Incubating the Next Gen Legal Profession’s Diversity & Inclusion Leaders

Topics: Attorneys of Color, Corporate Legal, Diversity, Law Firms, Leadership, Leadership & Retention, LGBT Leadership, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

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The Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession (IILP) launched its Social Impact Incubator to develop the next generation of diversity thought leaders in the profession and to generate new and innovative ideas to address social impact challenges within the legal industry.

In 2017, the incubator recruited 50 attorneys from all segments of the legal industry — small law, big law, public, corporate in-house, etc. — from the Millennial generation to shape their own thoughts about diversity and inclusion, according to IILP CEO Sandra Yamate. The pilot group was nominated for having leadership abilities and includes individuals across the age spectrum of the generation and both white men and members from all under-represented groups. The Incubator creates a space for them to “talk about what diversity and inclusion (D&I) means to them and for their generation, and what the legal profession’s diversity and inclusion goals and objectives should look like,” states Yamate.

For the IILP, this pilot group is an experiment that allows the participating lawyers to take ownership of the agenda and the program. The only active role the Institute has played is providing the backstory on how the legal profession got to where it is today and which initiatives have been tried, and which of them have thrived, failed, or maybe outlived their usefulness.


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Sandra Yamate

It is important to not lose sight of social justice concerns in the face of business concerns. We should not forget that at the end of the day, our profession is supposed to be about justice for all.


Yamate points out that the Millennial generation is unique in that it values D&I intrinsically because it is the right thing to do for the future of the profession, versus viewing it as important because of external pressure from clients. “To them, a lot of times, the work that they’re able to do, the impact that they’re able to have matters more than just having an important-sounding title with a large paycheck,” she explains.

Creating a Community of Impact and Support

Currently, the group is spearheading an effort to collect data on how employers and individual lawyers truly value diversity in order to understand what these employers are doing to actually instill their commitment to diversity beyond having D&I statements on their websites. To do this, members of the pilot talk to individual lawyers in the different cities where they are meeting to hear from people who have been in the trenches and who will give them very candid, honest feedback about different facets of the profession’s D&I history and efforts. “At the end of these one-on-one discussions, the pilot group leaves knowing more about the substance of D&I in the profession than their peers or maybe even their elders,” says Yamate.

Another part of the Social Impact Incubator has been forging close relationships to better understand each member’s particular career ambitions, the challenges each one may face, and how they might better collaborate and support each other. To illustrate, the group has been strategic as to where it holds its in-person meetings in order to support a member who might be up for partnership and who can now point to the seven corporate in-house accounts with whom he or she works in the Social Impact Incubator.

Changing the Way the Institute Works

The IILP’s experience with the Incubator has influenced changes in how it approaches content development of research tools and programs. “We find that we’re much more fearless about asking those same hard questions and about being point-blank in terms of some of the information that we want,” Yamate explains. “The Millennial generation, we have discovered, doesn’t necessarily want everything coated in nice language that doesn’t mean anything. They want you to tell it to them straight. And so, what we try to do is make sure that we’re being a lot more direct.”

Working with the Incubator pilot group has also brought increased inspiration to the IILP, Yamate says, adding that she finds collaborating with the group “utterly delightful.” More specifically, when the group understands how their work fits into a bigger agenda or a broader mission, “they do it with more energy and enthusiasm and with a happier mindset”

Measuring Impact and Effectiveness

Two years into the Incubator, the IILP is really at the beginning of the journey in measuring impact. Yamate was excited to share that three of the members were promoted to partner at their firms.

The other piece of measuring the effectiveness is how the Incubator pilot members see that they have received some meaningful, new information through the Incubator’s projects, and that they have contributed to the profession’s knowledge and understanding about D&I and justice.

Yamate explains how she finds this generation’s commitment to justice is derived from noble aspirations. Because of them, it is important to “not lose sight of the social justice concern in the face of business concerns,” she notes. “And that we not forget that at the end of the day, our profession is supposed to be about justice for all.”