Bloomberg Law’s Talent and Diversity Forum

In its 4th year, Bloomberg Law’s Talent and Diversity Forum on Nov. 8 brought together industry leaders to share insights on what tactics can actually increase diversity in the legal industry. Read more below for snapshots of each session and insights from law firm and corporate experts.

With the emergence of new technologies and increased data analysis, the industry has seen significant shifts in recruiting and retention strategies and the emergence of an operations and value-driven business model. But what does this mean for diversity?

Bloomberg Law explored the various drivers that can impact the success of diversity and inclusion initiatives in firms and legal departments. These included:

  • Emerging technology’s potential disruption--will enhanced data help further diversity goals, or might automation and machine learning set us back in achieving greater equality and inclusion
  • The legal talent pipeline--are law firms set up to train and develop diverse talent? How might data help identify new opportunities for hiring, retaining and developing talent?
  • The impact of new models of service--how will alternative business models, legal operations, and outsourced legal services impact diversity

For additional coverage of the event from Bloomberg Law, read Long Road Ahead for Using Data to Drive Diversity at Law Firms

Amanda Allen & Susan Hackett lead a workshop at Bloomberg Law’s Talent & Diversity Forum
Photo by James Berglie

Collaborating to Address Diversity and Inclusion

In the final session of Bloomberg Law’s Talent and Diversity Forum, attendees participated in small group discussions in the Taking the Driver’s Seat workshop, lead by Amanda Allen, team lead of regulatory and compliance at Bloomberg Law, and Susan Hackett, chief executive of Legal Executive Leadership.

One group, facilitated by Taylor Cross, diversity and inclusion coordinator at Paul Hastings, discussed building a talent pipeline. The takeway was that it’s important “to recruit like you care, like you’re trying to build the culture that you wish you had,” she said. “Make the recruit feel like they will belong, and they’ll have a home.”

The group suggested institutionalizing standard interview questions, so each candidate is offering the same set of data and interviews aren’t based on gut reactions from a conversation. Cross concluded by saying, “You need to ask: what does your pipeline look like, why does your pipeline look like that and what can you do about it?”

The second group, facilitated by Nikia Gray, partner at Quarles & Brady, discussed retention strategies. “The diversity piece isn’t just an option anymore. It’s a mandate. But how do we keep them? It has to be a collaboration, from leadership to partnership to the associate group to the clients,” Gray said.

“It needs to be a collaboration across all levels.” The group emphasized the need to implement different training for different people and to meet them where they are. “What training can we do that’s tailored to different groups that makes them feel comfortable jumping in?”

The third group, facilitated by Tanjima Islam, content manager for legal and tax at Bloomberg Next, discussed data metrics and technology. A poll of the room indicated that data collection on diversity and inclusion isn’t a top priority. “Maybe there’s measuring of the data being done with year end surveys, but there’s no next step,” Islam said. “That’s one of the challenges we’re facing. There’s nothing beyond that and that’s something everyone is trying to figure out.”

Islam added that the group was concerned with testing technology for inherent bias. “You can look at your statistics and you might have diversity but you may not have inclusion,” she said. “That inclusion piece is really important.”

Updated 11:42 AM, Nov. 8, 2018

Robert Grey, President, Leadership Council on Legal Diversity
Photo by James Berglie

Finding Better Systems to Monitor Diversity and Inclusion

Four experts on diversity data discussed how streamlining systems is crucial to creating inclusive, diverse corporate environments. Many individual companies have their own diversity measurement metrics, but all four stressed that without transparent systems that can be applied across industries, those metrics aren’t as useful as they could be.

“At the end of the day, we are not going to make a substantial difference on diversity inclusion unless we’re willing to make differences in the processes that undergird the way law firms and law departments operate,” said Robert Grey, president of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity. “It’s a systemic change. Until we figure out what areas we can do the most work, we’re really not going to make the most progress.”

Ricardo Anzaldua, senior legal advisor at Freddie Mac, agreed, adding that the proliferation of different metrics, and of companies requesting the same data in slightly different presentations, is a hindrance to that data making a real impact.

“Speaking as someone who has been on each side of this data collection exercise, the true answer of what do we do with that data is nothing. It didn’t get systematically used in a way that’s designed to [improve] the firm. It’s a huge amount of personal resources in an activity that produces very little result.” Anzaldua believes that all companies adopting the ADA Compliance Questionnaire would benefit on a broader level.

One corporation that does make use of that data is Bank of America, said Larry Chattoo, associate general counsel of the company. Bank of America analyzes the data and gives an award to the law firm that ranks best on their diversity and inclusion metrics. “We establish a metric, and we expect a certain amount of our dollars to go to women and diversity. We interview them and ask them hard questions,” he said. “The winner has the opportunity to go out to dinner with the general counsel. It’s all about human relationships with the firms.”

“Many departments are trying to leverage their dollars better by focusing on those firms that are providing the greatest amount of service. We’ve asked many firms to detail what they’re doing,” said Marianela Peralta, general counsel and corporate secretary of Allegis Global Solutions. However, she acknowledged that this kind of progress takes a long time, and smaller firms, especially family-owned firms, have trouble meeting corporate expectations.

“Then, we talk about what they’re doing with the community, and how they’re working with law schools,” she said. “As we’ve worked with firms over the years, we’ve learned the us vs them approach isn’t the right way. We may be contributing to the problem as well,” Chattoo added.

“You’ve got to look at what’s working,” Grey said. “You’ve got to adopt models that aren’t one size fits all. The idea of democratizing information for minority lawyers and creating a system where you can apply that information will make a huge difference and allow us to scale what we do.”

Updated 11:21 AM, Nov. 8, 2018

Leslie T. Thornton, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of WGL Holdings, Inc. and Washington Gas
Photo by James Berglie

A Changing Society Helps Promote Diversity in Law

Changes in technology, societal attitudes, and demographics are influencing the development of a more diverse workforce overall.

“Technology is clearly a game changer if used correctly and simply,” said Karl Racine, attorney general of the District of Columbia, saying that the switch from learning about opportunities on job sites, rather than word of mouth, has opened up the candidate pool. “Access to information is a game changer,” he said, as is the ability to interview via Skype and be flexible on employees working remotely. “Telecommuting is an important way to ensure a diverse pool and workforce.”

As much as technology is a game changer, it can still be restrictive and unintentionally biased, said Jean Lee, president and chief executive of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. Especially of concern is the way that HR departments filter candidates. “You want to make sure you aren’t using search words that could be biased to a certain individual,” she said. “Having more diverse voices in the room” is important, she said. “It makes sense for you to have some filters, but make sure you’re not filtering out diverse candidates.”

Chief people officer Dorie Ellzey Blesoff of Relativity agrees. “Algorithms can be discriminatory because humans program them,” she said, adding that what’s important is “trying to remove bias as much as possible, and [finding] new ways to access people’s intelligence and people’s experience.”

But as much as the way people work is adding diverse voices, the simplest way to achieve that balance is to be vocal and persistent about inclusion, said Leslie T. Thornton, general counsel and corporate secretary of WGL Holdings and Washington Gas. “Since I’ve been general counsel, the past seven years, one of the things that I did right away was just be obnoxious about it,” she said. “As a group of lawyers--there’s 28 of us--we ensure that our outside counsel are diverse. It’s been wildly successful for us.”

“I encourage you to be more obnoxious going forward,” Lee added. “Things will only change if the leadership is committed. You have the power to ask for information. If you really want women and people of color, you can ask questions. When you do it, it really has an impact.”

Blesoff said that as an e-discovery platform, her company Relativity is oriented towards observing and embracing shifting demographics. The company is always asking, “How is it that we’re engaging people that may bring unique gifts, life experiences, cognitive differences? How do people feel it’s valuable to be here and it’s worth their contribution? There’s an expectation from the newer workforce, there’s an eagerness to participate in it, and there’s a change in the demographics. There’s a lot of emergence to this that’s beyond our choice. It’s happening, and I think it’s great.”

Updated 10:10 AM, Nov. 8, 2018

Craig Silliman, Executive Vice President - Public Policy and General Counsel, Verizon
Photo by James Berglie

A Look at Diversity and Young Talent Retention at Law Firms

David Levine, general counsel of Bloomberg L.P. and Craig Silliman, executive vice president of public policy and general counsel for Verizon discussed diversity challenges in law firms. “It’s appalling how poorly our profession overall compares with other professions, and we have to ask ourselves why that is,” Silliman said. “The fundamental business structure in law firms is a problem in driving diversity.”

Levine agreed, saying that it’s especially important to have different departments of a company report their own strategies for inclusion. “Having a one size fits all approach to addressing these issues, you have a real risk of not getting people on board,” he said. “Initiatives mean different things to different groups. If you want people to be passionate about a program, you can’t subscribe what they’re going to do. People aren’t passionate about it and it doesn’t achieve results”

“It’s vital that it come from the top,” Silliman said. “When you declare that something is important, it’s amazing how quickly it becomes important.” At Verizon, he said, they tie annual bonuses across the board to diversity markers within departments. “The words and actions have to follow, but the fact that they’re saying it is a start.”

Levine also emphasized that clients to law firms can be major drivers of inclusion and change. “The fact that [firms are] hearing from more and more of their clients about diversity is powerful,” he said. “The accounts walking is more powerful. If there’s accountability in the questions being asked, you’ll see change.”

The larger issue, he believes, is that “it takes too long to be a lawyer. It’s too expensive. If you graduate college today with a computer science degree, you can get a job paying $200,000 a year. You graduate law school, there’s a limited number of high paying jobs. There’s a whole host of things that are broken. We’ve invested a lot of time and money into fixing these problems and we’ve miserably failed. We’re failing, not just on diversity, but we’re failing to get the best talent. And we need to fix that.”

Silliman agreed, saying that Verizon often hires young, diverse talent that’s leaving law firms in large numbers. “We have to ask ourselves why we have so much attrition of diverse talent in the law firms,” he said. “We get unbelievable diverse talent out of law firms who say ‘I want a better quality of life where I see a better career progression.’ The number one thing I hear from people early in career is ‘I see that your direct reports look like me.’”

Updated 9:15 AM, Nov. 8, 2018

“We do tell law firms we expect certain things of them in diversity,” said Craig Silliman, Verizon’s executive vice president – public policy and general counsel. Big Law Business visited Silliman in 2016 at the Verizon Operations Center in Basking Ridge, NJ for an interview about running the law department of the largest U.S. wireless communications service provider.

Bloomberg Law’s Talent and Diversity Forum in Washington, D.C. on November 8, 2018
Photo by James Berglie

Bloomberg Law’s Talent and Diversity Forum

Now in its 4th year, Bloomberg Law’s Talent and Diversity Forum brings together industry leaders to share insights on what can actually increase diversity in the legal industry.

This event provides an opportunity to connect directly with your peers in a workshop format to formulate a plan to advance your own diversity and inclusion goals in light of today’s changing legal business landscape.

Find more information about the event here.

Updated 5:00 PM, Nov. 5, 2018