Organically Connected: How One Firm’s Quest to Attract Top Talent Made Them a National Leader in Diversity
When Les Bookoff and Roland McAndrews established their patent counseling and prosecution firm in 2012, they made recruiting and retaining the industry’s top talent their primary focus. Nearly a decade later, the byproduct of that approach is a nationally recognized firm — both for the work they do and the diverse team of attorneys who do it.
But diversity for diversity’s sake was never their intent — diversity for talent’s sake was. Turns out, that’s been a winning philosophy on both ends. In 2021, the firm was simultaneously recognized as one of the top 16 patent prosecution firms in the United States and the best midsize law firm for diversity.
“It started as a business decision. We realized the most important thing for a successful law firm is having talented attorneys, being able to recruit them and retain them,” says Bookoff.
When the duo launched the firm, they wanted a strong talent foundation to fill a perceived void in the marketplace — a top-tier patent firm focused on strategic patent counseling at a better value than larger IP firms. They focused on finding attorneys who had a desire to work toward that value proposition and who shared their beliefs of teamwork, diversity and maintaining a proper work-life balance.
“If you limit your talent pool to just white males, you are missing out on a large population and you will lose out on talent,” says Bookoff. “We were lucky enough that some of our first hires were women and racial and ethnic minorities, many of whom are partners right now.”
About Bookoff McAndrews
Bookoff McAndrews was established in 2012 as a law firm with a singular focus on high quality, strategic patent counseling and prosecution. The Washington D.C. firm has since grown to 40+ attorneys and is nationally recognized for their firm culture and their work with high technology startups and Fortune 500 companies.
About Les Bookoff
Les Bookoff is the co-founder of Bookoff McAndrews and has provided a full range of patent counseling services to clients for almost 25 years. He is recognized as a leader in patent prosecution, portfolio management, and strategic patent counseling.
Of the 40 attorneys at Bookoff McAndrews, 40% are part of racial and ethnic minority groups and 30% are women. In 2021, the firm ranked fourth in the nation on Law360’s annual list of the Most Diverse Equity Partnerships, and in 2020 was recognized as Chambers D&I “Inclusive Firm of the Year.”
Bookoff says the diversity recognition is a direct result of the firm’s culture of inclusion. “You can’t just recruit great people; you need to retain them. An important part of the diversity program is supporting, respecting, mentoring and teaching a diverse group of employees so they feel included and equal.”
Diversity Without Inclusion Misses the Mark
Studies show that inclusion in the workplace is a key indicator of whether people remain and thrive in their place of work. A recent study conducted by McKinsey & Company surveyed employees in over 1,000 large companies worldwide. Research showed that 52% of respondents held a positive sentiment toward diversity in their workplace. Conversely, when it came to inclusion, only 29% held those same positive viewpoints.
The divide between diversity and inclusion is something Bookoff McAndrews works to address among its employees, which is why their Diversity, Equity, and Awareness (IDEA) Committee was launched in 2020. The board of that Committee is made up of attorneys, partners — including Bookoff and McAndrews — and staff from a variety of ethnic, racial and gender groups. The IDEA Committee holds programs every two to three months to educate firm employees on how they can enhance their own personal awareness of diversity, inclusion and equity topics. A recent 30-minute virtual seminar on gender in the workplace attracted over two-thirds of firm employees to the event.
Still, Bookoff notes that inclusion in the workplace goes beyond formal programs and websites highlighting diversity. It begins, he says, with daily interactions among firm employees to foster a feeling of mutual respect and mentorship.
“If you don’t have that and you don’t have it coming from the partners and owners, no formal program matters. A beautiful website that has a diversity page doesn’t matter,” says Bookoff. “You must have daily interactions with people that shows them you support them, that you’re committed to training them, mentoring them, that you care about them, and that you’ll promote them. Making them feel supported and respected is what’s most important.”
The Path to a More Diverse and Inclusive Firm
Law360 notes the percentage of minority equity partners at a typical law firm remains under 10%, despite 30% of law school graduates in 2020 identifying as members of racial or ethnic minorities. While Bookoff McAndrews is a leader in this area, the broader legal community has some work to do. Bookoff offers these ideas on how firms can begin to foster a diverse and inclusive culture:
- Broader approach to mentorship: Leaders can fall into the pattern of mentoring and training people of similar backgrounds as their own. By broadening approaches to mentorship, law firms will more clearly recognize the leadership qualifications of a wider pool of attorneys.
- Business buy-in from owners: Meaningful advances in diversity require complete support and involvement from firm ownership. Bookoff recommends outlining the business case for it. “Fifteen to 20 years ago, Fortune 500 companies were giving lip service to the desire to have diverse counsel. It’s no longer lip service — they are making diverse counsel a part of their request for proposals.” Statistics support the argument; gender and ethnically diverse companies are more likely to outperform their less diverse peers when it comes to profitability.
- The reality of better outcomes: In the legal field, a diverse group of attorneys and partners can lead to better ideas, solutions and outcomes. “The legal field sets, interprets and argues over the law that governs our land. So, if the legal field is not diverse, you are not going to get a diverse way of thinking about the rules and laws and regulations that we all live by,” Bookoff says.
- Shared responsibility: Changing or improving firm culture begins with leadership — leadership that historically is often comprised of white males. Bookoff believes that without the active participation of white males in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, change will happen slowly — if at all.
“It’s more incumbent on the white males who are in power to make it better than it is for everyone else. I think it’s very important to have white males take part in the formal programs that you are doing or sit on the panels that are talking about diversity, because in many cases those are the people that can make change happen.”
Whether the case for diverse law firms stem from a business decision or a moral one, Bookoff offers one more incentive: “It’s a whole lot more fun.”
Join Les Bookoff and Elissa Knoff of Bookoff McAndrews and Tiffany Ho and Alexandra Burk of Rogoway Law Group on Tuesday, November 30 at noon for a Live Playbook Event discussing “How Successful Firms Approach Diversity and Inclusion.”
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