In times of uncertainty and economic upheaval, diversity and inclusion programs are often the first to be cut—which means the diverse attorneys they support can be impacted in negative ways. We asked Eric Friedman, LCLD Board Member and Executive Partner of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, what three things legal leaders can do today to ensure that their diversity and inclusion objectives continue to grow and thrive.
1. Communicate early and often.
At Skadden, we make sure to embed inclusion principles in our firm-wide communications with attorneys and professional staff. We are explicit with internal stakeholders about our expectation that diversity and inclusion must remain priorities. We continue to strive to live up to our core values, which include reinforcing the power of diversity and inclusion to engender a sense of community, belonging, and well being among our employees. We also recognize that we need the best and most creative thinking—which only a talented, diverse group can deliver—to help our firm and our clients thrive during and in the aftermath of this crisis.
For example, we recently held a virtual “town hall” for our attorneys. We asked them to submit questions in advance that were top of mind during this crisis, and Emily Lam, our Palo Alto office leader, joined me in this conversation. Not only were two faces and two voices better than one—unsurprisingly, our attorneys found it beneficial to hear from two individuals with different backgrounds, geographies, areas of expertise, and personal as well as professional responsibilities.
2. Monitor processes to support equity.
Now, perhaps more than ever, it is important to be proactive in ensuring that our talent management processes are working. Everyone needs to have equitable access to work and professional development resources, such as mentorship. In addition to the essential role that our partners and administrative leaders play, we also solicit input from diverse associates about their experiences and how the firm can best support them in this environment.
We are also excited to have recently adopted the Mansfield Rule 4.0 to help embolden our efforts to increase diversity and expand access to leadership opportunities within our senior attorney ranks.
3. Collaborate with clients.
We are encouraged by the level of engagement and communication about D&I from several of our clients, even in the midst of the current crisis and the attendant disruption to our businesses and personal lives. We regularly speak with clients about the unique role they play in supporting rising talent within our firm, and about specific activities, such as our GC Conversation Series, in which they can participate to advance our mutual objectives. The more that companies and law firms band together to keep D&I top of mind within our organizations, the more likely we are to achieve our aspirations for diversity and inclusion.
Similarly, partnering with clients on pro bono work is a great way for attorneys to make a difference during this difficult time. While law firms are working to ensure an even allocation of client matters, pro bono projects provide another important avenue for training, and can help strengthen relationships and provide a deep sense of satisfaction to those involved.