A Cut Above: Cultivating a Diverse and Inclusive Culture via Strategic Professional Development Initiatives

by LP Green, II

Article Written By: Michelle Wimes | Chief Diversity and Professional Development Officer | Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

Ogletree Deakins is innovative in its approach to the practice of labor and employment law and the way the firm approaches professional development and diversity and inclusion is no exception. The firm intentionally and strategically combines these two areas into one department – Professional Development and Inclusion (PDI) – to highlight the importance of cultural competency as a leadership skill that can be developed which is vital to individual attorney development and firm-wide quality assurance. Our integrative approach also dissolves the silo where diversity is often placed and ensures it is an integral part of attorney advancement and engagement. This, in turn, ensures all of our attorneys have the opportunity to grow professionally, develop the commercially viable skills that lead to success and, most importantly, that directly benefit our clients.

In January 2018, Ogletree elevated its diversity position from a director role to that of a chief executive. As one of seven chief officers and the firm’s first Chief Diversity and Professional Development Officer, I am charged with creating innovative programming that not only develops and enhances our attorney’s professional and legal skills, but that also creates and nurtures an inclusive environment where attorneys of varied backgrounds, skills, experiences and perspectives can thrive.

Two essential professional development initiatives vital to the success of our diverse attorneys particularly are ODPRO and Success the ODWay (SODW). ODPRO are the labor and employment benchmarks which outline the substantive legal skills our attorneys need (from first through eighth year) to progress and succeed in the practice. Of course, the benchmarks also include cultural competency components throughout. By the end of this year, we will have ODPRO benchmarks for nearly every practice group in our firm giving our lawyers, especially our diverse lawyers, a roadmap to success within the firm.

We launched SODW in 2015 as an initiative designed to outline the firm’s unwritten rules–the traits and behaviors attorneys need to succeed (“success factors”) as well as the firm’s career derailers and cultural norms. Together with ODPRO, the SODW Associate Learning Guide creates greater transparency around what it takes to excel in our legal practice.

I am thrilled that Ogletree continues to offer an environment where our lawyers can learn, grow, and thrive within a framework of clear expectations and inclusive behaviors. We have six successful business resource groups supporting the unique needs of our LGBT, women, attorneys of color and attorneys transitioning back to work from parental leave. We offer robust business and leadership development training as well as professional skills training specially customized for our lawyers depending on their stages of development. We have structured mentoring programs, a newly launched sponsorship program for women non-equity shareholders, a new extended parental leave policy, a new backup child care (and adult care ) program, a new firm-wide Ombuds position, as well as two new committees designed to hear appeals on credit allocation and compensation disputes. Additionally, in an effort to further actualize Ogletree’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, we have asked each of our attorneys to commit to completing 5-7 action items in our new Pledge to Diversity and Inclusion – An Action Plan (DAP). Activities, in this voluntary plan, range from reading and learning to watching and attending – the attorneys choose according to what resonates with them.

Our Board remains committed to ensuring women and diverse attorneys have meaningful opportunities for leadership at the local office, practice and industry group level, and via firm-wide committees. With the resources Ogletree continues to pour into both the professional development and cultural competency of our lawyers, I have no doubt that our lawyers have the opportunity to continue to thrive, allowing them to offer the most effective legal service to our clients.

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