An Expert's Voice: Interview with the University of Wisconsin's Nilesh Patel

Posted by on Thursday, February 3, 2011

In a recent National Law Journal Opinion article NALP member Nilesh Patel, a J.D. adviser at the University of Wisconsin Law School, discussed decreases in the number of minority and women associates at law firms. He wrote, "It is impossible to predict when legal hiring will improve and enable the profession to counter and reverse the decreases. However, firms can maintain their diversity efforts, even with shrinking budgets and lowered staffing, by ensuring that the right culture is in place to retain the diversity candidates who were brought in."

I spoke with Nilesh and asked him to share more of his thoughts on the legal diversity landscape. Here is some of what he had to say.

Q: In your article you mention that "lowered attorney hiring rates, downsizing, or lack of adequate training may undo years of small incremental gains made through diversity initiatives." Do you think that the trend is reversible? Are you optimistic that we can make the changes necessary to course correct?

A: I am sure [the trend] is reversible but it goes hand and hand with the economy getting better and the business sector growing to need more legal services.

I do get optimistic as we see news reports that business profits are going up and lateral hiring will start picking up. As organizations grow there is going to be a need to get more work done, which will lead to more hiring for diversity candidates. While the economy may have dampened hiring, there has been no indication from law firms or from corporate counsel that diversity hiring should not remain a recruiting priority.

Q: You write, "Diverse associates will stay when a firm can provide an inclusive and supportive environment — one that has significant numbers of diverse peers and a culture that allows for growth, opportunities to develop, and advancement to partner." Do you find, in your position as a career counselor, that job seekers are considering these factors? Do you advise students to consider them?

A: That was more of an anecdotal observation. But just from my experience dealing with law school as a student and as an advisor it seems that people stay in an environment where they feel comfortable and supported. Some students are unwilling to branch out into other areas of our state due to lack of diversity. They think, "I am really going to be alone up here." This is why the Legal Education Opportunities (LEO) Program at UW Law School has focused on creating a critical mass of diversity students. If [someone] is having to struggle and is feeling alone at some point, it starts wearing on him.

Nilesh Patel is a J.D. Career advisor at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Topics: Diversity & Inclusion  

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