For law firms, it’s not enough to focus diversity and inclusion initiatives on recruiting and hiring diverse attorneys. Firm leaders also must ensure their new hires can advance and lead, if they want those attorneys to stay.
At Shook, Hardy & Bacon, enhancing long-term advancement and retention of minority lawyers is the goal of The Honorable Jon Gray Lawyers Leadership Academy Program, an 18-month development program for senior associates that launched this month.
The leadership academy will include mentoring and will help participants to build trial practice and other skills, as well as client-facing opportunities, with the aim of developing the next generation of ethnically diverse lawyers into firm leaders who will serve key clients, Shook Chair Madeleine M. McDonough said. The inaugural class of six senior associates will be chosen through self-nomination and recommendations from firm managing partners.
Shook named the program for former Jackson County Circuit Judge Jon R. Gray, who joined the firm as a partner in 2007 after spending more than 20 years on the bench. Since joining the firm, Gray — himself an ICON Award winner in 2018 — has helped to lead professional development efforts within the firm.
Gray will serve as a mentor to attorneys participating in the program, as will Shook trial attorneys, firm alumni, clients and others who are dedicated to diversity and inclusion and improving the legal profession, McDonough said.
The leadership academy is one of multiple diversity and inclusion initiatives at Shook, which marked its 130th anniversary in 2019. Among them is its Scholars Institute, a mentorship program that identifies, develops and supports diverse students through their law school careers.
Open to all self-identified, racially and/or ethnically diverse and/or LGBTQ first-year students at accredited law schools, the three-day institute concentrates on litigation and trial skills, as well as leadership, success strategies and networking opportunities.
In its Pathways to Inclusion series, the firm brings together attorneys and professional staff to focus on such issues as race, disability, religion, gender and implicit biases, generational diversity and transgender realities in the workplace.
McDonough also notes that Shook lawyers — even in their busiest periods — make time for pro bono work that averages about 30,000 hours annually. Among their areas of pro bono focus is transgender rights, much of it through the firm’s Project Affirmation, a name-change and gender-marker amendment clinic servicing the transgender community in and around Kansas City.
To promote meaningful and long-term diversity within the justice system, McDonough said, Shook also joined the Missouri Coalition for the Right to Counsel to support public defenders — who in recent years have sought relief from caseloads they say are too heavy to handle ethically.
“[Diversity in the justice system] has at least two main components: too few diverse attorneys in the courtroom and greater support for defendants’ right to counsel,” she said. “We are directly involved and have hosted statewide training sessions for private attorneys to gain experience in criminal law to help ease the public defenders’ difficult caseload.”
The firm and its attorneys also are active with the national Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession, the Center for Legal Inclusiveness, the Mid-America LGBT Chamber of Commerce, KC LEGAL, the National Center for Transgender Equality and various diverse bar associations.
Within the firm, Shook’s equal opportunity policy explicitly bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. In its vision statement, it sets forth its goal of “a diverse environment where everyone is respected, feels appreciated and experiences fulfillment and enjoyment through meaningful contributions.”
Shook has created an LGBTQ+ employee resource group to promote and support an inclusive community and environment for LGBTQ+ employees and their allies. Domestic partner benefits for employees apply to same-sex relationships, and the firm’s parental leave policy offers the same benefits regardless of gender identity.
The firm also has earned a top score of 100 percent each year since 2009 on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, which rates companies and businesses nationally on corporate policies and practices related to LGBTQ employees.
Shook commits to an inclusive culture every day, said McDonough, who as its chair leads its efforts to provide an array of pro bono legal services as well as support legal organizations “dedicated to diversity, inclusion and human dignity.”
Her own extensive community involvement includes serving as vice chair of the Kansas City Civic Council, which she said aims to “make our city a globally competitive region to benefit all of our residents, with an overarching goal of inclusive economic prosperity.”