ORLANDO, Fla. — Attendees at a recent luncheon, both law firm partners and corporate legal department leaders, engaged in a robust discussion of how to satisfy clients’ diversity mandates and advance women in the legal industry.
The event, hosted by Thomson Reuters’ Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law (TWLL) initiative, was held May 11 in Orlando, Fla., and is part of TWLL’s ongoing dialog among female executives around their perspectives on women advancing in the legal industry and the challenges they face moving forward.
In Orlando, 13 senior women from large law firms and nine senior women from corporate legal departments attended the lunch, discussing such key themes as fostering diversity and inclusion, workplace flexibility, hiring and retaining top female talent, and sponsorship opportunities.
Attendees noted how they were seeing increased RFPs with diversity components in them. One Diversity & Inclusion Partner commented that it’s no longer good enough to show you’re committed to diversity and inclusion; it’s who’s actually working on the matter that the client gives them that counts. If that mix is not one they deem appropriate, the client will find other firms to do the work.
One Diversity & Inclusion Partner commented that it’s no longer good enough to show you’re committed to diversity and inclusion; it’s who’s actually working on the matter that the client gives them that counts.
When asked how law firms can increase diversity from within, several GC panelists responded by citing the importance of mentors or sponsors. Elizabeth Beastrom, CFO and Vice President of Finance for the Large & Mid-size Law Firm, Corporate Counsel and Legal Managed Services segments at Thomson Reuters, discussed the idea of having sponsors — senior-level executives who will stand up and vouch for you when seeking promotions or leadership roles. Having a sponsor is absolutely critical to helping women advance in the law; and with more qualified women in the pool, law firms can increase diversity.
Another panelist suggested that change needs to start at the mid-management level. Women at that level or above need to reach out and connect with the people who are making hiring and promotion decisions and make a case for diversity and inclusion.
Another issue of concern was how law firms can encourage women to return from maternity leave — and stay with the firm after maternity leave. One partner discussed her firm’s new parent program for parents with newborns. Women returning from maternity leave are partnered with a mentor who has been through the challenge of returning to the law practice after maternity leave. The mentor helps the new mother during the entire leave process through the child’s first birthday. The firm is hopeful this will help retain talented women in the firm.
The women were hopeful that some of the challenges they face will no longer be women’s issues, they will be everyone’s issues, as Millennials increasingly demand the flexibility needed to balance life and work.