Key Future Insights from our Top Performing Articles for Lawyers of Color in 2019

Topics: Corporate Legal, Diversity, Inclusion, Law Firms, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Perseverance, Q&A Interviews, Talent Development


Next Gen Leadership: Advancing Lawyers of Color celebrated it is first full year, since its launch in 2018, with a full range of content, comprising of blog posts, podcasts, white papers, and webinar sessions. We now take a look back at the most popular content from last year to identify key themes and guidance for lawyers of color and legal employers.

Among our best performing and most well-read content featured in-depth conversations with general counsel who were women of color, such as Phyllis Harris of The American Red Cross and Kenya Pierre, former GC of ARAUCO, NA. Both Harris and Pierre offered insights into their career paths, shared their key ingredients for success, and detailed how they cultivated critical skills to perform well at the GC level.

One new initiative in 2019 was the creation of several law firm case studies, which shined a spotlight on those initiatives that certain firms that are using to increase the percentage of lawyers of color advancing to the senior levels of the legal industry. Our most popular cases studies highlighted law firms Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and Duane Morris. Cadwalader created a highly regarded sponsorship program for diverse lawyers that continues to produce measurable results; and Duane Morris uses a diversity and inclusion advisory practice called Diversity and Inclusion Advancing Leadership (DIAL) to demonstrate the importance of the topic to clients and to build internal momentum for change.

Finally, our white paper 5 Marketing Strategies for Attorneys of Color in Big Law and accompanying podcast featured Ann Jenrette-Thomas, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Stinson, addressing the hugely important issue of business development and how lawyers of color typically generate business differently from traditional business development methods. The paper and podcast discussed why it is important for firm leadership and marketing teams to invest in these alternative approaches and how lawyers of color can best build their books of business.

Key Skills to Get Ahead for Lawyers of Color

So much of our top performing coverage in 2019 focused on offering key tips and best practices for lawyers of color to follow to enhance their skills and advance their careers.

Business Acumen — In her discussion, for example, Pierre, formerly of ARAUCO NA, said that learning the language of her employer and paying attention to what her clients were saying was critical to her success. She did this in part immersing herself in the business, even attending business meetings that did not necessarily involve a legal matter or require her presence as a legal expert.

Executive Presence — In the interview of the Red Cross’s Harris, she talked about how the Black GC 2025 initiative can help lawyers of color master executive presence using key strengths, such as self-awareness, intellectual curiosity, and organizational effectiveness. (Read more about the Legal Executive Institute’s content series on other necessary skills here.)

Tips for Legal Employers to Increase Representation

Also, our case studies on several law firms highlighted additional key takeaways, including:

Outcome targets work — Jenrette-Thomas showed how Stinson intentionally set a target to move the representation of attorneys of color and has increased that level by 72% over the past several years. The firm also revamped its scholarship strategy in order to improve the pipeline of entry-level associates, creating two fellowships for students of color.

Mitigating assignment bias — Duane Morris’s adoption of an objective assignment system for associates removed the affinity bias — the tendency to get along with others who are like us — from the matter assignment process. “By eliminating assignment bias, we help all of our talent, including non-diverse lawyers, have a fair shot at quality work and an even playing field,” said Joseph West, Partner & Head of D&I of the firm.

Coaching to improve feedback across differences — The giving and receiving of feedback clearly was seen as a key lever for improving diversity and inclusion among lawyers of color in 2019. Jenrette-Thomas said it’s important for the firm to coach attorneys on how to give and receive effective feedback, including how to be transparent about their expectations and how to articulate what changes need to occur to demonstrate improvement.

Building internal buy-in on firm initiatives — At Cadwalader, soliciting the buy-in of top firm leadership and leading partners was essential to the success of its sponsorship program. “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,’” explained Aisha Greene, Director of Attorney Development & Training at the firm. As part of this buy-in, all sponsors are encouraged to network broadly with all of the protégés and to attend at least three networking events throughout the year.

Key Themes Going Forward

Clearly, much of what we saw last year as key themes in regard to the advancement of lawyers of color can continue to be built upon for 2020. Indeed, legal employers can use the initiatives outlined above to increase efforts on these organizational mechanisms, setting specific targets, leveraging the coaches and sponsors to improve feedback, and leveling the playing field with networking sessions, assignment matters, and business development opportunities.

All these elements can help removed some of the hurdles and elevate the advancement of lawyers of color in 2020.