Law firms often tout their numbers of diverse staff, but Christopher Pickett knows that data doesn’t always tell the story. And most of the data regarding diversity in the legal field doesn’t tell a positive one.
Law firms might pursue diversity by hiring an attorney who fits the profile, but they don’t make efforts to further that person’s career, Pickett said. Statistics for the legal field overall show that the industry is still dominated by white men, especially when counting equity partners at major firms.
As a result, in 2015, 1.8 percent of partners at large law firms were African American men, 2.9 percent were Asian-American men and 2.2 percent were Hispanic men, according to the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession. By comparison, Asian-American women held 1.1 percent of partner spots. African American women and Hispanic women both counted for 0.6 percent of partners at large law firms. Pickett cited those statistics in an article he authored in Westlaw in December 2017.
“That isn’t change,” Pickett said. “It certainly isn’t change from an industry perspective, and it certainly isn’t change from a micro-perspective at a law firm level. That has to change so that we’re not only allowing people to come in the door but also to succeed and advance up the chain.”
As a shareholder and chief diversity officer at Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, Pickett has every intention of improving those numbers — not only within Greensfelder but across the legal industry.
“I do not want to be the only lawyer of color who is a shareholder,” Pickett said. “I want there to be multiple people to be able to do it. Internally, my goal is that we fundamentally change how the firm looks.”
After graduating from Saint Louis University School of Law, Pickett worked as a public defender in the town of Nevada to gain trial experience. He later worked at a smaller private firm before joining Greensfelder in 2012. His legal practice focuses on business litigation, including the areas of securities and higher education.
Law firms could make their staffs more diverse by taking action beyond hiring a diverse attorney to replace one who leaves, Pickett said. Students should receive mentoring while in law school, and firms should curtail the practice of ignoring students who have struggled academically during their first semester, Pickett said. Firms also should consider sponsorship programs for new hires in order to pair up-and-coming attorneys with advocates in law-firm matters.
At Greensfelder, Pickett is known for repeating two words often: “potential” and “outcome.”
Under his leadership, the firm has encouraged diversity through mentorship and training programs, support for new parents, expanded sponsorship of events and organizations for black law students. This fall, he is organizing an event to target underrepresented law students who may have an interest in securities law. He also wants to improve the socioeconomic diversity of those seeking legal careers.
“The purpose of this work is putting someone in the position for outcome to match their potential,” Pickett said. “I really want to help everybody. I want to put everybody in a position to succeed.”