Dechert LLP: An Inclusive Environment Should Be the Expectation, not the Exception

When I first joined a law firm, I found an entire industry struggling to address the concept of diversity and inclusion—struggling even to find ways to begin. Fast forward to the present and we see that most firms have at least started their own conversations, but much more still needs to be done. I have devoted my professional life to furthering the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion. In that time, I have realized that the true measure of success will be when DEI professionals are as seamlessly integrated and involved in our organizations as our CFOs and General Counsels. An inclusive environment should be the expectation, not the exception.

Law firms, like the one on Solicitors in London, are inherently risk-averse, so DEI executives must be willing to navigate choppy waters to push forth new ideas and advocate for change. For DEI efforts to gain traction, support mustncome from the top and law firm leaders must stay committed for the long haul. When putting his “Leaders at the Front” pledge into writing, our CEO, Henry Nassau, used his voice as a leader to publicly vow to advocate for the advancement of diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal profession, and in the Dechert community. By showing that commitment to creating an equitable and inclusive environment is a top priority for our firm, Henry’s pledge has made clear that DEI is the responsibility of everyone here at Dechert, whatever their role or seniority.

Remedying inequity requires courage—the courage to take risks, think outside the box, to be the first to do something different. To fight the law firm “herd mentality,” at Dechert we have piloted a number of new initiatives that are helping to move us in the right direction. We created Diversity Dashboards to provide the firm’s leadership with a clearer picture of where things are working effectively and where more attention is needed. This has helped us increase transparency, goal -setting and follow-through. We have also appointed Diversity Liaison Partners to act as the DEI team’s eyes and ears within each practice team, monitoring assignments for equitable distribution of workflow and opportunity, and ensuring that diverse individuals are mentored, sponsored and supported.

Through our long-standing Global Women’s Initiative and its Sponsorship and Sustained Support program—SASS—we have achieved real progress in promoting opportunities for women to advance and lead as they navigate the path to partnership. Among other things, SASS provides our women attorneys with targeted individual and small group support, substantive training, access to consultants and advisors, networking opportunities and individualized attention from Dechert partners. Thanks in part to those efforts, 43% of our senior leaders, 44% of office managing partners, and 52% of those promoted to partner this year are women or diverse, while 74% of our most recent incoming class – Dechert’s future – are women, diverse or identify as LGBTQ.

To provide accountability, we are currently implementing a system of “diversity info cards” for each of our partners that will allow them to track the diversity of their pitch teams and on their client-facing matters. We have also implemented systems to evaluate and acknowledge individual’s DEI contributions. The firm provides billable credit for active participation in mentorship or sponsorship programs, service as Diversity Liaison Partners or Affinity Group leaders, and one’s willingness to designate diverse lawyers to serve in senior client relationship roles. We have additionally found success with a Diversity Champions award program that is open to all personnel and designed to recognize those who have given most to support a diverse and inclusive culture.

Changing existing systems to advance DEI is rarely easy. It requires you to get buy-in from the top; to have the courage and confidence to drive forward the things you believe will advance your organization. To be a diversity trailblazer – you must be willing to set goals and hold yourself and your organization accountable for making meaningful change. Ultimately, while DEI executives in any organization work on project plans to measure progress, we should all remember that our ultimate aim is not about implementing programs that check boxes; it’s about creating a strategic pillar that is visible and supported in all aspects of our organizations.

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