What Practice Leaders Should be Doing to Advance Diverse Talent

Topics: Allies, Client Relations, Diversity, Law Firms, Leadership, Leadership & Retention, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Q&A Interviews, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

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We recently sat down with M. Scott Peeler, Partner and Co-Leader of the Government Enforcement & White Collar practice and Executive Committee member at Arent Fox, to discuss his role in advancing diverse talent, driving inclusion, and helping to implement the Mansfield Rule’s internal target of 30% diverse talent slates for all leadership positions at the firm.

Scott describes the firm’s adoption of the Mansfield Rule, in partnership with Diversity Lab, as the natural evolution of Arent Fox’s strong history of championing diversity since its founding in 1942. “It’s important to always remember, that our firm was founded by individuals whose talents were overlooked by most major law firms because of their religion,” says Peeler, adding that “diversity, inclusion, and empowerment are part of Arent Fox’s DNA.”

How the Mansfield Rule Challenged the Firm

Peeler called the Mansfield Rule a “universal yardstick” by which Arent Fox and other firms could assess their progress. “Words are easy, but action is what matters,” he says.

Arent Fox first piloted the target in 2018, and the firm challenged itself to meet and exceed the Mansfield Rule’s requirements wherever possible. “For us, it’s more than just ensuring that 30% of all candidates considered for firm leadership positions are women, attorneys of color, and LGBTQ attorneys. It’s about actually achieving that level of meaningful diversity in those leadership positions and beyond.”

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M. Scott Peeler of Arent Fox

Peeler contends that the firm’s hiring numbers demonstrate how the firm is meeting this challenge. Notably, Arent Fox’s firmwide managing partner is Cristina Carvalho (who also is a Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law advisory board member), and several of the firm’s most important management committees are currently composed of more than 30% diverse attorneys, including the compensation committee and the associate evaluation committee.

Calling on Practice Leaders to Advance Diverse Talent

Peeler takes his pledge to diversity, inclusion, and empowerment to heart. “I ask myself every day what I’m doing to effectuate change,” he explains. “Too many people in our profession focus on challenges instead of rolling up their sleeves and doing something to make a difference now.” Peeler describe how he does this with a three-pronged approach:

  • Monitor Work Allocation and Matter Assignments — Peeler starts with something he says every partner and senior associate can do: “When staffing your next case, make sure the first people you assign don’t look like or have the same background as you.” Peeler stresses that “the best work product, the best thinking, comes from a group that reflects the broader world around us and that means having as many different life experiences and backgrounds around the table as possible.” He added that when he’s picking a team, “the people who are going to be my right hand, my key lieutenants, in almost every case, those people do not look like me.” He says he ensures that the team is diverse in a variety of ways, adding that this step not only results in the best outcomes, “it invests in and empowers meaningfully diverse lawyers.”

  • Personally Invest to Champion Diverse Lawyers — For Peeler, investing in and empowering diverse talent is a critical part of his leadership philosophy. “I was extremely fortunate to have people who invested in me, and much of my success is attributable to their mentorship and the opportunities they provided,” he says, noting that he now wants to do the same for others, and most especially for women, attorneys of color, and LGBTQ attorneys. Peeler has become a champion for several diverse high-performers and has helped them advance in their careers and into key leadership positions. (Legal Executive Institute knows of Peeler’s impact first-hand because coincidentally, one of his protégés, Tope Yusuf, was nominated as part of its Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law Rising Star program in 2018.)

  • Lead and Participate in Leadership Programs for Diverse Talent — Coinciding with the 75th anniversary of Arent Fox’s founding, Peeler helped launch and now manages a highly competitive, three-year leadership development program called AF Fellows. “Meaningful diversity, inclusion, and empowerment are at the core of the program — from the selection of each year’s class, the lessons we teach, and the experiences we provide,” Peeler says, adding he believes that by helping create not just more leaders at the firm, but leaders who truly appreciate and value diversity, he can “help protect one of the most important aspects of our culture and ensure its future.” In addition, the program actively combats what Peeler calls a “dangerous malignancy” — implicit bias.

As a practice group leader and a member of the firm’s Executive Committee, Peeler deeply appreciates his firm’s commitment to diversity. “I feel so fortunate to work at a firm where change and evolution is not just possible, it is encouraged,” he explains.

“I’m always going to be asking the hard questions: What more can we do to advance meaningful progress in diversity, inclusion, and empowerment? — and at Arent Fox, that’s not just okay, it’s expected.”