How conscious are we about unconscious bias? Can law firms deliver truly diverse teams to work with major clients? How do we create an atmosphere of support and balance that leads to a living diversity of mentorship and opportunity for all? And isn’t it time to stop blaming 'the pipeline'— for attorneys to own this issue, and tackle it head on?
This and much more was discussed at a groundbreaking event in Cooley’s Palo Alto office, which brought together the General Counsel of Facebook, Fellows of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, and a team from Cooley led by CEO and LCLD Member Joe Conroy. The agenda: to tackle some of the most pressing issues in our profession, which permeate all the industries and communities in which we operate.
Conroy and Facebook GC Colin Stretch led a free-flowing lunchtime Q&A session focused on diversity in the legal industry. The two shared anecdotes about their own roads to leadership, their growth journeys in choosing to become champions of diversity, and the challenges they’re committed to overcoming for this generation of great lawyers and beyond.
They encouraged feedback and collaborative debate among the 15 attending Fellows—partners, lawyers, and in-house counsel from around the country—as well as from inspirational LCLD Program Director Lori Lorenzo.
Stretch spoke about Facebook's efforts to create a more diverse workplace, by recruiting people of all backgrounds, and also by ensuring that Facebook itself is welcoming to a diverse employee population. Mike Rhodes described how the Cooley legal teams working with Facebook (and many other global clients) are evolving as we seek to make diversity front and center. He also gave a trial lawyer's insight into the meticulous preparation necessary when dealing with juries and with judges, including confronting history-based preconceptions of presumed leadership among counsel and the roles they play.
He described how his own experience has been shaped by working with and for Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and how the lessons reflected in her best-selling book, Lean In, have helped inform his leadership of the Facebook legal team. Leadership teams at Facebook are now openly and obviously dedicated to tackling unconscious bias and focused on becoming a standard-bearer for inclusiveness worldwide.
Conroy explained the magnitude of this challenge for a large private-practice law firm such as Cooley, and detailed the impact of Professor Jerry Kang, who tackled unconscious bias at our most recent partner retreat. Conroy reiterated his complete commitment as CEO to relentlessly promoting positive change within a profession that has so far to go on so many levels—but which, with “true grit,” will turn the corner. That’s especially true, he said, with the active engagement of major clients like Facebook.
Given that this was a closely networked audience of some of the highest-achieving lawyers in the country, it came as no surprise that the level of debate, questioning, and sharing of experiences was so fulfilling. Far beyond the allotted time, discussions played out, contacts were exchanged, and selfies were taken—no doubt you will find several of them on Facebook.
DeAnna D. Allen, a Partner with Cooley LLP, is a 2015 LCLD Fellow. She also serves as Chair of the Cooley Diversity Committee.
Photos by David Gonzales, Courtesy of Cooley LLP