News Column

The Law of Diversity: Adorno & Yoss Law Firm

January/February Issue
The Law of Diversity: Adorno & Yoss Law Firm

At the law firm of Adorno & Yoss, diversity is not an afterthought, nor is it a marketing ploy to gain new business.

No, diversity -- doing business with and hiring minorities -- is front and center at Adorno & Yoss, the largest minority-owned law firm in the nation. With about 300 lawyers in 20 offices around the country, and a Fortune 200 client list, the Florida-based law firm has emerged as one of the premier law offices in the nation. The company, which has two offices in Latin America, is also a member of the National Minority Supplier Development Council.

"We are seeing what is happening with the population in this country," said Florida-based Henry Adorno, CEO and co-founder of Adorno & Yoss. "Being able to understand that and being able to communicate with our clients gives us the competitive advantage."

George Yoss is the company's managing partner. With headquarters in Florida and California, Adorno and Yoss has dozens of senior partners and offices in Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and New York, among other large metro markets.

At Adorno & Yoss, 40 percent of the attorneys are of color: 20 percent are Hispanic, 17 percent are African- American, and 40 percent of its attorney roster is composed of women.

Adorno & Yoss was the recipient of the 2007 Th omas L. Sager Award for the South/Southwest Region of Florida presented annually by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) to the firm that has demonstrated an incessant commitment to improve the hiring, retention and promotion of minority attorneys.

The year prior, the National Law Journal ranked Adorno & Yoss the 169th-largest firm in the country.

While diversity has always been at the fore since the company was launched with three attorneys in 1986, Mr. Adorno and other senior partners at the firm say that the current state of the economy has accentuated the importance of diversity.

Big companies are trying to find the best value for their corporate dollar and are turning to Adorno & Yoss because of its expertise. Many of the company's attorneys moved to Adorno & Yoss from larger firms.

Mr. Adorno still handles the occasional case, but mostly these days works on business development and new client generation.

"In the cases I have handled it is usually long established clients of the firms and I have a personal relationship with them," Mr. Adorno said.

The firm specializes in litigating business, real estate, intellectual, labor and entertainment cases, and has an impressive client roster.

Among the major names are Major League Baseball, the National Football League, AT&T, McDonald's, Allstate and Viacom.

"There is a stereotype that minority firms don't have the depth and size of the bigger firms," said Attorney Ruben Smith, based in Orange County. "But our market is corporate America."

The recession has surprisingly brought some economic advantages to Adorno & Yoss. Larger firms are laying off attorneys. Corporations are cutting costs and looking at switching law firms.

That's good news for Adorno & Yoss.

"It has opened up opportunities for us," Mr. Smith said. "Large companies are looking at ways to cut costs and not lose service or lose quality. Because we are a smaller firm, we have more competitive prices, but we offer superior quality."

Mr. Smith was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. After graduating from USC, Mr. Smith worked in public relations, in the office of Hispanic Affairs, under President Jimmy Carter.

It was while working at the White House that he decided he wanted to be an attorney.

"Working at the White House, I looked around me and I saw the folks who were making the most decisions and having the most influence and I realized that if I wanted to make a difference I needed to be an attorney."

Mr. Smith also realized that the field of law was not very ethnically diverse -- another motivator. He eventually graduated from Yale.

As a lawyer, Mr. Smith said he believes he is making a positive impact on people's lives.

For example, he said, one of the more significant case has been successfully fighting the city of Tustin, which wanted to build a high-end commercial and residential development, in a community that is 96 percent Latino, next to an elementary school.

He represented Latino activists groups and the Santa Ana Unified School District to obtain a $60 million agreement for the school to give up its fight, but the money was used for essential programs for kids. "I enjoy making a difference," Mr. Smith said. "It is tremendous and gratifying to see the positive impact you can have."

There has been other business deals that have also brought rewards, said the real estate lawyer. He negotiated the $2 billion sale of most of Unocal's real estate assets in the 1990s.

"We have been very fortunate to have had those opportunities," he said.

Genuine Commitment

Another attorney at the firm, based in Los Angeles, is Jim Blancarte. Endowed with quick wit and a likable demeanor, Blancarte has represented some of the world's biggest entertainers, and appeared on every major national network and Southern California TV market. He has more than 200 nationally broadcast interviews under his belt, including serving as an analyst for the O.J. Simpson criminal murder trial, the Los Angeles riots, both Michael Jackson criminal trials, the Robert Blake murder trial, and Kobe Bryant's legal problems.

His client list includes or has included over the years, comedians such as Paul Rodriguez and George Lopez, and iconic Mexican musicians Pepe Aguilar and Juan Gabriel.

Mr. Blancarte joined Adorno & Yoss about a year ago -- leaving a well established law firm. He said the biggest reason was that at Adorno & Yoss, diversity is not lip service -- it's real.

"It became apparent to me that they had to be doing something right," Mr. Blancarte said. He's also brought some positive things to the firm.

"I have been able to bring in a large multinational aerospace company," he said, adding there have been other clients that have followed him. "Th at is the result of 30 years of relationship building." For Mr. Blancarte, who grew up bilingual - his mother spoke Spanish and his father spoke English -- building relationships with people in the corporate world is an essential skill.

Whereas a decade ago, some law firms dismissed the idea that diversity brought a competitive advantage, at Adorno & Yoss, he said, diversity awareness is core to doing business.

"The combination of value and diversity makes a lot of sense to the biggest and best clients in the country especially during a down economy," Mr. Blancarte said. "We are getting resumes from young lawyers who a year ago were on top of the world in some of the biggest, most prestigious law firms in the country, and were let go. It speaks volumes as to what is happening at those firms compared to what is happening at our firm."

Source: (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

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