LCLD Member organization Accenture began working with LCLD to pilot a virtual mentoring program long before the COVID-19 crisis—but its arrival has underscored the importance of adapting quickly to support diverse talent.
In 2019, LCLD and LCLD Member corporation Accenture faced a potential roadblock: Accenture Legal volunteers for LCLD's Success in Law School Mentoring Program outnumbered law school Mentees in the Chicago area.
"There were five Accenture attorneys on the wait list in Chicago," said LCLD Mentoring Program Manager Nancy Richardson. "So Accenture suggested pairing its Chicago team with 1Ls in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, where there were students yet to be paired with Mentors—and with that, the virtual pilot group was created."
LCLD's Mentoring Program typically pairs diverse 1Ls with attorneys from LCLD Member organizations in the same geographic area, and encourages them to meet in person over the course of the program. But Accenture's offer to try virtual mentoring seemed like a good fit for LCLD, Richardson said. "At the end of the day, we want to make sure diverse 1Ls have access to mentors, period. A virtual mentor is better than no mentor at all."
As the program launched, participants in the virtual mentoring program received the same mentoring guidelines and welcome from LCLD as others in the program. But instead of meeting over coffee, Mentors and Mentees like Tom Blanchard and Juan Pecheco used video calls, emails, and phone conversations to quickly build rapport.
Pecheco, who is finishing his first year at the University of North Carolina School of Law, even welcomes the geographic distance: "It's helpful to get perspective from someone who isn't in North Carolina. I don't have to worry about any conflict of interests."
Pecheco also appreciates the guidance in an uncertain time. "Tom and I had a great chat over video a few weeks ago," he recently told LCLD. "We discussed job opportunities and planning for my 2L and 3L years, and it brought a lot of peace to a very turbulent ending to my 1L year."
While Mentees benefit from the connectivity, so do the Mentors.
"It's an incredibly challenging time for all of us," said Tom Blanchard, Pecheco's Mentor and Mergers and Acquisitions Counsel at Accenture. "Virtual mentoring allows me to connect to students who need help now as they figure out their futures. In fact, I have more time for recurring meetings because they are so easy to set up. And it feels great to use my own experience and expertise to help others find their way."
The Right Program, the Right Time
While engaged Mentors and Mentees are a key factor in the program's success, so are the logistics, including the agility and remote nature of the mentoring arrangement.
"It's all about flexibility," added Annabel Dumbell, Accenture's European Director of Litigation, who leads the legal team's Inclusion and Diversity efforts. "There's less pressure on everyone when physical location isn't a factor." Annabel speaks from experience, as she coordinates the program from her office in London, 4,000 miles away.
"Deploying a remote mentoring program is a perfect pairing of the best of LCLD and Accenture. This is a very exciting initiative and could not be more relevant in today's environment."
— Joel Unruch, LCLD Member and General Counsel at Accenture
At Accenture, working remotely and connecting across time zones and geographies has long been routine for many of its 2,800 lawyers and legal professionals worldwide. In fact, the ability to connect and collaborate with colleagues around the world is in the DNA of a company that has more than 500,000 people in 120-plus countries.
"The current circumstances have allowed our people to continue to contribute in meaningful ways," said LCLD Member Joel Unruch, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at Accenture. "Deploying a remote mentoring program is a perfect pairing of the best of LCLD and Accenture. This is a very exciting initiative and could not be more relevant in today's environment."
Building a Diverse Pipeline Matters More Now
The LCLD and Accenture partnership is an example of companies and organizations stepping forward and working together to draw meaning from—and even innovate—in a time of crisis. In fact, innovation, public and private partnerships, and an ongoing commitment to diversity matter more than ever. Data from the 2008 economic downturn illustrate what can happen when companies lose sight of or de-prioritize D&I programs in times of crisis.
- Gains in female and racial minority representation among associates dropped abruptly in 2008, and diversity numbers dipped for the first time in 20 years. The black associate population in law firms didn't rebound to pre-recession numbers until 2019. NALP
- Racial and ethnic diversity in the partnership ranks decreased by 14.3%, and the gender pay gap increased by 29%. Vault/MCCA, NAWL
History and statistics aside, present day experience shows the disproportionate effect that the current health and economic crisis has along socio-economic lines. Cultivating a diverse pipeline of legal talent early on, and especially in tumultuous times, can help protect against lingering inequality. What's more, it's in our collective interest to develop a strong, confident pipeline of lawyers from diverse backgrounds. When it comes to facing increasingly unforeseen and complex problems, companies and communities around the world will need a diverse set of minds to solve them.