Affinity groups have been a core part of law firms’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) programs for some time, but in recent years their role has expanded. Here, eight Arnold & Porter attorneys and the Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer share their experience of belonging to these groups and explain the functions they fulfill — from community building to ally education to engagement with related pro bono matters.
Chambers Associate: Which affinity group(s) do you participate in and how have they impacted your experience at Arnold & Porter?
Marissa Loya, associate: I'm an active member and co-chair for the VALOR (Veterans and Affiliates Leadership Organization) affinity group. The sense of community among other VALOR members (veterans and non-veterans alike) has been instrumental to my transition from full-time military service on active duty to full-time work as a civilian attorney. To have a group of simply sincere, approachable, and professional individuals to turn to, many of whom made the same type of transition at one point in time, really made the transition fluid and nearly seamless. It's also that same sense of community that brings fresh ideas to the table when addressing veterans' issues or educating others. For example, in 2020, VALOR co-hosted a panel on "The Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell': Looking Back Almost a Decade Later" and another on "Women in Combat: Looking Back at the Repeal of the Combat Exclusion Policy and the Role of Women in the U.S. Military."
“To have a group of simply sincere, approachable, and professional individuals to turn to … really made the transition from full-time military service on active duty to full-time work as a civilian attorney fluid and nearly seamless.”
Mohamed Al-Hendy, senior associate: I am a member of both the ACCORD and BLAC affinity groups at the firm. These groups have been extremely helpful in creating a support network to draw on for advice on navigating day-to-day associate life and seeking out and obtaining opportunities to advance and succeed at the firm. They’ve also been great for just meeting good people who are eager to help their fellow affinity group members grow and find comfort in a profession that isn’t always the easiest to navigate.
Just a few weeks after I joined the firm, Arthur Luk, a Securities Litigation partner at the firm and leader of the ACCORD group, and Brenda Carr, our Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, happened to be in Houston and asked to take me out to lunch when they learned I was a new associate in the Houston office. They were keen to learn about my background, my goals at the firm, and how the transition from clerkship life back to associate life had been so far. As both are based out of D.C., they would have been forgiven for loosely keeping up after that, but they both very quickly went about connecting me with Arnold & Porter colleagues in other offices, identifying work opportunities in areas I’d expressed an interest in, and suggesting firm programming they felt would benefit me. And they both still randomly call to check-in and just see how I’m doing. They’ve definitely impacted my experience at Arnold & Porter for the better, and are a huge part of what makes Arnold & Porter feel like much more than just a workplace. And fortunately, they are not the exception — both ACCORD and BLAC are full of folks who embody the same kind and helpful spirit that Arthur and Brenda do.
Angela Vicari, partner: I am a co-chair of the firm's National Hiring Committee and the Pride affinity group and a WISE (Women’s Initiative for Success and Empowerment) and First Generation affinity group member. I cannot overstate the importance of these groups to my career and the careers of my colleagues at Arnold & Porter. These affinity groups have provided an opportunity for me to build relationships with attorneys I may not otherwise have had a chance to get to know. I have been fortunate to connect with mentors within the WISE and Pride affinity groups when I was an associate and am now giving back by serving as a mentor to associates within those groups.
Oscar Ramallo, counsel: I participate in Arnold & Porter’s ACCORD affinity group. The group meets regularly by Zoom, and we make a point to visit each other when we travel from our home office. ACCORD provides opportunities to receive mentorship from more experienced attorneys and to give mentorship to new attorneys. Because members of ACCORD may have more similar life experiences to each other than other attorneys, it is sometimes easier to form an effective mentoring relationship with ACCORD members. The relationships I have formed have been invaluable in advancing my career and have made my experience at Arnold & Porter an enjoyable one.
Anand Agneshwar, partner: I directly participate in the ACCORD (Attorney Community Championing Our Racial Diversity) group for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), but am also involved with other groups in my capacity as Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Committee Chair. My participation is to update the groups and the firm generally about D&I initiatives, hold firmwide office hours on D&I issues, and participate in the ACCORD group as a mentor and sounding board.
Angel Nakamura, partner: I have been a long-standing member of ACCORD and WISE (Women’s Initiative for Success and Empowerment), both as an associate and as a partner, and have forged some of my most meaningful friendships through these groups. As an associate, the affinity groups paired me with mentors who were absolutely critical to my career development. My mentors not only took me under their wings and showed me the ropes, but also advocated for my advancement and promotion. They were just incredible resources. No question was too trivial — from opening client matters, to budgeting and staffing a case. As a partner, I find that the mentoring circles still benefit me greatly. As a mentor, I get to build strong and meaningful relationships with associates outside of my immediate practice group. Not only am I able to share my personal learnings with my mentees, I also learn very interesting lessons about their practice areas as well!
Chambers Associate: In which ways does your affinity group operate to enhance career growth for members?
Brendan Gibbons, senior associate: The most important way the affinity group enhances career growth opportunities is by pairing junior LGBTQ+ associates with LGBTQ+ partners as mentors. These relationships are invaluable for junior associates’ careers and can be as informal or formal as needed. It is a wonderful way to meet new people but also develop relationships at the firm with people in other practice groups.
Mohamed Al-Hendy, senior associate: Several ways. One direct way is the Black Associate Sponsorship Program, set up by Anand Agneshwar, Diversity & Inclusion Chair, and Brenda Carr, that was rolled out a little over two years ago. The program allows eligible associates to connect with partner mentors who they might not otherwise get to meet or know at the firm. I was lucky to be paired with Tim Macdonald, former head of the Denver Arnold & Porter office and now head of ACLU Colorado, and in over two years of biweekly check-ins, Tim was always happy to hear about the ups and downs of my assignments, how my cases were going, and general life updates, even when very busy and even when my updates were not particularly exciting. And while Tim is certainly a one-of-a-kind mentor, I have generally heard similar good feedback about the program from other participants.
Both the BLAC and ACCORD retreats have also been very helpful for career growth. At both retreats, we got to hear from Arnold & Porter leaders and presenters about developing sponsor relationships, how to excel as associates, and how to navigate common difficult scenarios. We also got to know our fellow affinity group members better through interactive activities and social events, which lay the foundation for good work and collaboration down the line.
Anand Agneshwar, partner: ACCORD provides a safe space to discuss sensitive topics, provide one-on-one and group mentoring and sponsorship, training, and work opportunities. We also host a firmwide retreat every two years to provide a forum for training and discussion with firm leadership and clients.
Angela Vicari, partner: Affinity groups provide an additional mentoring network beyond the firm's formal mentoring program, as well as myriad professional development opportunities. Members serve as panelists for various programs and lead group discussions in a safe space, which provides an opportunity to hone their public speaking skills.
“Affinity groups provide an additional mentoring network beyond the firm's formal mentoring program, as well as myriad professional development opportunities.”
Patrick Derocher, associate: The PRIDE group makes it easier for attorneys, especially younger associates, to interact with and get to know attorneys in other offices and practice groups. I have gotten involved in several pro bono matters this way, and PRIDE has also allowed me to better connect with attorneys I’ve worked with on commercial matters.
Chambers Associate: In which ways does your affinity group interact with others at the firm and why is this interaction important?
Brendan Gibbons, senior associate: We have regular out-of-office retreats with other Arnold & Porter affinity groups and discuss topics that are relevant to all of the affinity groups, such as underrepresentation in the legal industry as well as civil rights. We engage guest speakers to join us and have a little bit of fun, too! It is rare in the legal industry (and just generally) to have so many different voices, backgrounds, and perspectives in one room, and it is an invaluable experience for all those who attend.
Chambers Associate: What have been some of the issues your affinity group has discussed and acted on over the past year?
Anand Agneshwar, partner: Increasing the number of attorneys of color in leadership positions at the firm, including practice chairs, relationship partners, and office heads; making sure every associate is given a chance to succeed.
Brendan Gibbons, senior associate: The affinity group works closely with LGBTQ+ attorneys and allies who work on LGBTQ+-related pro bono cases. We work on transgender issues, immigration, education, and other issues important to the LGBTQ+ community.
Patrick Derocher, associate: The onslaught of anti-trans legislation and regulation, intersectionality, and diversity in recruiting.
Angel Nakamura, partner: Over the past year, I’ve seen an increase in discourse related to mental health and general well-being in the law. Particularly in the post-COVID era, when people are coming out of two to three years of highly stressful personal and professional situations, this conversation (and a platform on which to have this conversation) has been both timely and critical.
Chambers Associate: What did you find to be the most effective ways to address and act upon these issues and why were these approaches successful?
Anand Agneshwar, partner: We have implemented a sponsorship program for black associates and have instituted a practice group program to require practice chair oversight over the success of attorneys of color, women, and other groups.
Angela Vicari, partner: The PRIDE group is focused on the discrimination of transgender individuals. For example, many state legislators are introducing bills that would limit or prohibit transgender women from competing in women's athletics. On December 21, 2020,a team of attorneys from Arnold & Porter proudly represented seven companies that filed an amicus brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Hecox v. Little. This case challenges an Idaho law that bars the participation of transgender women and girls in women's student athletics. In addition, we recently won a precedent-setting settlement with Prince George’s County Board of Education to protect transgender rights. The firm represented a former transgender schoolteacher who suffered years of abuse, harassment, and retaliation. We hope to continue to use our advocacy skills to combat this and other types of discrimination.
Brenda Carr, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer (CDIO): This year, we conducted a firmwide engagement and retention survey, enabling us to identify differences in experience between attorneys and professionals across the firm, examine trends along social identity dimensions, and design interventions and track progress through benchmarking and analysis.
We also launched our firmwide monthly D&I newsletter which serves as a critical internal communications tool to promote our affinity groups’ goals and activities, provide a platform for people to share their stories and serve as a resource for best practices and D&I learning.
APCares and WISE (our parents/caregivers affinity group and our women's affinity group, respectively), are very focused on supporting the retention and advancement of working parents and others with caregiver responsibilities.
Chambers Associate: Affinity groups have been a core part of many law firms' diversity efforts over the years. How do you feel affinity groups have evolved as the landscape of DE&I initiatives and law firms' approaches have developed?
Anand Agneshwar, partner: The need for community and sponsorship has never been greater, and affinity groups at Arnold & Porter have risen to the challenge. They are more an integral part of the fabric of the firm now, putting on firmwide events, regularly interacting with firm management, and being asked to advise on firm programming.
Brenda Carr, CDIO: Affinity groups have evolved and expanded over the years in many ways. Affinity groups were always a space for members to gather and build community with one another. In recent years, while the focus of building community remains, so has a focus on inclusivity and helping educate allies and broader firm audiences about issues impacting underrepresented professionals and marginalized communities. In addition to recruitment, retention, and advancement of attorneys, generally, affinity groups are focused on collaborations and interactions with firm clients and firm alumni. The connectivity with alumni is particularly special to our affinity group members because of the natural extension of their networks developing and/or maintaining relationships with alumni provides. Finding synergies with clients that expand affinity group members' understanding of our clients' business and the roles and responsibilities of in-house counsel is essential to the advancement of attorneys at the firm.
“In recent years, while the focus of building community remains, so has a focus on inclusivity and helping educate allies and broader firm audiences about issues impacting underrepresented professionals and marginalized communities.”
Chambers Associate: What are a few things affinity groups do that people often are not aware of?
Marissa Loya, associate: Affinity groups can be a fruitful pathway to learning about pro-bono opportunities within a particular affinity group's specific area. For example, other VALOR members exposed me to excellent pro-bono opportunities/areas of law specifically connected to military issues and/or veterans. As a result, I'm currently serving as a civilian Victims' Counsel for military-connected sexual assault survivors.
Patrick Derocher, associate: At least in PRIDE, we have worked to supplement programming for non-PRIDE attorneys across the firm, and have played a role in helping Arnold & Porter diversify its recruiting efforts while making the firm a more welcoming place for all members of the LGBTQIA+ community, in particular TGNCI and BIPOC law students and attorneys.
*Additional information about Arnold & Porter’s Affinity Groups, DEI initiatives and the Firm in general can be found at www.arnoldporter.com.