History and Programs


The Philadelphia Diversity Law Group (PDLG) is committed to fostering participation of a more diverse group of lawyers in the Greater Philadelphia Region in order to make our legal profession stronger, more productive and better equipped to address the challenges of the twenty-first century.  As part of this mission, PDLG creates programs to enhance recruitment and retention of lawyers of diverse backgrounds by law firms and corporate law departments in this region.



In 1993, many local law firms and corporate legal departments signed a “statement of goals” presented by then Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Andre Dennis and agreed to increase minority attorney representation and retention at their organizations. Although the Philadelphia Bar Association and individual employers had made some progress since signing the statement of goals in 1993, it was recognized that a concerted effort was required if the number of minority lawyers in the Philadelphia legal community was going to increase. In 1998, Nolan Atkinson ,Jr. of Duane Morris and Jonathan Waller of Sunoco were brought together by then Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Edward Chacker to take a hard look at this area of concern for the Philadelphia bar.

Out of the meetings between Nolan and Jon and their discussions with other lawyers a Steering Committee was formed in 2000.  The Steering Committee consisted of Nolan, Jon, Andre Dennis, Greg Matthews, Tobey Oxholm, Elaine Rinaldi and Robert Vogel. The Steering Committee convened a diversity retreat on June 2, 2000. The retreat was for senior in-house counsel and law firm chairpersons, managing partners and practice leaders. Its purpose was to evaluate the status of diverse lawyers in the area bar and to brainstorm how best to move forward with initiatives to increase diversity. Working with expert consultants, the group came up with a multi-pronged approach to be implemented under the auspices of what eventually became the PDLG.

Initially, the plan was to establish a non-profit corporation which would create a registry of diverse lawyers and law students seeking positions in Philadelphia and a second registry of volunteer mentors for diverse lawyers. In addition, the new corporation would serve as a resource center for educational programs and strategies for increasing diversity as well as to promote Philadelphia as a great place for diverse lawyers to work.

The work moved forward and in 2001, PDLG was incorporated with twelve members. The founding members, as listed in the original By-Laws, were Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, Cozen and O’Connor, Dechert, Drinker Biddle & Reath, Duane Morris & Heckscher, Montgomery,McCracken Walker & Rhoads, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, Pepper Hamilton; Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis, Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, ACE USA and SUNOCO, Inc. From this modest beginning, PDLG has grown to 35 members - 23 law firms and 12 law departments.

While the mission has never changed, some of the programs designed to accomplish that mission have. Over the years, PDLG’s programs have focused on four areas: lawyer recruitment, student pipeline, legal community education and lawyer retention.


Annual Programs

Fellows  Program

The Fellows Program is PDLG’s flagship program and was launched in 2003. It was modeled after a program of the Bar of the City of New York but differed in certain ways to be responsive to the requirements of PDLG members. The committee worked with the career services deans at the area law schools to gain support for the new Fellows Program and to persuade them to work with PDLG on identifying candidates.

The Fellows  Program is intended to provide diverse students completing their first year of law school with the opportunity to be considered for summer law jobs with PDLG members. This program is open to diverse law students - those who have overcome significant obstacles in the pursuit of a legal career, come from a disadvantaged background or come from a background that is underrepresented in the Philadelphia legal community. After going through a rigorous application and interview process, twelve students worked as summer associates/clerks at twelve PDLG employers that first year. In 2015, the Fellows Program included 40  law students who were hired by 35 participating Philadelphia law firms and in house legal departments. In total, since its inception, the PDLG Fellows Program has placed 368 students as summer associates/clerks with Philadelphia law firms and in house legal departments.

The first group of law students who participated in the Fellows Program attended the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova, Temple, Rutgers-Camden, Rutgers-Newark, Widener, Howard, and Penn State Dickinson law schools. Drexel University was added after its establishment in 2006. The Fellows Program was subsequently expanded to law students with significant connections to the Philadelphia area even if they attended law school elsewhere. To date, students have participated from a number of other law schools including - American, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Columbia, Charleston, Northwestern, USC, Harvard, Emory, Cincinnati, Michigan, NYU, Cornell, Georgetown and George Washington.

During the Fellows  Program, in addition to their jobs as summer associate or law clerks, the students participate in various training seminars and workshops. Other diverse students working in the Philadelphia area through other programs, such as the Judicial Intern Opportunity Program of the American Bar Association and the Montgomery County Bar Association’s first year law student summer program, are invited to participate in PDLG’s activities.

Many of the Fellows Program students have been hired as second year summer associates by PDLG member organizations and many Program alumni have been offered jobs with PDLG members after graduation from law school. Some have gone on to work at government or public interest organizations.  Several have gone on to law firm partnerships, the most recent with a PDLG member firm.

The PDLG and Fellows Program alumni understand that the Program is not just a vehicle for finding summer employment, but is also an opportunity to join and help build the Philadelphia legal community. There is a vibrant network of PDLG alumni who give back to the organization and to those coming after them - as advisors, mentors and speakers at PDLG seminars and programs.


Law School Boot Camp

Recognizing that diverse students starting law school typically have had less opportunity to interact with family members or friends who are lawyers, PDLG developed a “Boot Camp” for diverse students about to begin law school.


Law School Exam Prep

At the urging of the Boot Camp students, PDLG also developed a Law School Exam Prep session which took place in late fall. This session included a panel of law school professors who explain what professors are looking for in exam answers and how professors read exams. A panel of successful law students also gives tips and advice on how they approached their studies and exams and excelled during the first year of law school. Due to the availability of on campus exam prep programs, the PDLG exam prep program i currently on hiatus. 


New Associates Seminars

PDLG has begun a series of programs for new associates designed to up start the careers of diverse new associates at PDLG member law firms.  One year the seminar focused on what an associate has to do - and not do - to excel in his or her associate class.  The next seminar focused on defining, developing and demonstrating skills, styles and abilities that go beyond those common to new associates.


The Art of the Pitch

In 2014, PDLG began what is planned to be on-going series of programs for diverse senior associates and junior partners.  The program included an invitation only lunch at which senior in-house lawyers and law firm rainmakers spoke about how to give a successful pitch.  The attendees were then invited to create firm teams and develop and present a business pitch to  a PDLG member law department.  Members of the law department to whom the pitch was directed then gave feedback and advice to the pitch team..



Programs for the Legal Community

In 2004, PDLG hosted a luncheon featuring Kurt L. Schmoke, the former Baltimore Mayor and the Dean of the Howard University School of Law.

In 2005, PDLG held a conference on the subject of lawyer retention and the promotion of diverse associates to partnership. The goals of this conference included sensitizing senior lawyers to the many factors contributing to the lack of longevity of lawyers of color in large law firms and to the experiences of diverse lawyers and to brainstorm potential solutions. This conference focused on strategies that leaders and managers of law firms and corporate law departments could use to help more of their diverse lawyers stay for the long term.

In 2006, PDLG hosted a luncheon featuring former Senator George J. Mitchell. Senator Mitchell spent a significant portion of his career attempting to resolve crises and to find common ground among diverse and antagonistic factions.

In 2007, PDLG hosted a conference that focused on the needs of diverse associates. The goal of this conference was to help diverse associates think about how to take charge of their careers and how to be the lawyers their firms needed and wanted to retain.

In 2008, in association with Temple University and the Philadelphia Bar Association, PDLG presented a Symposium on the Norris Law Firm and the Liacouras Committee at the African American History Museum in Philadelphia. The firm of Norris Schmidt Green Harris Higginbotham & Brown is widely seen as the first African-American law firm in Philadelphia. Among its many accomplishments, it led efforts and partnered with others to increase the number of African-American lawyers in Pennsylvania by advocating for reform of the Pennsylvania bar examination process. In response to advocacy by the Norris Law firm and others, the Philadelphia Bar Association sponsored a special committee chaired by Peter Liacouras, the former President of Temple University and Dean of its Law School, which recommended and pressed changes to the bar admission process. After the implementation of these changes, the number of African- American lawyers admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar increased dramatically. At the symposium, the history of these events was told through the recollections of a panel of witnesses to and participants in these historic events.

In 2009, PDLG presented a seminar designed for women lawyers of color in response to a report by Catalyst, Inc. on the challenges facing such women and the need for institutional change. The seminar was titled “Let’s Not Wait for the World to Change: What Women of Color Can do to Combat Barriers to Advancement” and focused on what could be done now, by individuals, to improve the situation and respond to challenges without waiting for firms to make fundamental changes. This seminar was moderated by Charisse Lillie and featured a panel of successful women lawyers of color in the Philadelphia legal community who talked about the challenges they faced and how they met them.

In 2011, PDLG celebrated its tenth anniversary with a luncheon. At the 10th Anniversary luncheon, PDLG introduced the “Ring of Champions” mentoring program. As part of this program, several business and practice leaders in PDLG law firms agreed to mentor a diverse associate. Under this program mentors, in addition to providing general advice and support, are expected to introduce the associate to their clients and to assist the associate in the development of his or her legal practice. While the initial commitment is a year, PDLG anticipates that these relationships will flourish and become established during that time.

In 2015 PDLG, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Bar Association presented the 2015 PDLG Diversity & Inclusion Symposium: Best Practices for Retaining & Promoting Diverse Talent.  The Symposium included a discussion of implicit bias by Professor Jerry Kang, Vice Chancellor, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, UCLA and Professor of Law, UCLA Law School and one on generational diversity by Lauren Skiller Rikleen, President, Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership and Visiting Scholar, Boston College Center for Work & Family.