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?

Rob Insolia, chairman: I graduated from law school in 1984 and approximately half of my graduating class were women, and now you look 37 years later and you don’t see women making up half of the equity partners at the AmLaw 100. It’s equity. It’s how you can ensure that everybody has the same nourishment and encouragement and opportunities for success, and that to me is what equity is about.

Calvin Wingfield, partner: Law firms for most of my career have been primarily focused on representation, making sure that we have the numbers in terms of our attorney ranks that were reflective of the larger society. And over the last several years or so there’s been more of a focus on inclusion, looking to see elevations of attorneys of color, of women, to partner and also leadership roles at the firm. But as representation and inclusion increased, the natural progression was let’s talk about the end result. Let’s talk about having equal access to goals for everyone when they walk in the door at Goodwin and what does that mean.

Over the last year, following the protests with BLM and the racial reckoning in the country, I think there’s been an increased focus on equity at the firm and looking at the systems that we have within Goodwin. Seeing what resources or tweaks need to be made to try to get us to an equal playing field across the board for everyone, whether it’s gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability – let’s really look at the gaps in those systems.

"We started looking at what we can do to ensure that everyone has equal access to opportunities as opposed to equal treatment."

Yakiry Adal, director, DEI: What organizations have done is move 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 the ways in which we have historically left out and marginalized individuals who are members of the BIPOC community. More recently, there’s been a shift in the conversation, and it has allowed organizations to talk more openly about inequity.

Theresa DeLoach, director of client development: It’s gone from a numeric value to really a deeper dive into the roles that people play. A quote I like to use to describe it is ‘the difference between being asked to the party versus being asked to dance at the party.’ And it felt like the in-house counsel who drive a lot of these efforts were no longer comfortable with just seeing a diverse slate of people on the pitch team, but they really wanted to know who would be doing the work. It was becoming more and more apparent that the next generation of lawyers were living through the experiences that many in-house counsel had already lived through and they wanted to change that. They wanted to make sure that the diverse faces were actually empowered to do the work and lead the efforts.

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, partner: We’re still kind of evaluating and figuring out what levers need to be pulled to get us there. And I think the legal industry as a whole is kind of right around with us. The focus has always been that clients have been pushing diversity, they want diverse teams, they want to ensure their law firms and outside counsel are diverse, but you’re also now seeing clients talk about inclusion and what initiatives the firm has in place and really understanding what DEI means to the firm.

Yakiry Adal, director, DEI: Several years ago, organizations started focusing 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 in an organization starts with 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.

"Focusing on people’s lived experience in addition to examining the data is critical." 

Tevia Pollard, associate: I think it’s a difference in terms of approach when we start thinking about what DEI efforts actually mean, and people beginning to realize there is a difference in the types and amounts of opportunities. We can’t wait until a lawyer is in their 7th year to then examine how they fell short. We have been looking at it holistically from the time a lawyer from a diverse background joins the firm as a summer associate and then throughout their career. We need to make sure that everyone in that same class is getting the same chances for deals, to meet key clients and to work with influential partners. It’s about everyone getting equal access to opportunities.

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

Rob Insolia, chairman: Success at a law firm is often determined by who takes you under their wing, and people tend to identify with and gravitate toward those who are like them or have similar backgrounds. We want to ensure that everyone in the Goodwin community establishes meaningful, supportive professional relationships. We’ve got four programs designed to make this happen. The first is an advisory program focused on first and second year associates. The second is a mentorship program for mid to senior associates. The third is a sponsorship program for non-equity partners. And the fourth is a reverse mentoring program where junior and mid-level associates mentor partners involved in management. These programs are not to the exclusion of the natural connections that might be fostered in the workplace, but help ensure that if these opportunities don’t materialize organically we are still able to connect with our diverse lawyers.

Lisa Haddad, partner: Studies and data have consistently shown that diversity in the Boardroom brings critical new perspectives and enhances Board and company performance. That’s why in May 2021 we launched GOOD Directors, a first-of-its-kind national program designed to create opportunities for next-generation, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and women leaders to join Boards of Directors of public companies.

Calvin Wingfield, partner: The firm has started a task force that I participate in called the Black Anti-Racism Task Force. What we’ve seen over the last year is a commitment from the Management Committee to look at the leadership structure of the firm and to start making adjustments there to bring about greater equity. We have specific goals, some of which pertain to diversity and representation, but others that look at leadership going more to equality, ensuring that there are women attorneys and attorneys of color who are part of the leadership structure of the firm – not just by adding positions but ensuring that the representation is there, and that people have access to opportunities to serve on those leadership committees.

"It’s not enough to have a nebulous idea in terms of achieving equity." 

Tevia Pollard, associate: We’re making a concerted effort to get more stakeholders involved. One thing we are doing is making sure that each business unit has a plan in place to make sure that lawyers from diverse backgrounds succeed. It’s not enough to have a nebulous idea in terms of achieving equity. We understand that something happens to diverse associates as they move throughout their career, so we have them meet with business unit leaders to get buy in early on and put a specific plan in place for each associate that we think can succeed if given the right opportunities. That plan covers what they want to work on, who they’d like to meet and how they’re going to get there, and then we check in regularly to make sure there’s continual growth towards achieving those goals.  

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

Calvin Wingfield, partner: A few years ago, one of our partners who was in charge of the Attorney Review Committee oversaw a wholesale revision, and we started to change the process of how associates are reviewed. 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.

Yakiry Adal, director, DEI: We’ve taken a holistic approach to infuse equity into all areas of firm life. This starts with looking at how we bring somebody 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. These are the places where I think organizations have said there is inequity within our own house, and we need to fix it.

Theresa DeLoach, director of client development: When it comes to equity in pay and evaluation, I think diverse lawyers are starting to feel more comfortable speaking up about moments of victory as well as feelings of discontent around opportunity. That is a major step forward because in the past people would just quietly leave and go somewhere else. Now that the firm is really going all in on these efforts, there is a willingness to start to speak up and there are platforms and avenues in which diverse lawyers can do that.

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?

Rob Insolia, chairman: I believe the focus in the legal industry too often has been on diversity at the expense of equity and inclusion. Yes, we want to on board more diverse people. But if we want sustainable diversity, we need to ensure that everyone in the Goodwin community feels welcome and comfortable (which is what inclusion is all about) and that everyone has the opportunity to be successful.

Yakiry Adal, director, DEI: 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 examining 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. 

"I believe the focus in the legal industry too often has been on diversity at the expense of equity and inclusion."

Tevia Pollard, associate: We’ve started to be more expansive in the qualities we value when looking at talent and are using a more tailored-approach when we find diverse talent so that they feel comfortable here and want to be part of the firm.

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?

Rob Insolia, chairman: As I mentioned, we want Goodwin to be a place that is welcoming to everybody and where everybody feels comfortable. At the same time that we appropriately and necessarily over-index on groups that have been marginalized, we also strive to make sure that those who aren’t members of those groups feel engaged and part of that process. This approach makes our efforts more unified and ultimately more effective. 

Calvin Wingfield, partner: It’s still too early to evaluate what approaches are most effective. The firm is very much at the beginning stages when it comes to equity. I think there is hope that the sponsorship programs the firm has in place both for associates and non-equity partners will help achieve some equity in the years to come.

"Storytelling in the DEI space can serve to impact change because there’s a tendency to think that people here aren’t experiencing micro-aggressions or racism or any other -ism, that those things happen to other people or at other firms."

Yakiry Adal, director, DEI: We’ve been raising awareness of the need to focus on equity through data and  through 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 micro-aggressions or racism or any other -ism, that those things happen to other people or at other firms. 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 differently-abled people, of those with intersecting identities, it becomes more human.

Tevia Pollard, associate: I’m really excited about the new Women of Color initiative. It started in person before the pandemic and now we have virtual meetings every quarter. The firm has different affinity groups for lawyers of color and women, but when the intersectionality question comes up it’s difficult for those groups to adequately address the complications that can arise with belonging to more than one of those groups.

Theresa DeLoach, director of client development: I’m also proud that we’ve added culture and innovation time, where lawyers can receive billable hour credit for activities that enhance firm culture, such as DEI. We thought the addition of culture and innovation time would help so many of our diverse lawyers not have to pay the tax that minority groups often face in terms of having to do meaningful work for which they’re not compensated.

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?

Rob Insolia, chairman: In the visits that I have had with clients, I hear often how concerned they are about the racial and social inequities that are present not only within the legal industry but societally, and they want to partner on making things better.

Calvin Wingfield, partner: 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.  

Yakiry Adal, director, DEI: 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 starting 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.

Tevia Pollard, associate: We partner with certain clients on initiatives where General Counsel are seeking out law firms that care about equity, and we also sponsor diverse partners and associates to create opportunities for them to work with new clients. 

"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."

Theresa DeLoach, director of client development: We’ve had several conversations with clients who are at different points in the road. Some of our clients want to partner with us on doing better while others set standards that they expect us to live up too. So, we’re seeing it across the spectrum and I think the increased focus from clients really makes a difference. There are also programs that we’re introducing to help clients learn from other clients across industries. That’s important because most of our established clients already have DEI policies and procedures in place, but we need to be able to assist our emerging company clients who don’t have those same infrastructures. The fact that we’re working with clients in those spaces on these topics is really impactful.

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

Rob Insolia, chairman: We have so much work to do and so much to accomplish that I’m not sure I would call any of our efforts a success – at least not yet. What I feel really good about is our willingness to look at our imperfections and our gaps and our shortcomings with respect to DEI and ask ourselves how we can do better. I believe that being self-critical is the precursor to innovation and bringing in new ideas. It’s really been a growing crescendo and our efforts have been increasing for the past ten years. I know that with our willingness to look at where we’ve come up short and our perseverance in those areas we will ultimately be in a much better place for it.

Tevia Pollard, associate: The creation of the Black Anti-Racism Task Force (BATF) represents a major change at the firm. I was pleasantly surprised that leadership recognized the need for BATF without associates demanding it. Also, it’s great that associates like myself have been involved with this group from the beginning. Often programs and policies are created for those who are not at the table to explain what would be most effective for them. The fact that I’m able to talk directly to firm leadership every three weeks is remarkable for DEI reasons, and it’s also giving associates and others in the organization direct access to the Management Committee.

We’re thinking critically about what actually will be effective and provide an impact so that hopefully next year we don’t need to have the same conversation.

Theresa DeLoach, director of client development: I look at Sabrina Rose-Smith becoming the first Black female equity partner at the firm, and how her taking that step is a tremendous success. Because there could’ve been other people in that spot, the firm could’ve chosen other talented people, but they made sure that she was recognized for her countless contributions. I’m proud of the things that aren’t in writing, such as the phone calls from partners that care about me during what has been a difficult year. They might not always know exactly what to say, but just the fact they reached out to let me know they were thinking of me meant a great deal.

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

Calvin Wingfield, partner: Our internal 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 actively encourages attorneys to participate in pro bono, especially in regard to initiatives that will affect social change. Really stemming from the suffrage movement, Goodwin has been involved in research, support and impact litigation aimed at continuing to shore up voter rights throughout the country. We did this last year going into the 2020 election, and I see the firm doing the same thing again in connection with the bills in various states that could dramatically curtail voting rights. We’re not only participating in initiatives that the legal industry as a whole is taking on, but we’re also seeking out additional pro bono opportunities that will allow our attorneys to make an impact.

Yakiry Adal, director, DEI: Companies have to be very careful about making statements that don’t match their culture. We want to make statements when it supports advancing change, but we don’t want to make statements when we’re not taking action in an area or when we’re not invested in an area.

We’ve made many unequivocal statements about where we stand with respect to hate and violence against communities of color, against women, against the LGBTQ community, and others. I think that is all consistent in keeping with how we’re thinking about DEI within the firm. We want it to be clear that we stand against all discrimination and hate. Once that’s established, we then need to support these words through our actions, and that requires  addressing the other principles we’ve been focusing on to create equity within the organization.

"I think we’ve been good at being able to recognize moments where we need to say something. This is about being more empathetic and more understanding when it comes to what our diverse population of attorneys and staff are going through."

Tevia Pollard, associate: This past summer with George Floyd’s murder and the increased awareness of the Black Lives Matter movements, I was impressed with our readiness to issue statements and not shy away from it being a hot button issue. I’m a member of the firm’s Black Anti-Racism Task Force (BATF), and we have a lot of conversations about when to speak and if the firm should come back to us to get thoughts on speaking and crafting that message. I think we’ve been good at being able to recognize moments where we need to say something. This is about being more empathetic and more understanding when it comes to what our diverse population of attorneys and staff are going through. Because there are days where things are happening in the media and we’re getting bombarded with news, and it’s difficult to go back to advising your clients as though nothing is going on. Seeing Goodwin leaders reaffirm their stance against hatred and discrimination does matter. 

I remember the day the Derek Chauvin verdict came down and the firm’s Senior Manager of DEI sent me a quick message saying that we aren’t sure what’s going to happen, but I wanted to let you know that I’m thinking about you right now. That message isn’t going to solve all of your issues or make you forget about everything going on in the world. However, it did help to hear an acknowledgement of how tough that day was and the difficulty of doing your normal job in the midst of such emotional circumstances. It’s also good to know that while there are people out there who possess very opposing views, having your employer and fellow employees on your side makes it a lot easier to keep going.

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?

Rob Insolia, chairman: Whether we focus on our systems or how we’re dealing with people on a one-to-one basis, at the end of the day equity is about ensuring that each individual has real, tangible opportunities for success. That’s going to come through a combination of recruitment, mentorship, sponsorship, client contact and the myriad of things that we have to improve. But it still all funnels down to ensuring that whether someone is a queer Black woman or a straight white male they each feel welcome where they work and are each afforded the same kinds of opportunities.

"It’s vital that we make sure diverse associates get equal access to those kinds of career enhancing opportunities."  

Calvin Wingfield, partner: For associates, it’s about taking a harder look at how assignments are doled out and ensuring that all associates are given equal opportunity for career enhancing matters and tasks. I co-chair the Committee for Racial and Ethnic Diversity (CRED) at the firm, and that’s something we try to do informally, in terms of helping support associates of color in finding those meaningful opportunities. But at the same time, I think we need a system in place where the administrators who help forward the assignments are actively looking at them as they come in and play a role in building out the gold standard assignments, or the ones that have the potential to elevate a young lawyer’s trajectory within the firm. It’s vital that we make sure diverse associates get equal access to those kinds of career enhancing opportunities.  

Yakiry Adal, director, DEI: Some organizations 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.

Tevia Pollard, associate: In terms of our initiatives moving forward, we have amazing programs, but it’s about making equity pervasive across the entire firm. We’ve already got critical buy in from the highest levels of Goodwin, as our Chairman and Managing Partner have repeatedly demonstrated that this is a priority. So, now, we need to make sure that every partner, associate and GO Team member throughout the organization understands the importance of making equity a priority. Because even if we have support from the very top of the organization, all of the other levels within the firm still need to have these principles and goals top of mind when they make decisions that will directly affect someone’s career or day-to-day experience.

Theresa DeLoach, director of client development: We need to wholeheartedly examine our entire structure and make sure that those diverse voices are there because they will only make our institution better.

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