Whether it’s participating in mentoring circles, devising diversity score-cards or increasing the inclusivity of pitch teams, there’s plenty that law firm leaders can do to drive D&I in their businesses, as this article by Weil reveals.
Chambers Associate: What do firm leaders do to bolster and promote diversity and inclusion within the firm?
Weil’s leaders take a hands-on approach to inclusion, recognizing that diversity is a vital part of the Firm’s heritage and culture and integral to continued success. As the executive partner, Barry Wolf sets the example by promoting and engaging in diversity initiatives. He meets quarterly with the diversity committee chairs, contributes innovative ideas to drive change and personally participates in numerous inclusion efforts. Barry takes a hands-on approach to addressing the most urgent and vital issues, such as the most recent crisis of racial injustice and violence. In 2021, Barry formed two advisory boards — one composed of Black partners, and the other of Black counsel and associates in the U.S. and London — to work with him on a range of issues of importance to the Firm, including but not limited to diversity-related topics.
As Barry Wolf explains: “It’s my job to do everything I can to encourage that commitment to excellence. Above all, it means being a great ally and having great allies. It just doesn’t work any other way.”
Since 2011, the Firm has implemented a two-hour annual diversity education requirement for all U.S. attorneys and staff, a concept conceived by Barry to position inclusion as a critical skill that warranted consistent practice and a prominent place in the culture. Each year, a new program is developed specifically for Weil to provide concrete skills for achieving inclusion such as combating implicit bias; delivering feedback across difference; religious diversity; and talking boldly about race in the workplace. The 2022 training program centered around the theme of “Diversity in the Day to Day: Making Inclusion an Everyday Habit.” Beyond mandating training, Barry is an active participant in the training and follows up with partners to ensure that they lead by example through attending.
“It’s my job to do everything I can to encourage that commitment to excellence. Above all, it means being a great ally and having great allies. It just doesn’t work any other way.” – executive partner Barry Wolf.
Another way that Firm leadership demonstrate commitment to diversity and inclusion is through the designation of a management committee member, who is not a member of that demographic group, to serve as a sponsor for each affinity group. Each sponsor provides visibility to the group and individual members internally and externally. For example, the sponsor of the Taskforce on Women’s Engagement & Retention (TOWER) is Michael Francies, the head of Weil’s London office, who comments: “My role as the sponsor of the group is to listen and learn as much as possible and then be champion for individual women as well as the TOWER initiative at the Firm.” In addition, forty percent of TOWER’s partner members are men, conveying that promoting female attorneys is a Firm priority and not just a women’s priority.
“Weil believes that everyone, particularly leaders, should strive to be allies and advocates for people and communities that share a different background or identity than their own. At Weil we call these allies Upstanders, communicating the expectation of active rather than passive support,” says Meredith Moore, chief diversity, equity & inclusion officer. The Upstander@Weil initiative started in 2015 to continue building on a longstanding commitment to engage people of all backgrounds in diversity efforts and to inspire all attorneys and staff to stand up for inclusion in the workplace, the community and at home. Upstander@Weil extends the powerful “ally” concept within the LGBTQ+ community to a broader spectrum of groups, including people of color, women, and veterans to name a few. Weil’s 2021 Diversity Month focused on the role of Upstanders in racial equity with the theme, Antiracism and Allyship: The Collective Power of Individual Actions.Weil staff and attorneys are encouraged to nominate one another for the Andrea Bernstein Upstander@Weil Award (named after a retired partner and longtime diversity committee chair). To date, over 100 individuals at the Firm across all levels and offices have been granted the award.
“My role as the sponsor of the group is to listen and learn as much as possible and then be champion for individual women as well as the TOWER initiative at the Firm.” – Michael Francies, head of Weil’s London office.
CA: How do firm leaders and management teams hear and address D&I feedback and concerns?
Firm leaders are deeply involved in diversity initiatives that create opportunities for associates to provide feedback, such as through their personal involvement in affinity groups and mentoring circles. Women@Weil developed the mentoring circle concept, which later expanded to include circles open to all associates. Associates may opt to join an all women circle, an associate of color circle, or an LGBTQ+ circle depending on their preferences.
Lyuba Goltser, a partner in Weil’s public company advisory group, co-led a women’s mentoring circle with Barry for many years and now co-leads one with restructuring co-head Matt Barr. In describing Weil’s leadership involvement in mentoring circles, she says: “Mentoring circles provide intimate group settings in which associates share their perspectives and provide feedback to leadership, as well as receive professional guidance from partners and peers. Leading a circle with Barry, he was never afraid to address, and in fact, seeks feedback on tough issues ranging from the experiences of women of color to the challenges working moms face. He takes what he learns from our mentoring circle to advance the Firm’s strategy. Now I have the opportunity to help provide that perspective with another leader.”
Veronica Bonhamgregory, a corporate associate, who co-chairs the Black Associate and Counsel Advisory Board to Executive Partner Barry Wolf, says that “the Firm’s investment and support in me and in Black attorneys overall is evident, not just because the head of the Firm meets with our board monthly but because our conversations result in the actual implementation of new Firm programs and policies.”
“Weil believes that everyone, particularly leaders, should strive to be allies and advocates for people and communities that share a different background or identity than their own. At Weil we call these allies Upstanders, communicating the expectation of active rather than passive support.” – Meredith Moore, chief diversity, equity & inclusion officer.
Leaders also host small group gatherings to develop relationships and hear about the experiences of different demographic groups at the Firm. For example, Barry Wolf held small group meetings with associate mothers to understand their unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another important way that Firm leaders gain insight into the challenges and opportunities diverse attorneys face is by participating in individual affinity group conferences. Two conferences are held each year: In 2022, we held conferences for WeilPride (LGBTQ+) and BLAST (Black Attorneys Achieving Success Together). This year, we will host a WeilPride conference in June and an attorneys of color conference in November. The culmination of each conference after professional development, client networking, and team building sessions is a presentation on key messages and recommendations to Firm leaders, including the management committee sponsor. To date, the Firm has hosted 19 affinity group conferences.
CA: Mental wellbeing has become an important topic in the legal industry over the past few years. As people who have navigated the demands of the legal world and risen to senior positions, how do leaders and managers demonstrate best practices for maintaining good mental health?
Weil leadership began placing greater emphasis on mental health and the well-being of attorneys and staff in 2018. In 2019, Weil signed the ABA Well-Being Pledge, formed a Health and Well-Being Committee and held the Firm’s first annual Mental Health Month. Soon after, longtime Weil litigator Lori Pines became the Firm’s first Chief Wellness Officer. Weil’s Well-Being Committee continues to host frequent programming to encourage living healthy and balanced lives, both personally and professionally.
“He [Barry Wolf] takes what he learns from our mentoring circle to advance the Firm’s strategy. Now I have the opportunity to help provide that perspective with another leader.” Lyuba Goltser, partner in Weil’s public company advisory group.
Weil has also rolled out supports specifically for our Black community with Jacquesline Walker, founder of The Well Firm, to address mental wellness and well-being with a focus on the impact of COVID-19, killings of Black individuals, the ongoing public conversations about racial equity, and additional stress and anxiety related to caregiving responsibilities through group and one-on-one sessions.
CA: What do firm leaders do to collaborate with clients and promote D&I in the legal industry and beyond?
Weil partners work with clients in multiple ways to foster inclusion in the legal profession and broader community. For example, to promote law school diversity, the Firm co-hosted a 1L diversity reception panel which featured senior in-house attorneys from Eli Lilly, along with Weil partner and department head, Elizabeth Weiswasser. To kick off 2019 Diversity Month in November, Barry Wolf delivered remarks to the Firm along with a panel of General Counsel Upstanders, including Kimberly Harris of NBCU, Mutya Harsch of Foamix, and Gwen Marcus of Showtime.
“Firm leaders provide access to their clients through the affinity groups and I had visible opportunities as a senior associate to connect with clients and showcase my leadership skills.” – Candace Arthur, partner.
Weil’s affinity groups also engage with clients to share career advice, enhance business development skills and expand their individual members' networks. The affinity groups often join forces to focus on intersectionality as they showcase client role models. For example the WeilPride and Black Attorneys Achieving Success Together groups co-hosted an intimate dinner with SoundCloud General Counsel Antonious Porch and the WeilLatinx and Black Attorneys Achieving Success Together groups co-hosted a fireside chat for associates of color with client David Arroyo, SVP and Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer at Discovery. “Firm leaders provide access to their clients through the affinity groups and I had visible opportunities as a senior associate to connect with clients and showcase my leadership skills,” explains Candace Arthur, partner.
The biennial affinity group conferences also provide exposure to clients. For example, in recent years, the Black Attorney Achieving Success Together Group Conference included a client and alumni networking reception featuring Sunny Hostin, ABC News Legal Analyst and co-host of The View, and a panel discussion with African-American clients on strategies to take ownership of your career. WeilLatinx conferences have included an alumni panel and culminated with hosting the Annual Hispanic National Bar Association Convention’s kick off reception where Ed Soto, partner, head of Weil’s Miami office, and co-head of the Firm’s complex commercial litigation practice delivered welcome remarks: “As a group and office head, I am able to cultivate client relationships as I give back through my pro bono and board service, such as with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and when I participate in opportunities to mentor and connect with the next generation of lawyers of color.”
In addition, many affinity groups hold specific networking events that further provide access to clients, as well as continuing to promote Weil’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Since 2011, WeilPride has annually hosted a Pride Month networking event for LGBTQ+ clients, Weil attorneys, alumni and summer associates at the Standard East Village hotel. The Black Attorney Affinity Group and Women@Weil co-hosted a special pre-screening of the biopic Harriet for clients in New York. The Silicon Valley office hosted multiple diversity client events such as an intimate dinner for Asian-American female clients, a “Rides & Rosé” charity cycling class in support of the Tahirih Justice Center (a non-profit that protects immigrant women and girls), and a dinner for Black and Latinx clients and alumni. Other Women@Weil client events included a mindfulness presentation for private equity women clients in Boston and a private viewing of the exhibition: “Dior, from Paris to the World” in Dallas.
“As a group and office head, I am able to cultivate client relationships as I give back through my pro bono and board service, such as with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and when I participate in opportunities to mentor and connect with the next generation of lawyers of color.” – Ed Soto, partner, head of Weil’s Miami office, and co-head of the Firm’s complex commercial litigation practice.
CA: What have been the short-term and long-term advantages to having a leadership team that demonstrates clear buy-in and involvement in D&I efforts?
The tangible impact of Weil’s leadership’s commitment is evidenced by diversity promotion trends. Since 2015, the percentage of U.S. women partners has increased from 20% to 31% and U.S. partners of color increased from 12% to 15%. Weil’s 2023 partner class is one of the most diverse in the Firm’s history: 58% women globally, 63% in the U.S.; 38% people of color in the U.S.; 67% women and/or people of color globally, 75% in the U.S.. Since 2015, 46% of the U.S. newly promoted partners have been women and 24% people of color. In 2022, Weil received Mansfield Certification Plus status, a key industry accreditation that reflects the Firm’s progress in fostering diversity among its leadership ranks.
To achieve tangible increases in diverse representation, Weil’s leadership recognized that a business-centric approach that measured results on leading indicators was essential to assess progress. For example, recognizing the importance of client opportunities to success in a law firm setting, we analyzed the participation of women in client pitches in 2015. This led Weil to transform its approach to increasing the diversity of its client pitches. This effort has yielded measurable results, including an increase participation in client pitches by female partners by almost 90% over the last five years.
Weil’s Taskforce on Women’s Engagement and Retention (TOWER) leadership programs invest in future female leaders with a junior partner and senior associate program. In 2021, we launched BLAST (Black Lawyers Achieving Success Together), a leadership and business development initiative for Black partners, counsel, and senior associates. BLAST invests in the participants through Management Committee sponsors, individualized business plans, executive coaches, and group leadership sessions.
“The diversity of the pitch teams is not merely a means of showcasing gender equity. It is a way for diverse lawyers to build their business development acumen, embrace leadership opportunities and sharpen the client skills that are central to elite legal practice. Ultimately, pitches can lead to opportunities to work on important matters and to develop a thriving practice,” says Robert Lennon, chief business development & communications officer.
Applying a business leadership mindset to inclusion, Barry brings a focus on measurable results and accountability to ensure that diversity is more than lip service. For example, Barry devised diversity score-cards for Firm leaders to assess the diversity of their offices/groups and their personal involvement in the Firm’s diversity efforts. The score-cards measure leaders against each other as well as their progress year-over-year.
In 2021, we enhanced multiple accountability mechanisms to foster greater partner engagement, such as building on longstanding questions about diversity on the partner report card to ask specifically about efforts to recruit, retain, and advance Black attorneys and adding new questions to the partner and counsel upward review surveys to address belonging, inclusion and allyship.
“The diversity of the pitch teams is not merely a means of showcasing gender equity. It is a way for diverse lawyers to build their business development acumen, embrace leadership opportunities and sharpen the client skills that are central to elite legal practice.” – Robert Lennon, chief business development & communications officer.
CA: Why should students pay particular attention to firms that can demonstrate leadership buy-in to D&I efforts?
Leaders with high commitment to diversity and inclusion initiatives are not only engaged in Firm efforts, but also provide hands-on leadership that demonstrate their investment in each associates’ success. Hands-on leadership and individual investment means that partners are available to provide guidance to associates throughout their career at Weil. As a junior associate, early hands-on leadership is crucial, as associates are immediately engaged in meaningful work and provided the necessary feedback to grow. As one progresses in their career at Weil, the established relationship between associates and leaders allows for early and more frequent client interaction. Perhaps most significantly, the individual investment made by partners means that feedback is highly valued from associates, regardless of tenure.
Additionally, Weil leaders are responsive to associate feedback. In the wake of the 2020 summer of racial reckoning, the Firm created The Racial Justice Fellowship Program based on associate interest in opportunities working on the front lines racial justice. Fellows will participate in six-month, full-time pro bono fellowships with nonprofit organizations focused on racial justice. During this first phase of the program, two associates are working with the Institute for American Police Reform (IAPR), a pro bono client of the Firm. The IAPR aims to take a research-driven approach to transforming police practices, particularly those that disproportionately affect people of color.
The involvement of leaders in both the strategy and hands-on work of inclusion is a key factor in a diversity initiative with tangible results. Weil leaders have proven that they are willing and able to put in the work to ensure that all attorneys have the opportunity to thrive at the Firm.