Goodwin - The Role of Equity in Law Firm Diversity Efforts.


Over the last couple of years, equity has become an increasing focus for law firms and the corporate world at large: DEI is now the common term used to encapsulate efforts to increase, maintain and promote diversity. Here several representatives from Goodwin explain what equity means in practice, and how it impacts every facet of law firm life.

Chambers Associate: When did the concept of equity begin to feature more prominently in law firms’ diversity efforts and what prompted this shift?

Anthony McCusker: In recent years we began to align senior members of the DEI team to work closely with each of our Business Units as the DEI strategic partner. This shift in approach created consistency in looking at our processes through the lens of equity and allowed us to examine what we were doing systemically in terms of attorney development. It also helped firm leadership understand that while diversity is incredibly important, retaining and advancing our diverse teams required us to make the firm a more equitable place where all of our lawyers have the resources and support they need to be successful.

Calvin Wingfield: While equity has been a core value at Goodwin since I joined the firm nearly 17 years ago, the racial unrest and waves of protests in 2020 following the tragic murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Hakim Littleton, and Breonna Taylor was a watershed moment for Goodwin and its journey to fashion itself into a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive law firm. Those events sparked the firm to look inward and to assess the impact of the firm’s policies and systems on its attorney population and Global Operations (GO!) Team.  

Yakiry AdalA few years ago we moved from a concept of equality towards a concept of equity. By recognizing the ways in which each of us has a unique experience in an organization because of our background and societal forces, we began shifting away from this concept of treating people the same towards this concept of acknowledging that not everyone is starting from the same place. We started looking at what we can do to ensure that everyone has equal access to opportunities as opposed to equal treatment.

We’re particularly focused on racial equity and intersectionality, further examining the ways in which we have historically left out marginalized individuals.

Carl Bradshaw: Increased awareness of how diversity shapes an organization’s culture and performance has fueled increased interest in understanding what can bring about better diversity outcomes. This has led to an examination of what has been holding law firms back from attracting and retaining a greater talent mix and what it will need to do to enable diverse individuals to reach their potential. Many trailblazers have contributed along the way, helping to shine a spotlight on where systems are broken and driving change that has inspired a new generation of leaders to bring their diverse voices into the room so we can best serve our clients.

Viona Harris: I knew that Goodwin prioritized equity when I started at the firm in 2016 as a member of Goodwin’s 1L Diversity Fellowship program, which is an initiative focused on equity. As a first-generation lawyer, the fellowship allowed me to gain exposure to the corporate space, figure out what I wanted to do with my career, and start building my network. It was immediately clear to me that Goodwin not only had a longstanding commitment to DEI, but was taking action to increase equity within the firm’s systems.



Chambers Associate: Did viewing diversity efforts through this concept of equity highlight any areas, approaches or systems that were in need of a revamp?

Calvin Wingfield: Focusing on equity has led Goodwin to reevaluate nearly every facet of the firm experience, and these efforts are not being driven solely out of the DEI function. Firm leadership is taking ownership of advancing this work. For example, practice group leaders have regularly scheduled meetings with affinity group chairs to provide more transparency on the journey and path from associate to partner at the firm. These conversations have enabled firm leadership to identify opportunities for a more equitable approach to talent management. 

Yakiry Adal: Several years ago, we had a focus on unconscious bias, and how we can change our systems and processes to disrupt that bias. The equity conversation perhaps gives us a better lens through which to explain to people that it’s not just systemic biases, it’s that individuals are subject to those biases and have not been on a level playing field. Focusing on people’s lived experience in addition to examining the data is critical.

Equity starts with the management of our talent, which is an area where we need to create significant change. But there’s also so much we can do as an organization in terms of having an impact on equity in the world. It’s about examining our vendors, thinking about the people we’re giving opportunities to through our client networks and connections, and exploring how we’re showing up in our unique ecosystem in support of equity.

: We’ve heard more from clients that we need to show that we’re being equitable across all levels of our teams. That has really informed the approach that we take with respect to pitches. Clients want to see representation and a diverse team, and for many of the matters we’re staffing we make an effort to field a team that’s 30% diverse – even if the client doesn’t specifically request it. Not only have we been more thoughtful when it comes to considering the work that people are doing, but the emphasis on equity has given our Client Development team the opportunity to be more proactive when raising the topic with our lawyers.


Chambers Associate: In which ways has the concept of equity entered the equation with regards to formal diversity initiatives?

Anthony McCusker: One of the pillars of our DEI strategy is ensuring equitable access to career enhancing work opportunities. Last year we launched a new policy for U.S. Junior Associate staffing, which was a joint effort created in partnership with leaders across the firm. This new model features several processes and safeguards that will help to ensure compliance, allowing us to move away from hallway staffing, and provide significantly greater oversight over the development of - and promote broader connectivity for - our junior associates. 

Vanessa Torres: Our Client Development team is always looking to partner with clients, and our client feedback model gives them the opportunity to comment on the level of service that we provided, as well as to evaluate the team working with them. This process enables our clients to give their feedback on a range of topics, including our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts throughout their matter.

In fact, in one matter debrief, a client commented that they appreciated seeing a lead partner advocate for a young diverse lawyer to take a lead role on part of their case. This decision led to a successful result in the matter, and is a great example of how equity can have a major impact on our client interactions.

Carl Bradshaw: Client development is one of the more overlooked areas of the Black lawyer experience that our Black Anti-Racism Task-Force (BATF) identified as having a significant part to play in determining outcomes at our firm. Three years ago we created BLOCC, a community coaching program which is aimed at equipping Goodwin’s Black community with the tools to help them build their “book”. BLOCC is facilitated by a leading Black business generation expert alongside senior Black partners who share key insights that our less experienced lawyers may have struggled to access through traditional pathways. BLOCC also provides a virtual water-cooler space where our Black lawyers can get to know their peers and build closer connection to support their work.


Chambers Associate: In what ways has the concept of equity filtered through into other areas of law firm life, beyond diversity initiatives?

Yakiry Adal: We’ve taken a holistic approach to infuse equity into all areas of firm life. This starts with looking at how we bring someone into the organization and what early opportunities they have within the firm. We also consistently review our staffing, mentorship, promotion, and feedback systems to ensure equity when it comes to assessment, advancement and access to leadership roles. For us, it means ensuring we have inclusive talent management practices so it’s not siloed in DEI but instead is part of how we operate as a firm.

Calvin Wingfield: The firm is focused much more on DEI, and equity in particular, when we consider internal attorney elevations to partner. While the diversity of partnership is important, the firm’s focus and actions go beyond looking at quantitative data related to representation in each class of elevated attorneys. We are focused on what candidates for elevation have done and are doing at the firm to make Goodwin a more inclusive and equitable firm.

By intentionally asking the candidates and their respective practice area leads and other partners about the candidates’ actions to foster a more inclusive environment and equitable outcomes, Goodwin is signaling to current and future partners the importance of these values to the firm. This approach further embeds the ideas of inclusivity and equity into how we all approach our jobs and interact with each other.  

Vanessa Torres: In recent years, the firm has made a huge effort to hear different perspectives. Personally, I have participated in several firm-sponsored panels where I’ve felt comfortable sharing my experiences growing up as a Latina in a majority white community, and have also talked about my experiences dealing with issues such as body weight diversity and financial inequity. We’ve really leveraged storytelling and connecting as people to bring to light parts of this conversation that aren’t always centered as part of the DEI conversation, but are especially relevant for thinking about equity in that space.


Chambers Associate: In which ways do you feel this increased emphasis on equity will aid the key stages of the recruitment, retention and promotion of diverse individuals within law firms?

Anthony McCusker: By centering the focus on equity,we’re increasingly utilizing data to determine whether our lawyers who have successfully overcome challenges in pursuit of their legal careers are having different lived experiences within their Business Unit.For example, our DEI team recently created quarterly snapshots that they share with our Business Unit leaders that look at representation, productivity, and attrition. This highly detailed view allows us to see not only how our lawyers from historically excluded identities are performing, but specifically how they are performing compared to overall averages. Having access to this type of data is invaluable for addressing and preventing any disparities that may arise in our Business Units with regard to equity.

Yakiry Adal: Effectuating equity within the firm requires that we work with our Business Units and GO! Team departments to identify where the gaps are, find the opportunities to create change and set goals for ourselves, and then measure our progress against those goals over time. What is predictive of success in law firms is how much mentoring, developmental feedback, training and sponsoring that you have. So we’re continually examining and adjusting our talent systems to figure out how we can best ensure that everybody has access to good mentoring, critical feedback, training, and support across every stage in their career. 

Viona Harris: Through my experience as both a mentor and mentee with Goodwin’s Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity (CRED@Goodwin), the impact of mentorship on the retention and promotion of our diverse attorneys is clear. The affinity group puts a structure in place for young attorneys of color to reach out to CRED mentors for the professional and personal support that they need to ensure an equitable experience at our firm.

Calvin Wingfield: Goodwin has revamped the way it evaluates associates and other non-partner attorneys thought its Attorney Review Committee. We took out the subjective questions and made them more objective, and asked evaluators to give written examples to tease out unconscious bias. Our goal was to make sure that associates are reviewed based on who they are and what they bring to the firm, while also recognizing that everyone comes to Goodwin with different circumstances. So, we’re not just looking at the paper and saying this is how we’re going to assess this associate. There’s a discussion about each person recognizing everything they’ve brought to the table – including themselves and who they are – and then coming to a conclusion of what the assessment will be for a given year.

Carl Bradshaw: The smarter we can become around how our firm, our systems and structures are experienced by all those who already encounter them and the many more who we want to encounter them, the quicker we can achieve our ambitious diversity goals. I have seen this on my own doorstep, where we have made some important strides when it comes to our UK recruitment efforts, embracing technology to help us screen candidates more fairly, indexing grades to help us identify outperformers and training our interviewers to challenge bias.  Adopting these innovative approaches in our retention and advancement initiatives will help us ensure that we not only get the best talent but get the best out of our talent.


Chambers Associate: How have you been raising awareness of the concept of equity in the diversity space? Which approaches/channels have been most effective at conveying the role of equity to the broader firm and beyond?

Anthony McCusker: My predecessors as Chair did a great job of introducing the concept of equity and making it part of the conversation. Since I began my tenure as Chair, I’ve tried to build on that foundation and increase both the cadence of communication and the level of transparency. I think that we need to keep these conversations around equity front and center, so that we can affect the behavioral change needed to make a difference. In addition to all of the live conversations that have been taking place among our leadership teams and Business Units, I believe that some of the most effective channels for amplifying this message have included town halls, video messages, meetings with our affinity groups, and increased engagement with our DEI team.

Yakiry Adal: We’ve been raising awareness of the need to focus on equity through data and by sharing the lived experience of our underrepresented communities. Many have solely leaned on data to determine whether a DEI initiative in an organization has been successful, but that’s only part of the picture.

Storytelling in the DEI space can serve to impact change because there’s a tendency to think that people here aren’t experiencing microaggressions or racism or any other -ism, that those things happen to other people or at other firms or in other departments. The reality is that racism, sexism, and so on exist in all organizations. By helping people understand the lived experience of people of color, of women, of LGBTQ individuals, of disabled people, of those with intersecting identities, it becomes more human.

Viona Harris: The firm encourages its attorneys to engage in diversity initiatives beyond Goodwin. For the past couple of years, a group of my colleagues and I have attended the Charting Your Own Course (CYOC) Career Conference, an annual professional development event directed to the career and life needs of professionals of color. CYOC has given me opportunities to network and build connections with diverse professionals, as well as bring in some new business. Goodwin’s sponsorship and promotion of events like CYOC are incredibly important when it comes to raising awareness of the concept of equity.


Chambers Associate: Has this shift in focus to equity been mirrored by other businesses or clients? Has it led to any collaborations or initiatives to strengthen the message of/emphasis on equity in the corporate space?

Anthony McCusker: One of the priorities that I hear frequently during client visits is that they want a truly collaborative, diverse, and inter-generational team, particularly when it comes to ensuring equitable access to opportunity. They want to see that everyone on the team is a full contributor, and has access to meaningful, career enhancing work.

We’ve long believed that by being a more equitable firm, we’ll have more dynamic, innovative, and collaborative teams, and it’s been reaffirming for me to hear that this perspective is shared by our clients. This approach will ultimately be beneficial for our clients – and our firm – because it ensures that our junior team members will have the requisite skills and experience necessary to thrive when they advance to more senior roles in the future.

Calvin Wingfield: My exposure in the client space involves responding to requests for proposals (RFPs) for matters and being on panels for outside counsel. It used to be that clients were saying ‘we want diverse teams and we want a commitment that you will give us a diverse team,’ but now they have questions that go specifically to what initiatives the firm has in place to achieve equity. These clients are expecting attorneys to be able to speak intelligently about what the firm is doing in terms of creating opportunities and how they have participated in supporting those initiatives.  

Vanessa Torres: As our clients and their leadership have become more diverse, there’s definitely been more of a focus on equity. We often receive DEI surveys from our clients, and we share with them our DEI practices and programs in our pitch materials. As a forward-thinking business, we see the value and importance of equity to our clients, and strive to match their commitment in a way that is beneficial for both their organization and our firm. 

Yakiry Adal: The challenge is still whether our attorneys, and specifically our BIPOC, women, and LGBTQ attorneys, are getting access to the kind of career-enhancing work for our clients that they need to progress to partnership and equity partnership. Clients are starting to think more about who they turn to for those bet-the-company matters and which lawyers are getting the origination credit. These are tough questions, but I think many clients are continuing to ask them. They want to expand the types of opportunities that can lead to sustainable change in our firm and the profession at large.

Viona Harris: We partner closely with clients on our various diversity fellowship programs to provide our fellows with a holistic experience of law firm life. These partnerships take our equitable practices a step further, as they allow our fellows to build connections outside of the firm and create opportunities for future business, all while increasing exposure on our DEI initiatives. Goodwin also actively supports a variety of organizations focused on promoting equity, and welcomes opportunities for partnerships that support common DEI goals.


Chambers Associate: To date, what has been the most successful change brought about by this increased emphasis on equity in the diversity space?

Anthony McCusker: On a holistic level, I’m extremely proud of how our firm’s approach surrounding equity has continued to grow and evolve. In the industry, Goodwin is known as an innovative firm with cutting-edge clients, and that spirit of innovation has carried over too much of our DEI work. We continue to push the envelope around equity, implementing ideas that are often aspirational in nature. Even during those times where we don’t succeed despite our best efforts, it’s important that we’re continually trying new ideas, learning from our mistakes, and refusing to be satisfied with the status quo.

Viona Harris: BATF is focused on examining the firm’s systems, processes and practices to assess how they affect the experience and career trajectories of our Black attorneys and business professionals. Comprised of the Management Committee, Black lawyers of varying levels, and Black professional staff, BATF stands out among our initiatives because firm leadership recognized the need for the task force specific to Goodwin’s Black community as this community has historically faced unique challenges not necessarily reflected or adequately addressed in broader DEI efforts. As a BATF member, I have the opportunity to regularly and directly connect with firm leadership, which is pivotal when it comes to implementing initiatives like the junior associate staffing policy and other equitable practices across the firm.

Vanessa Torres: It’s great to see that we’re inclusive of our staff, or GO! Team, when it comes to our DEI efforts. We have new resource groups for the disabled community, veteran community and first generation professionals community, along with our Jewish Network - all of which are open to lawyers and GO! Team. These programs are just the beginning, and I look forward to additional programs that are designed to provide resources to our professional staff from diverse and underrepresented groups.


Chambers Associate: How has this more prominent focus on equity influenced law firms’ engagement with broader diversity issues in society

Calvin Wingfield: Goodwin’s internal self-assessments and discussions have opened the firm up to supporting organizations that seek to achieve greater equity in our communities and making broader proclamations externally. For example, we’ve seen our professional staff affinity group, BOLD, launch a Buy Black campaign. Firm employees were encouraged to patronize Black-owned businesses and the firm matched whatever money was spent through a donation to organizations supporting Black entrepreneurs.

The firm also launched a law school scholarship for graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities that is designed to increase the pipeline of Black students into the country’s top law schools and eventually in the profession at large.

Carl Bradshaw: We have set our own goals and are applying our own focus to the issues of  equity and inclusion but are well aware that this is a journey we are on with our clients, industry peers and wider society. We have a lot left to learn and solve for and have been eager to develop associations and access to external communities, such as our partnerships with Black Counsel Forum and Black Women in Asset Management, where we can leverage our platform, experience and network to support their work and they can help us figure out the way we should work, treat each other, and interact with external stakeholders. By continuing to focus on equity, we have an opportunity to make some really insightful discoveries that may lead to change and the implementation of that change within the firm and far beyond.

Viona Harris: Goodwin has a strong commitment to pro bono, and many of our attorneys focus their pro bono practice on issues surrounding diversity. When I joined Goodwin, I brought a pro bono matter to the firm in which Goodwin represented the NAACP in a school desegregation case in Louisiana. The matter was introduced to me as a first-year associate through the Northeast Black Law Students Association (NEBLSA), for which I serve on the advisory board. I’m proud that the firm welcomed the opportunity to leverage its resources to address this pertinent issue in our broader society.


Chambers Associate: How might this increased emphasis on equity continue to improve law firm diversity in the future? Where can equity take diversity efforts in the future?

Anthony McCusker: We are currently in the planning stages for Goodwin 2033, a 10 year plan that maps out our firm’s future. This all-encompassing initiative covers a variety of areas, but at its core, I believe that Goodwin 2033 is about our ability to harness our collective talents and take inclusive teaming to the next level.

We know that diverse teams perform better. We also know that without inclusive practices, where people actually feel like they can fully contribute to their teams and have the safety to make mistakes and learn, that representation alone isn’t enough for all of our talent to thrive. Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to prioritize equity and inclusive design in order to create the type of organization that can accomplish our goals and build upon our success in the decade ahead.

Vanessa Torres: I recently had a partner ask me to speak with a BIPOC associate about business development and how to enhance that aspect of her practice. I appreciate that the partner saw beyond differences to connect them with people who could help them in their career development.

The more conversations that our firm – and other firms in the industry – can have that emphasize the value of equity and the importance of being open-minded, then we will all become stronger for it. I see more opportunities for lawyers from historically excluded identities today than when I started working at law firms over 20 years ago, and as the emphasis on equity grows over time, we will be able to create even more opportunities in the future. 

Calvin Wingfield: For associates, it’s about taking a harder look at how work is assigned and ensuring that all associates are given equal opportunity for career enhancing matters and tasks. I Co-Chair CRED@Goodwin at the firm, and that’s something we try to do informally by supporting associates of color in finding those meaningful opportunities. After engaging with the Management Committee on this issue, the firm is revamping our work-allocation policies and procedures to encourage more equitable distribution of work and to discourage and greatly stomp out “hallway staffing” and other practices that can disproportionately impact attorneys from marginalized groups. 

Yakiry Adal: Some firms can't move the needle on DEI because they assign the job to the DEI team. This work requires systemic and cultural change at all levels within an organization, which is why we aim to have everyone clearly understand their role and how they can create or sustain DEI advances. It needs to be led from the top and practiced by every leader in the organization, intentionally and consistently. There have to be clear expectations and accountability measures in place for leaders and resources available for those who need more support in terms of education or coaching to fill the role the firm is asking of them. This is about optimizing talent management and effectively leading teams for the benefit of all members of the organization.

Viona Harris: At Goodwin, we have critical buy in from the highest levels of the firm, as our leadership has demonstrated that equity is a priority and we are committed to taking action toward change. Going forward, we need to make sure that people across all levels of our firm are aligned with our DEI goals, from big picture initiatives to day-to-day actions.

We have created environments for learning and allyship, but law firm diversity will only continue to improve if everyone involved - regardless of position, experience level, or identity - commits to achieving a common goal and learns how to leverage their unique experience to support that goal.


Read more about associate life at Goodwin here.