Article by: Yvette McGee Brown
When I entered law school, I knew I was pursuing a career where very few people looked like me – there were only 12 Black students in my law school class of 225. I viewed that as a challenge and worked very hard to demonstrate I deserved to be there. I never imagined that 35 years later, we would still be talking about the lack of diversity in the legal profession.
Law continues to be the least diverse profession. Yet today, the conversation has changed from the lack of diversity in law schools and the profession, to lack of diversity in law firms. For years we have debated how to increase diversity in law firms while focusing on the same familiar issues: the lack of diverse law students in the talent pipeline, the importance of a serious commitment to diverse hiring, problems with the law firm retention model, and the need for clients to demand diverse lawyers. These discussions are fine, but the results always fall short. As a profession, we must do better.
Successful law firms drive diversity from and through the top and up the middle. A law firm can initiate all the programs it likes, and repeat diversity platitudes but if there is not visible leadership throughout the firm, nothing changes. Diversity starts with leader- ship driving policy and people, and diversity inclusion takes root when it is nurtured and facilitated throughout the organization.
At Jones Day, our visible commitment to diversity is apparent at every level of the firm. We take pride in knowing that our diverse lawyers can see someone like themselves in significant leadership positions. Twelve of our 18 U.S. offices are led by a diverse and/ or women partner; Fifty percent of our firm’s leadership commit- tee is diverse and/or female; Twenty-four percent of our partners are women and over ten percent are diverse. Throughout the firm, diverse lawyers are leading significant matters and are recruiting and mentoring diverse associates. Consequently, in January, we welcomed one of our most diverse up from the ranks partnership classes – 34 percent diverse and 43 percent women.
We embrace diversity because it’s important to us. It’s not about clients driving diversity, but about our values and our community. We are pleased that clients are focused on increasing diversity in law firms. However, lately the tone has become punitive rather than positive. This is not helpful. At Jones Day we find our most successful client partnerships on diversity involve aligned expectations and a shared commitment to results. We partner with clients to expose young diverse associates to client work early in their careers through assignment on case teams, shared summer associate experiences or brief secondments. This allows diverse associates to learn the client’s business while providing an opportunity for the client to get to know the lawyer. This early inclusion builds the client’s trust and confidence in the associate and can lead to greater responsibilities.
We also support early exposure to the profession through pipeline programs, such as Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO), that selects promising students who have been accepted to top tier law schools and places them in law firms the summer before they start law school with training during the summer from law professors. Jones Day has nine offices participating in SEO, more than any other law firm. We also support The Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD), which offers mentoring, leadership training, networking opportunities, and career counseling. In fact, three of our newest diverse partners were LCLD fellows.
Jones Day’s culture promotes collegiality and seamless collaboration operating as a true partnership that works tirelessly on a client’s behalf. All clients are firm clients so we are not distracted by origination credits. Our approach creates the best opportunity for diverse and women lawyers to succeed.
Yvette McGee Brown is the Partner-In-Charge for Diversity, Inclusion and Advancement at Jones Day. She was the first African-American woman to serve on the Ohio Supreme Court.