It's a familiar sight at any large gathering hosted by the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity: President Robert Grey, at the podium, rising to welcome a new class of Fellows or Pathfinders to LCLD.
On April 30, weeks into a global pandemic of COVID-19, there was no podium, no spotlight, no hotel ballroom packed with diverse young attorneys. But the message to more than 250 Pathfinders across the U.S., delivered from Robert's living room, was exactly the same.
"No matter the challenges, connection is still the secret sauce of LCLD," Grey said, opening LCLD's first-ever virtual conference, a historic two-day meeting of the 2020 Pathfinders. "As of today, you are part of the LCLD community. Here you will make friends for life."
That moment, beamed across the country, was the culmination of a six-week, all-hands-on-deck effort by LCLD staff* led by Sarah Alexander (above), manager of the Pathfinder Program, Stella Askin, LCLD's Events Manager, and Jessica Sabesan, Senior Communications & Marketing Manager. Together they produced an online conference that replicated the faculty presentations, breakout sessions, peer circles, and spontaneous networking opportunities of an LCLD in-person meeting.
"I cannot say this enough, guys: The LCLD team has made an amazing, time-pressured pivot in bringing this program online. It's so great to virtually meet our Pathfinders!"
—Carrie Fletcher, JD, MSc, faculty presenter
"We'd worked really hard with our faculty presenters and LCLD staff to get the kinks out," recalls Alexander. "But it was a new platform for us, with a steep learning curve. We were especially worried about providing real interactions—the networking piece. Up until the last minute, I was thinking, 'Is this going to work, or not?'"
The audience itself had modest expectations.
"I was sort of skeptical beforehand," said Jennifer Yazdi, a 2020 Pathfinder from Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco. "Like everyone, I've been doing lots of Zoom meetings lately, and I couldn't imagine how a large meeting like this would work. In a crowd that size, how are you going to meet people?"
The virtual format "turned out to be great—the presentations were excellent and I actually got to know people," Yazdi said. "It totally blew away my expectations."
So seamless was the networking component that Preetha Suresh Rini, an Associate with Ellis & Winters in Raleigh, was able to make 31 connections with fellow Pathfinders over the two days during timed, four-minute exchanges, the legal equivalent of speed dating.
"The secret is to know yourself really well so that you can hit the highlights quickly," Rini says. And while she's a "huge extrovert" who enjoys getting to know people in-depth, the advantage of virtual networking is that "you get to meet more people much more quickly—there's no real room for small talk."
"In some ways, I found the virtual conference better than a live conference," added another Pathfinder in the post-meeting survey, which gave rave reviews to Peer Circle breakout sessions (above) and faculty presenters including Chris de Santis (below). "This ended up being a fantastic platform and a really, really good experience."
THE 2020 PATHFINDER MEETING was an important milestone, but it's one part of a larger, ongoing virtual initiative by the Board and LCLD staff to reinforce LCLD's role as a valued institution in a nation under lockdown.
This effort includes virtual programming for the entire LCLD community: presentations and virtual mock interviews for 1L Scholars; virtual Mentoring sessions; online check-ins, book clubs, webinars, and group interactions for Alumni, Pathfinders, and Fellows (below); Member organization trivia contests and morale boosters shared on LCLD's social media accounts; and a Zoom broadcast of timely, thought-leader conversations with LCLD Members.
Launched earlier this month, "Language of Leadership" is a series of webinars in which LCLD Members share anecdotes and personal insights about leading in times of crisis. The first of these programs, featuring Alan Braverman of Walt Disney, attracted an LCLD audience of nearly 600 viewers, including dozens of general counsel and managing partners along with Alumni like Demetra Liggins.
Moderated by Robert Grey, upcoming Language of Leadership webcasts will spotlight David Leitch of Bank of America, Ellen Dwyer and Maryanne Lavan of Crowell & Moring and Lockheed Martin, Kim Rivera of HP Inc., Laura Stein of Clorox, Ivan Fong of 3M, and others. Keep an eye on the LCLD Calendar for upcoming events.
If these efforts have a common theme, it's this: The world has changed, and LCLD is changing along with it.
COVID-19 "is altering the way people everywhere do business," says Jennifer Denton, LCLD's Membership and Operations Director. "That makes for a lot of uncertainty."
"Fortunately, LCLD is an extremely agile organization, and we're pivoting quickly to embrace new ways of interacting and providing support to our people. Using virtual tools, we can solidify existing relationships, build new ones, and offer everyone, including introverts, an easy and appealing way to stay connected in a time of unprecedented challenges."
"It's early, but I feel good about where we are right now—and we're going to get even better. The LCLD community is growing stronger every day."
* Other LCLD Staff who worked tirelessly to produce the Pathfinder meeting include Grace Mitchell, Caitlin Puffenberger, Chenoa Forrester, Erin Hess, Nichole Velasquez, Nancy Richardson, and Jennifer Denton.