoss — literally.
About 20 percent of the lawyers at Miami-based Adorno & Yoss are Latino, and some 17 percent are African-American.
Minority lawyers hold a roughly 60 percent stake in the firm.
And at the Boston office, the two leading partners are a Latino man and an African-American man; the other four partners are Caucasian, one is a woman.
Fred Alvaro, the Latino man who is the partner in charge of the Boston office, said that level of diversity is no mistake, but is embedded in the firm’s recruiting process.
“I think we all benefit in the management of the firm from a debate amongst people who see different aspects of the world,’’ he said, noting that the firm also has many Spanish-speaking attorneys who attract clients from Spain and Latin America.
Adorno & Yoss is an anomaly in the nation’s legal profession, which has often been criticized for its lack of diversity. According to a recent surv ey by trade publication The American Lawyer, the percentage of black, Asian, and Hispanic lawyers at the top 200 US firms last year was 13.4 percent, while lawyers from nonwhite backgrounds at the 10 largest Massachusetts firms was 12.9 percent. Nationally, just 6.9 percent of partners were minorities, according to the survey.
Law firms slowly have been becoming more diverse, though. As corporations increasingly realize the benefits of diversity to the bottom line, many are demanding a reputation for diversity from their lawyers.
That has led some firms to launch diversity initiatives that have helped raise the number of minority lawyers at firms in the past decade:
Since The American Lawyer began collecting data in 2000, the percentage has risen almost 4 points.
Betty Francisco, the vice president of the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting Law in Boston, said some firms have made significant headway in part “because clients are beginning to demand it.’’
“There are many arguments you can make as to why diversity is good, but the most salient one is from a business point of view,’’ she said. “Consumers are buying products in diverse markets, so they want their suppliers and trusted advisers to reflect that.’’
At Adorno & Yoss, diversity was a deliberate business strategy.
The firm originated in Miami in 1986, but when it began opening national offices about a decade ago, it targeted minority-owned firms in key markets.
In some cases, Adorno incorporated some part of the target firm’s name into its own to capitalize on the firm’s local popularity: Adorno Yoss White & Wiggins, for instance, now operates in Dallas, and Adorno Yoss Alvarado & Smith in California.
“Most firms were trying to become as much like a national majority-owned firm to attract business,’’ said Francisco Gonzalez, who runs the international practice in the firm’s Miami office. “We agreed on a path primarily contrarian to what most firms were doing.’’
Adorno & Yoss now has 17 offices across the United States and Latin America, including the Boston office, which opened its doors in 2007; Alvaro and two other partners brought their clients over from their old firm, Fitzhugh, Parker & Alvaro. Now, the Boston office is shifting into growth mode. Amid the weak economy, Alvaro said he, like most firms, was cautious about expanding and hiring.
But now he is speaking to recruiters about bringing on two new partners.
He also hopes to add associates and take on more office space in 18 months — perhaps even sooner.
“We are a natural home for talented attorneys of color,’’ he said.