“Varnum is committed to leadership in the area of diversity and inclusion. We are accountable to ourselves, our clients and the community for momentum and progress on these values.”
From the Varnum Diversity and Inclusion Principles
Varnum embraces the fundamental principle that diversity and meaningful inclusion is not only a necessary component of the firm’s culture, it is essential to providing top-quality legal services to sophisticated consumers of legal services. This commitment is evident in the firm’s policies and widespread activities.
Recruiting and Retention Efforts
Recognizing the advantages of a diverse environment, Varnum has made a determined effort to recruit women and minorities at all levels of the firm. Recruiting and retaining women and minorities is a firm-wide commitment exemplified in our hiring program.
The majority of our new associates are hired from our Summer Associate Program. In addition to recruiting from law schools with diverse student populations, Varnum attempts to further reach minority students for this program by participating in the following:
- The Wolverine Bar Association’s 1L summer clerkship program, designed to increase the number of minority attorneys employed within the legal community. The SCP places students in law firms and corporations in the metro Detroit community.
- The Grand Rapids Bar Association Minority Clerkship Program, in conjunction with the Floyd Skinner Bar Association. Varnum has participated in this program since its inception in 1990.
- University of Michigan Black Law Students Association (BLSA) Alden J. "Butch" Carpenter Memorial Scholarship Gala, which raises money to award scholarships to three outstanding first-year BLSA member law students interested in business law and who demonstrate a commitment to community development.
- University of Michigan Latino Law Student Association (LLSA) Juan Tienda Scholarship Banquet, which recognizes Michigan law students and alum who have made significant contributions to the Latino community and raises money to award up to $10,000 in scholarships to exceptional first-year law students.
- University of Michigan Asian Pacific American Law Student Association (APALSA) Origins Banquet, which raises money for public interest fellowships.
- University of Michigan Student Funded Fellowship Auction, which raises money to fund Michigan law students who serve their communities by taking low-paying or unpaid public interest positions during their 1L summer.
The Kevin E. Kennedy Fellowship Gala, which supports Outlaws @ the University of Michigan Law School. Outlaws serves as an academic, social and political resource for students in the law school, welcoming all students who express an interest in issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community.
Varnum recognizes that each person is an individual with unique needs. Those might include raising children, caring for aging parents, participating in community activities, coping with illness, and more. Varnum makes it possible for all its employees to address those issues while also being valued and successful employees in their chosen fields by offering flexible work arrangements, including part-time employment and the ability to work from home.
We believe this contributes to increased job satisfaction which results in a high level of retention. Associate attorneys are able to accrue hours toward partnership status even while working part time.
The number of women employees in key positions at Varnum is strong. In addition to 46 women attorneys (about 25 percent of the firm’s total attorney population), women play a strong role in other key positions at the firm. Of Varnum’s 30 support professional positions, 23 are filled by women. Of the firm’s six administrative positions, four are filled by women.
Varnum in the Community
Varnum supports numerous organizations with volunteer efforts, monetary contributions and sponsorships. Of particular note is our longstanding relationship with Buchanan Elementary School in Grand Rapids and our more recent affiliation with Durfee Elementary School in Detroit.
- August 24, 2019 – Latino Health 5K – West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
- August 8, 2019 – Facing Racism Conference – Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce
- July 20, 2019 – Grand Rapids Symphony Neighborhood Concert, celebrating nature through the lens of Native American culture
- June 27, 2019 – El Torneo Golf Outing – West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
- June 20, 2019 – Grand Rapids African American Health Institute
- June 12, 2019 – Ebony Road Players – Arts Advocacy Awards
- May 22, 2019 – Newcomer Legacy: A Vietnamese-American Story (internal event at Varnum)
- May 16, 2019 – Asian Gala - West Michigan Asian American Association
- May 6, 2019 – Facing Racism Conference – Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce
- May 2, 2019 – Better Together – Affinity Mentoring
Varnum's Diversity Committee is made up of passionate, energetic and dedicated Varnum partners, associates and staff members who recognize that an inclusive culture makes the firm a more interesting place to work and enables us to respond with greater flexibility to challenges faced by our clients in a diverse, multicultural world.
The committee works with the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council to provide programming for attorneys and staff and develop and advance the firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
Opportunities for Students
Varnum Endowed Scholarship Fund at Davenport University
This scholarship, established in 1998, honors students of color who embody a commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion, both within the legal profession and the community, a strong tradition at Varnum LLP and a shared value with Davenport. The scholarship is awarded annually to students of color from Michigan with a 3.0 grade point average on a 4-point scale and with a preference for those interested in pursuing a law-related career such as attorney, paralegal, legal assistant, legal secretary, or law librarian in the State of Michigan.
Awards and Recognition
Luis Avila was named to Lawyers of Color's Second Annual Hot List in 2014, which recognizes early to mid-career minority attorneys excelling in the legal profession. Varnum was also honored as the top Michigan-based Diversity Focused Company by Corp! Magazine in 2014.
In 2013, attorney Nina Thekdi was named to Lawyers of Color's inaugural Hot List and Corp! Magazine named Joy Fossel a Diversity Business Leader in their Salute to Diversity. Also in 2013, Luis Avila was presented with a Diversity Award by Wedgwood Christian Services.
The Managing Partners Diversity Collaborative was honored as a Diversity Champion in 2012 by Corp! Magazine. Carroll Velie, the firm's former Human Resources Director, was honored as an advocate for the Hispanic business community and received the Building Bridges award from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of West Michigan. Also in 2012, Grand Rapids Business Journal included Velie and Fossel on their list of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan.
Varnum was the recipient of The Pillar Award given by the Women's Resource Center in 2010, in recognition of the firm's efforts to support women.
In 2008, Varnum was named Law Firm of the Year by Michigan State University College of Law Diversity Services Office & the Wolverine Student Bar Association/NBLSA. Varnum received the award for "making extraordinary strides to diversify the legal profession and support MSU College of Law diversity initiatives by providing financial assistance and career opportunities for its diverse students." The firm was also named 21st Century Innovator of the Year by The Women Lawyers Association of Michigan and Michigan Lawyers Weekly in recognition of Varnum's "outstanding efforts in recruiting and retention."
In 2008, the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan and Michigan Lawyers Weekly named Varnum the 21st Century Innovator of the Year in recognition of the firm’s outstanding efforts in recruiting and retention. Varnum took the top award out of 21 finalists across the state.
In recognition of Varnum’s efforts to support the minority business community on many fronts, Varnum was named Advocate of the Year in 2004 by the Minority Business Council of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. The award recognizes that the firm not only represents women- and minority-owned businesses but also supports many community organizations dedicated to improving the business climate for minorities. Varnum also received the 2004 Employer Recognition Award given by the Grand Rapids Women’s Resource Center. This prestigious award recognizes that we have created an environment in which women and minorities can grow, contribute and succeed.
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- October 2, 2018
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- July 16, 2012
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- December 6, 2010
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- April 15, 2010
- October 9, 2008
Varnum has a longstanding tradition of commitment to diversity and inclusion.