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Build a D&I Framework

LCLD Member firm Reed Smith LLP isn’t waiting for clients to request more diversity. Instead, they’re taking the lead with an organization-wide diversity and inclusion framework.

Reed Smith recently created two unique roles to head the D&I charge – a Global Chair of Diversity & Inclusion/Chief Diversity Officer, John Iino (pictured below), and an Executive Director of Diversity Recruiting, 2011 Fellow Marlen Whitley. Both positions are part of a recent ramping up of the firm’s D&I work – along with new data efforts, a diversity summit for both employees and clients, and expanded employee resource groups. 

Unique law firms require unique diversity and inclusion initiatives. But there are a few things all firms should consider when deciding how to handle them. LCLD asked Iino and Whitley to share their insights on creating a D&I framework that saturates the oranization. 

Be Vocal About the Value of D&I 

Law firm leaders need to be engaged and transparent about the importance and relevance of diversity for the whole firm, Iino and Whitley said. Global Managing Partner and LCLD Member Alexander “Sandy” Thomas has been vocal about his support for inclusion and the work Iino and Whitley are doing. The firm also incorporated D&I into its 2020 strategic plan; one of the four pillars is strengthening and diversifying talent. 

“That signals our commitment to D&I to the entire partnership,” Iino said. “I know we have support from the senior leaders for everything we’re trying to do. Whoever I talk to, I can always point to the fact that this is one of the four pillars of our plan and the Global Managing Partner is behind it.”

Give Diversity a Seat at the (Leadership) Table 

As Global Chair of Diversity and Inclusion/Chief Diversity Officer, Iino is part of the Reed Smith’s Global Leadership Team. A senior management-level D&I role like his is uncommon in large law firms (in a recent Law360 survey, only about 13 percent of firms had a high-level position overseeing D&I programs) and having a partner in charge of diverse recruiting at the firm-wide level, like Whitley, is even more rare. 

Iino also has experience on the Executive Committee, as Managing Partner of the Los Angeles office, and as Global Chair of the Business & Finance Department. His experience and senior status not only communicate the importance of diversity both internally and externally, but also give his work more clout within the firm. 

“Given his previous roles in management and knowing the inner workings of the firm, John is able to show the management how the D&I initiatives align with client needs,” Whitley said. “We’ve certainly made strides that I have not seen in work environments I’ve been in before.” 

Put the Right People in the Right Places 

Iino’s leadership experience and connections made him the right fit when Reed Smith wanted to ramp up its diversity efforts. The position of Executive Director of Diversity Recruiting was also handcrafted for Marlen Whitley (pictured right). 

A former hiring partner with a desire to develop deeper connections with law schools, Whitley was well suited to focus on expanding the firm’s recruiting pool. Just as the firm is re-thinking how it recruits talent – Whitley referenced college football recruiting – they have also changed the way they think about staffing their own initiatives. 

“That’s the beauty, the design of it,” Iino said. “Someone who’s a great recruiter can make a big difference and build a great program… But you have to find the right person.”

Remember Recruitment Relies on Retention 

Whitley’s new role may be focused on recruiting, but he’s quick to add that it can’t be separated from retention. At the end of the day, hiring diverse talent only gets you so far; firms also need to make their environments inclusive enough that the talent wants to stay. 

“You have to have an honest assessment of your environment and address those things that might be impediments,” Whitley said. “It’s not enough anymore for us to go out to the marketplace and say, we want a diverse partner with this book of business… We’ve got to demonstrate what we can do differently from other firms.” 

To that end, Reed Smith held a Diversity Summit earlier this year, where prospective lateral recruits were invited to connect with firm management and clients – all in the context of diversity and inclusion. 

“I can’t help but think that that will be a deciding factor, because we can point to this summit and the firm’s commitment and show that it’s a continual effort…and that the firm is trying to be a thought leader in this space,” Whitley said. 

For more information on Reed Smith's diversity efforts, email John Iino or Marlen Whitley.


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