Forum: The Critical Role of Managers and Allies in the Legal Profession

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In the corporate world, managers of diverse employees have a significant influence on the success of their employees and the development of these essential employees.

While it is the same in the legal industry, it is more difficult to determine who is the manager of the diverse lawyer. Most partners work with a variety of partners, even in smaller law firms, so it’s harder to tell which partner is labeled a “manager”. Unfortunately, this often means that it becomes less clear who is responsible for the development, support and promotion of various lawyers.

However, it is the underrepresented people – people of color, women, LGBTQ + people, people with disabilities and veterans – who need effective advocates in the workplace beyond their manager. And these advocates are courageous allies in society who strive to create more equitable and inclusive workplaces and experiences.

All law firms have their own distinct structure, and that structure determines who is responsible for guiding a diverse partner on the path to success. Obviously, the partner who assigns the job must be the first advocate in the career of the lawyer. Second, area managers (or similar positions) may not interact regularly with various lawyers, but are responsible for the overall success of all lawyers under their jurisdiction. In some cases, companies also have someone in an administrative role who oversees work assignments, ratings, and reviews – another good candidate to be an advocate. And finally, formal and informal mentors play a role.

In the legal world, all of the executives mentioned above must act as a “manager” in order to have a positive impact on the career paths of the various partners and to improve the retention of the firm. However, problems arise when none or only one of these people step in and accept responsibility.

Ensuring that diverse lawyers have access to formalized work assignments, professional development opportunities, mentoring programs, and sponsorship commitments does not come without a concerted effort.

Business leaders should focus on these four areas to ensure that advocacy takes place within the company:

Building relationships

Wesley Bizzell, senior deputy general counsel for Altria Client Services and president of the National LGBT Bar Association, notes that “time is a challenge,” whether in a corporate law department or a law firm, but that “Old school listening” is essential to a manager’s role in supporting various lawyers. Building relationships with various attorneys shows that the manager invests in attorney careers.

The key is to create a “genuine relationship with people because it will pay off in the long run,” says Ronald Jordan, senior senior manager at Carter-White & Shaw. “It’s an investment.

Provide opportunities

It is essential for the success of various lawyers that managers know how and to whom they assign the work and the quality of these engagements. “It’s important to think about high-level work within the team,” says Bonnie Lau, partner at Morrison & Foerster and former chair of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity. “It is common knowledge that partners tend to rely on their colleagues of choice, which often excludes various under-represented lawyers.”

Ensure a work pipeline

The development of key legal skills is vital for all lawyers, and work assignments are the primary mechanism by which lawyers acquire these skills and knowledge. It doesn’t matter who controls the pipeline, “what’s important is just to point out and value various lawyers so that they have access to them,” said Gregory Grossman, partner at Sequor Law.

Managers, however defined in a law firm, need to ensure that their various lawyers gain the experience necessary to stay on track in their firm, and there are many ways for managers to do this. . For example, to ensure the firm’s work was fairly distributed, Jenner & Block piloted a new work assignment process to create “more oversight and insight starting with new partners,” notes Courtney Carter, Jenner & Block’s Director of Diversity & Inclusion.

Promote the alliance

An ally is someone who helps create work cultures that attract and retain the highest quality lawyers. These allies make a meaningful and lasting commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion to best support the advancement of under-represented lawyers. An ally must also show courage and agree to risk his political capital for under-represented lawyers.

This includes “offering to introduce colleagues from under-represented groups to influential people within your network,” says Keyonn Pope, Partner at Reed Smith.

Be an ally

What does it mean to be an ally in a legal organization? Senior lawyers in positions of influence often act as allies of those with less access, taking responsibility for implementing changes that will enable the success of under-represented lawyers.

“Being an ally or accomplice requires a commitment to use your personal and professional platform to create positive change,” says Daniel L. (DL) Morriss, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DCI) Partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson. Indeed, an ally can perform powerful acts such as recommending new colleagues for high-level work, extended assignments, and learning opportunities.

Allies can also show their support by creating a safe space for lawyers to be authentic themselves, normalizing mental health and wellness issues, and suggesting various lawyers as speakers or panelists. “There are people who support DCI and want to be allies,” says Taylor Wilson, Managing Partner of Haynes and Boone, adding that it is important to “empower them to use their voice and privilege to advocate better. in favor of change ”.

Allies are also looking to create systemic change within the organization, not just removing barriers for some under-represented lawyers. This can be done through resource funding, salary reviews, inclusive hiring practices, inclusive benefit plans, nursing rooms, wellness rooms, prayer rooms, accessibility of sites and toilets for all sexes.

Ultimately, allies must give honest and constructive feedback and overcome fears that the recipient will not accept the feedback. Studies have shown that African American attorneys come under scrutiny from supervising attorneys, which can lead to poor performance reviews, lower bonuses, less visible assignments, and loss of time. employment. Feedback should be specific. When you identify something negative, offer help and highlight ways and resources to improve yourself. The key is to link all feedback to business goals.

In the legal field, diversity of thought and perspective is essential to serve clients at the highest level. Managers and their allies will help law firms move forward by creating an environment in which all underrepresented communities have equal access to quality work and opportunities.

Remember, the ultimate goal of a diverse workforce is to promote a wider range of perspectives, experiences, and ideas for solving clients’ legal issues. This should be the goal of every lawyer and law firm manager.

The opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the principles of trust, is committed to respecting integrity, independence and freedom from bias. The Thomson Reuters Institute is owned by Thomson Reuters.

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