A subtle change is visible in the emails emanating from Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner.
A new setting allows attorneys to insert into their email tags a tiny rainbow flag with the words, “I’M AN ALLY” — a signal of solidarity with the LGBTQ community. Chief Diversity Officer Lisa Demet Martin said more than 600 colleagues already are using this feature at BCLP, which boasts 1,400 lawyers in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Another new email feature: Lawyers can list their personal pronouns if they wish. And every year, it’s become a matter of course that the firm will host some kind of event for the annual Pride weekend.
“It wasn’t happening when I first came to the firm,” said Managing Partner Robert Newmark, “but now nobody would think it’s unusual. There are some things that are definitely different, and you can feel it.”
The overall change didn’t occur by accident: It’s the result of a robust effort by BCLP to open itself up to the world and boost diverse talent from within.
The numbers tell the story — or at least part of it. Inside the firm, two-thirds of the 2019 partner class was women or lawyers of color. Also in 2019, for the 12th consecutive year, BCLP earned a perfect score on the Corporate Equality Index, a national benchmarking survey and report administered by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation that gauges corporate policies and practices related to LGBTQ workplace equality.
Last year, BCLP was one of only 27 firms nationwide to earn a recognition of “Mansfield Certified Plus.” In the Mansfield program — named after Arabella Mansfield, the first American female lawyer — being certified means that in the realms of promotion, senior-level hiring and leadership roles, a firm makes sure it affirmatively considers women and lawyers of color as 30 percent of its candidate pool. BCLP was “certified plus” in 2018, meaning it not only met or exceeded that goal but also has reached 30 percent diversity in leadership and committee positions.
The firm has four affinity groups: BCLP Women, Lawyers of Color, LGBTQ Lawyers and Lawyers with Alternative Work Schedules & Sites. These groups provide a space for diverse lawyers to network and mentor each other. Furthermore, since 2016, a sponsorship program has been in operation whereby senior leaders at the firm sponsor senior diverse associates who have made a strong showing and are approaching eligibility for the partnership promotion.
The firm also actively invests in these lawyers. For example, BCLP recently staged a series of workshops for all of its women lawyers in the United States to enhance their approaches to bringing in new business. Junior women partners can even take advantage of individualized coaching, provided by coaches from outside the firm, for six-month periods.
Newmark said that within the two largest practice groups in the firm’s U.S. offices — commercial litigation and mergers & acquisitions — BCLP has set up a work-allocation system. In this system, partners can track how assignments are getting doled out to make sure everybody’s getting access to the same opportunities for relationship-building and mentoring.
“It’s designed to disrupt the implicit bias in people’s thinking,” Newmark said — a method of correcting for the human tendency to seek out co-workers who remind them of themselves.
Outside the firm, BCLP is attempting to lure diverse talent. BCLP sponsors and participates in a variety of programs designed to reach minority and LGBTQ applicants. Those efforts include participation in the Lavender Law Career Fair, the Southeastern Minority Job Fair, the Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, the Heartland Diversity Legal Job Fair, the Rocky Mountain Diversity Legal Career Fair, the St. Louis Diversity Job Fair and the Cook County Bar Association Minority Job Fair. BCLP also sponsors and hosts events directly at law schools.
Lastly, BCLP launched a diversity scholarship in April 2017. So far, four second-year law students have accepted summer clerkships with BCLP through the program. In exchange, each student receives $10,000 toward law-school tuition and related expenses during the student’s final year of studies. The recipients of the fall 2017 scholarships, in fact, are set to join BCLP as first-year associates this fall.