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.
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. 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, director of global diversity and inclusion. 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 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, who co-led a women’s mentoring circle with Barry for many years and now co-leads one with business finance and 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.”
Andrew Wang, a corporate associate, who participates in an associate of color mentoring circle, notes that “to have the head of the firm so visibly and enthusiastically involved in diversity and mentoring defines the essence of Weil.”
“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, director of global diversity and inclusion.
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 recently met with a group of 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: AsianAttorneys@Weil and WeilLatinx last met in 2019 and the Black Attorney Affinity Group and WeilPride (LGBTQ+) last met in 2018. 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 17 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. During the 2018 Mental Health Awareness Week, Weil held multiple programs designed to raise awareness and reduce stigma related to mental health, such as an “In Our Own Voice” program by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In 2019, Weil held the firm’s first annual Mental Health Month in May, which included a series of programs such as “Making Mental Health a Priority” and a CLE on Mental Health & Ethical Obligations. Weil committed to improve the health and well-being of those in the legal profession by signing the American Bar Association’s Pledge in 2019. The firm also established a well-being committee to ensure a continued focus on these issues year-round.
“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’s leadership has increased the focus on mental health as all attorneys and staff shifted to work remotely in recent months. Individual leaders have ensured open communication through emails, phone calls, and video conference meetings where they have shared their own focus on well-being, while urging associates to do the same. Barry Wolf sends a weekly check-in email to the entire firm to maintain the connection amongst the “Weil family” while our offices remain closed. Weil executive director David Strumeyer sent a firm-wide communication to announce Mental Health Month this May and invite all attorneys and staff to participate in virtual programming and utilize internal and external resources.
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 partners and practice group leaders, Christopher Garcia and 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, WeilPride and the Black Attorney Affinity Group co-hosted an intimate dinner with SoundCloud General Counsel Antonious Porch. WeilLatinx and the Black Attorney Affinity Group 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, the 2018 Black Attorney Affinity 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. The 2019 WeilLatinx conference 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 in 2019 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 US women partners has increased from 20% to 28% and US partners of color increased from 12% to 15%. Weil’s 2020 partner class is the most diverse in the firm’s history, with 73% women and 36% people of color of newly promoted US partners, or 82% diverse. Since 2015, the percentage of women in the new partner class has grown from 25% to 45%.
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.
“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 developing a thriving practice,” says Kristen Zadourian, director business development – corporate.
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.
“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.” – Kristen Zadourian, director business development, corporate.
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.
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.