Cadwalader Case Study: Sponsorship Program Strengthens Skills and Relationships for Diverse Future Leaders

Topics: Attorneys of Color, Client Relations, Diversity, Efficiency, Inclusion, Law Firm Profitability, Law Firms, Leadership, Leadership & Retention, LGBT Leadership, Mentors & Sponsors, Practice Engineering, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

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There are many ways to approach diversity and inclusion, For example, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft created a highly regarded sponsorship program that continues to evolve and produce important, measurable results for the firm.

The firm was recognized by the New York City Bar in 2016 as “one of the first law firms to formally prepare women and diverse senior associates and special counsel for future leadership roles at the firm with its [program].” Cadwalader launched the sponsorship program in 2013 and has credited it internally with supporting the increased diversity of Cadwalader’s recent partner classes — 25% of the firm’s new partners over the past three years were participants in the program.

In this case study, Cadwalader’s partners and diversity & inclusion (D&I) program leaders discuss the program and why it’s considered a critical piece of the firm’s vision to develop its future leadership.

Filling a Need: Envisioning the Sponsorship Program

In 2012, Tax Practice Chair Linda Swartz founded the Cadwalader Taskforce for the Advancement of Women, which included the firm’s managing partner and four additional female partners, to set about improving the retention of the firm’s female attorneys and their promotion into partnership. As seasoned lawyers do, the Taskforce team began researching solutions and soon identified a Harvard Business Review article that featured the emergence of sponsorship programs. This led to further research about how and where these programs were occurring — which was mostly in the corporate world.

To meet the needs of its female lawyers, the Taskforce envisioned a sponsorship program as a way to help them gain critical networking and business development opportunities and other leadership skills. The Taskforce believed these opportunities would offer the female participants capabilities beyond their already stellar legal acumen — and it’s these skills­­ that are crucial considerations as attorneys edge toward the on-ramp of promotion. After a year of planning, the Cadwalader Sponsorship Program officially launched as a pilot program with an inaugural class of 16 high-performing female associates and special counsel, and an even greater number of partner-sponsors, allowing for a many-to-one ratio.

By 2015, based on positive feedback from protégés and with a proven structure in place, the Sponsorship Program was expanded to welcome ethnically-diverse and LGBT attorneys.

A Curriculum for Future Leaders

Based on the nominations of practice group heads, new cohorts are formed at the start of each year, with no end date on their participation in the program. Protégés who are ultimately promoted to partner are asked to become “Next Generation Sponsors.” The program gathers sponsors and protégés for an event every month, with a curriculum that is focused on enhancing several key competencies, including:

  • Business development skills — To develop protégés into business generators, partners teach business development skills; in addition, each protégé receives a long-term project to develop and deliver a “client pitch” to partners and then potential clients.
  • Leadership skills — To equip protégés with the tools to become leaders, partners impart their wisdom on how to remain engaged and resilient amid a formidable workload, especially when handling complex matters and urgent client demands.
  • Networking skills — The program also offers many opportunities for networking with senior partners and management committee members within the firm to help protégés increase their internal profiles.

“The program is about relationship-building among partners and their mid-level-career diverse attorneys, and channeling informal relationships through a more formal platform to ensure more people are receiving equal access,” Swartz says. “These partner interactions also help position protégés to receive high-profile matters as well as constructive and timely feedback as they work through these assignments.”

The Other Half of the Equation: The Sponsors

The program’s sponsors represent the highest ranks within the firm, including Managing Partner Pat Quinn, members of the firm’s management committee, and many other senior partners, including practice group leaders.

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Aisha Greene, Director of Attorney Development & Training at the firm, explains that this buy-in at the top is essential. “Sponsorship programs can only work if the leader at the very top is saying: ‘This is important to the firm, and to me, and we’re going to buy into it and put in the work,’” Greene says. In the spirit of the program, all sponsors are encouraged to network broadly with all of the protégés; and to make this a reality, sponsors are asked to attend at least three networking events throughout the year and rotate in presenting the skills-building sessions.

Global litigation special counsel Jared Stanisci, who is a program participant and chair of the Cadwalader LGBT Network, says these networking events are crucial to the participants success. “A big part of the sponsorship program is meeting the people who can impact your career, especially those in other practice groups,” Stanisci observes.

And speaking as both a former protégé and current sponsor, Real Estate partner Bonnie Neuman notes that both sides of the sponsorship relationship are rewarding for the participants. “It is very gratifying to participate in the Sponsorship Program from the other side,” Neuman says. “As someone who was fortunate enough to benefit from being well-sponsored and supported en route to my path to partnership, it is both important and rewarding to give back and assist in similarly paving the way for diverse attorneys as they come up through the ranks.”

Many Spokes of One Wheel: Cadwalader’s Broader Diversity Program

The Cadwalader Center for Diversity and Inclusion is the firm’s organizing body and central resource for its multi-faceted diversity programs, which promotes and supports a culture of inclusion and opportunity for its many groups of diverse attorneys. As part of this framework, the Sponsorship Program is the last step in a series of diversity talent development programs and is preceded by its “Basic Training Program” for second-year associates and the firm’s “Business Development Boot Camp” program for mid-level attorneys.

As empirical recognition of its D&I priorities, Cadwalader was recently ranked among the leading law firms for minority attorneys in the Law360 2019 Diversity Snapshot survey, moving up to seventh place from a prior-year ranking of 13th in the 300-to-599-lawyer firm size category. To witness this real-time expansion in the pipeline for upcoming diverse leaders is both exciting and validating, Greene says, even as there is still much progress to be made.

Managing Partner Quinn agrees. “I believe that the opportunity of diversity won’t be fully realized for the firm until we’re diverse from top-to-bottom, with a leadership that reflects the diversity that we want for the whole firm,” Quinn says.