The promotion of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is a top priority in the legal industry. It is also something on which clients are heavily focused, with companies, banks and other law firm clients increasingly promoting diversity among law firms through tools ranging from requiring annual reporting on diversity by their outside counsel to making hiring decisions based on law firm diversity. Providing women, racially/ethnically underrepresented and LGBTQ+ lawyers with increased career development opportunities, including the opportunity to take on leadership roles with valued clients and within their organizations, has long been a stated focus of most law firms. The tools for making concrete strides to achieving these objectives have developed and evolved over the years. At our firm, the advancement of DE&I efforts is a core value and an ongoing endeavor as we continue to work toward having our population of lawyers better reflect the society in which we live. Like many other organizations, we have a ways to go in achieving DE&I and it is something that we continue to prioritize.
With a view toward encouraging dialogue and discussion about specific initiatives to increase DE&I, we wanted to share some of the steps that we have taken and found helpful in our efforts to provide underrepresented lawyers with greater access to equitable development opportunities:
- In 2021, we launched a pilot sponsorship program, which served to complement our existing mentorship programs. With a focus on mid-level associates, the program is open to fourth year underrepresented associates, and seeks to enhance their development as they begin to navigate the transition to senior associates, including by facilitating one-on-one pairing of the associate and a sponsor partner, providing a structured coaching engagement with an external coach and tailored learning and development. The engagement of external coaching in particular has been popular among associates, as it provides access to customized coaching in various areas ranging from public speaking to leadership and team management.
- We recognize that mentoring serves as a critical tool toward the retention and development of lawyers, including those who are underrepresented in law firms. We are constantly striving to expand both formal and informal mentoring opportunities at Cleary Gottlieb. Toward that end, first- and second-year associates are paired with mid-level and senior associate mentors who help them transition from law school to professional practice. In particular, these relationships are designed to help young lawyers navigate the day-to-day of being a junior associate at the firm.
- In addition, our various affinity groups host mentoring circles with senior lawyers within each affinity group. All associates and senior lawyers are invited to participate with the goal of providing participants an opportunity to expand their networks and resources. Mentoring circles create a platform for associates to identify mentors among senior and peer lawyers while providing the additional benefit of serving as a confidential forum for the discussion of questions and concerns.
- The staffing of associates on new assignments also plays a fundamental role in associate development. We continue to work to improve upon our staffing assignment process. Recent enhancements that we have found useful include putting in place a comprehensive discussion and review process for all staffing matters, which the firm’s DE&I team coordinates closely to drive equitable distribution of developmental opportunities.
- Members of the Attorney Development and DE&I teams attend regular meetings where staffing partners and coordinators for each practice group discuss professional development and staffing assignments for every associate. Through these meetings, we work to manage work allocation, ensure that each staffing assignment fits within the broader career development goals of the assigned associates, and support full and fair access to our most sophisticated matters for our underrepresented associates.
- DE&I teams assist the firm’s various practice groups in the use of our U.S. Diversity Dashboard, which monitors allocation of billable/non-billable hours across demographic groups, with the goal of equitably allocating work.
- We have also worked to find ways to provide associates with additional information regarding development criteria. The firm publishes targeted performance criteria for mid-level and senior associates, setting out skill sets and objective development metrics for associates at different levels of seniority. We also make available to associates a copy of the template of the memorandum that is used in partner and counsel promotions in order to provide additional information and transparency regarding the criteria considered in the promotion process.
- Partners and senior lawyers also work hand-in-hand with the firm’s broader staff. Leaders from Cleary Gottlieb’s Talent Management Committee, and Human Resources, Attorney Development, Recruiting, and DE&I Departments continue to conduct regular meetings to monitor the progress of our underrepresented associates. The firm also has underrepresented lawyers in prominent leadership positions, including as members of the Executive Committee, the Chair of the Finance Committee, the Chair of the Talent Management Committee and the Chair of the Promotion Process.
These initiatives are all works in progress and we continue to build on and enhance them. In doing so, we have also found it particularly helpful to work together with and solicit feedback directly from underrepresented associates at the firm. Taking into account the concerns and feedback of women, racially/ethnically underrepresented and LGBTQ+ lawyers in increasing career development opportunities and improving the day-to-day experience for them is paramount towards achieving the collective goal of ensuring greater diversity among law firm lawyers and the legal industry overall.
About the authors:
Carina S. Wallance is a Senior Attorney at Cleary Gottlieb. Her practice focuses on domestic and international corporate and financial transactions. Carina joined the firm in 2010 and became a senior attorney in 2019. From 2010 to 2013, she was resident in the New York office and from 2013 to 2014, she was resident in the Buenos Aires office.
Chantal Kordula is a Partner at Cleary Gottlieb. Her practice focuses primarily on transactions in Latin America, particularly mergers and acquisitions, project and acquisition finance, and restructurings. Chantal joined the firm in 1997 and became a partner in 2008.