How Diversity & Inclusion Collaboration Deepens Relationships between Law Firms and Clients

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Michelle Fang, Chief Legal Officer at Turo, a peer-to-peer car sharing platform, is one of the founding members of the 2019 Law in Technology Diversity Collaborative — a first of its kind cross-company summer associate program for diverse first-year law students.

Recognizing the importance of diversifying both the technology field as well as the legal profession, companies such as eBay, Facebook, LendingClub, Turo, Symantec, Uber, the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company, with the support of the Diversity Lab, came together to create a first-year summer associate class where law students spend five weeks at a technology company and five weeks with a participating law firm, including Baker McKenzie; Boies Schiller Flexner; Cooley; Covington & Burling; Fenwick & West; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Hogan Lovells; Mayer Brown; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; Morrison Foerster; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; and Perkins Coie.

The program was inspired by eBay’s successful diversity summer internship program with the leaders of that program, Patricia Svilik and David Pilson, expanding it outside of the company’s walls. “It’s just been an incredibly rewarding, enriching program,” says Fang. “It is not just fantastic for the law students, but also rewarding for those of us lawyers who are mentoring and helping to shepherd this program through our individual companies.”

The value of the internship for the rising 2L law students is the opportunity to get rare in-house experience in addition to working with a great law firm as a first-year student. One of the pillars of the program is that the Diversity Collaborative interviewed exceptional students at schools with high diversity indexes, in addition to the top ranked law schools. This helps push law firms to recruit from law schools where they might not have otherwise hired.

As part of the program, the students as a community participate in training and mentoring, fostering a cohort of peers to help to provide a broader support network for these diverse lawyers as they enter their careers. In addition, the students are part of the firm’s summer associate class with the expectation that next year, they will be invited back as part of the firm’s 2L summer associate program.

diversity & inclusion

Michelle Fang

At the time of this interview, Fang indicated that the students were in week 7 of the 10-week program and shares that it has been a huge success. Another indicator of success is the interest from other companies and law firms who want to join the program next year. In addition to helping a diverse student gain access to fantastic work experience in-house and at a reputable law firm, Fang characterizes the spirit of community among the participating companies. “Collaborative is the word to best describe the program — it really has played out that way,” she explains. “Many of us are fierce business competitors, and yet that has not played out at all in terms of the launch and implementation of the program.”

Enhancing the Partnership between the Buy-side & the Sell-side

Moreover, she describes the enhanced partnership between Turo and its law firm partner Cooley. The firm, who handles a large part of Turo’s litigation work, jumped at the chance to participate in the Diversity Collaborative when Fang approached the firm. Indeed, this program serves as a tremendous opportunity for law firms to deepen client relationships through partnership on diversity and inclusion initiatives. “Many of the pairings came about because the firms have quite a deep relationship with the company,” she says, adding that most law firms responded with, “How can I get involved?” instead of having to be convinced to participate. As an example of this camaraderie, when Fang was named General Counsel of the Year by the Association of Corporate Counsel recently, two of the lead partners from Cooley flew out from the West Coast and surprised Fang in New York at the event to celebrate the honor with her.

In situations where there was not already a previous relationship between the company and the law firm partner, programs like the Diversity Collaborative can open up doors for new business. “Some of the law firms participating in the Collaborative don’t have a deep, integrated relationship with the tech company they have been paired with, but the law firm heard about the program and wanted to get involved,” Fang states.

Fang sees these partnerships between corporations and law firms as a growing trend and advocates for their continued expansion. Indeed, a program like the Diversity Collaborative not only offers expanded partnership opportunities for law firms and clients, it also offers an opportunity for a diverse future lawyer to have a leg up on quality work experience, Fang notes. “It’s just a win-win-win!”